A piece of history has returned to Bentleyville Village Hall with the installation of a school bell believed to be part of the original one-room school house that once stood near the Village Hall location.
Mitchell Chapic, 17, of South Russell and member of Scouts BSA, formerly known as Boy Scouts of America, is responsible for the restoration and installation last week of the bell after spending the past four months refurbishing this historic piece of Bentleyville as part of his Eagle Scout Service Project.
“The Eagle Scout project is really meant to bring out the leadership and developing leadership qualities among young adults like myself before [turning 18 years old],” Mitchell said. “It’s a really good experience because you’re pretty much in real life, you’re running a project, you’re doing something you don’t typically do in school,” the junior at Chagrin Falls High School added. “You’re actually going out into the world, you’re doing something beneficial.”
As part of his service project for the refurbishment of the bell, Mitchell had a plaque made that tells the history of the schoolhouse using historical records that he uncovered with the help of Bentleyville Council President Ken Kvacek, who also is a member of Chagrin Falls Historical Society Board of Trustees.
Mr. Kvacek was Mitchell’s Boy Scouts of America project coach along with Councilwoman Kathleen Esposito who acted as the project’s beneficiary representative on behalf of the Village of Bentleyville.
According to historical records, the bell could have been part of Bentleyville’s original one-room school house, Griffithsburg School, which was constructed in 1838 for children of Bentleyville, Solon and Bainbridge.
“It was one of the earliest school houses around,” Mr. Kvacek said. He explained that the schoolhouse was from before Chagrin Falls Township was created and was one of only three schools in Bentleyville. In 1844, Bentleyville Village was incorporated into Chagrin Falls Township and the school became Chagrin’s District School No. 1, according to historical records, which taught children until 1915.
The plaque also includes how the building served as a Sunday school after residents of Bentleyville petitioned to save the building from being sold by Chagrin Falls Board of Education in 1917 and then as the Bentleyville Village Town Hall until 1977 when it burned down and was replaced by a temporary trailer. A log cabin replaced the trailer in 1980 and acted as the new town hall until it was removed in 1994 to make room for today’s Bentleyville Village Hall.
Mitchell said he and Mr. Kvacek spent hours finalizing the document that would be used for the plaque to make it concise enough for people to read with ease. “I almost felt bad cutting some of the stuff out because it’s all really important,” Mitchell said referring to some of the history not included on the plaque. “We tried to include as much as we possibly could so that people in the future can be able to reference [the plaque].”
Mr. Kvacek said he located the bell in the backyard of an adjacent property from the Village Hall during a house sale. He explained that the current owners were able to confirm that the bell had been on the property since their house was built, and they donated the bell to the village.
“Although we cannot prove and document that the school bell originated at that school, we know it’s a school bell of the period found on the adjacent property,” Mr. Kvacek said, believing there is enough evidence to say the bell belonged to the schoolhouse. “We have really high suspicion that [the bell] was probably knocked down or taken down because it was no longer a school,” he added about the building later being used as a town hall with pictures showing the town hall without the bell.
Mr. Kvacek theorized that the original property owner of the adjacent house must have found the bell on the property line of the schoolhouse and stuck the bell in his own yard, where it remained for years until now.
As for the restoration process, Mitchell said he sand-blasted the bell to remove “gunk” or residues, primed it and painted it. He explained that he was able to find an old post from a century home in Chagrin Falls on which the bell has been mounted. The post is more than a century old, which helps maintain the historical accuracy of the bell, he added.
Maintaining the historical accuracy of the bell, however, proved to be a challenge for Mitchell. When refurbishing the bell, Mitchell had to recreate the top nut that holds it in place. The nut on the bell was so rusted that it was not usable, he said.
“I actually had to make this nut that holds onto the top of the bell,” Mitchell explained. “To maintain the historical accuracy of this bell, I had to weld a six-sided nut into a square.” He added that the nut that holds the top of the bell was originally square, and simply using a modern six-sided nut wouldn’t do for the bell.
The bell’s restoration was the second part of Mitchell’s service project, which included cleaning the Community Park pavilion in the fall.
“I also power washed, sanded and stained the Bentleyville pavilion,” Mitchell said of his work on the Community Park pavilion. He said he cleaned the pavilion back in October as the first part of his service project, giving him more time to work on the bell before his summer deadline with his 18th birthday approaching in June.
“The bell, my second part of the project, is more of like the determination part of it,” Mitchell said. The completion of the bell would mean the completion of his service project to becoming an Eagle Scout.
Mitchell said he’s been in the Scouts for four years, starting when he was 13 years old.
“Most people start at 12 (years old),” Mitchell explained. Starting a year later than most people, he said he has worked hard to rise through the ranks in a shorter period of time. “I’m not behind, but I’ve had to catch up a considerable amount,” he said.
“Through the ranks – through scouting – you have scouts, then you go to Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star Rank and then Eagle,” Mitchell explained on the order of ranks as a scout. “So, for each of those prior requirements, you do different things called merit badges and you meet requirements of that specific rank. And then what’s special about the Eagle Scout is then you actually apply everything you’ve learned into doing a project.
“Each of the ranks requires you to have a leadership position within your troop, and that’s sort of where you build that leadership role to become a better adult,” he said
If members of Scout BSA decide to work toward joining the top ranked Eagle Scouts, they must do so before turning 18 years old, and there are no extensions. With Mitchell’s 18th birthday approaching this summer, he said he had to tackle his service project over several months while balancing it with school and other extracurricular activities.
Mitchell, along with tending to the daily responsibilities of being a student, is also part of the Chagrin Falls Speech and Debate Team, Science Olympiad, Engineering Club, the school’s baseball team and summer baseball.
“With all my extracurriculars, I’ve had to really massage my schedule, let’s call it, to be able to fit everything in,” Mitchell said.
Despite the pressure of balancing the project with school and his extracurricular activities, Mitchell said he believes preserving history is a responsibility.
“I think it’s really important for people to be able to look back and understand what the bell signifies,” Mitchell said of the bell’s connection to the history of Bentleyville. “It’s definitely a responsibility to preserve history and to preserve how things came about and how they are today.”
The bell was installed last week outside of the Village Hall entrance, signifying a piece of Bentleyville history and the completion of Mitchell’s Eagle Scout Service Project as he joins the highest rank of Scouts BSA.