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Column: Shoal Creek’s bell comes out of the closet
Johnny Vardeman

Marie Shuler Adams of Cleveland got an unusual birthday present from her husband, the late Roy Adams, 55 years ago.

It was the bell atop the old Shoal Creek School that rang students to class and on other special occasions, from 1922 to the mid-1960s.

Lester West bought the school building when it closed in 1966, according to LaVenier Mize Hicks, who wrote a history of the school and has followed the unusual journey of the bell. Roy Adams bought the bell from West for his wife. He paid two men $50 each to climb up to the bell tower and get it down.

It was indeed a special present for Marie Adams, who not only attended Shoal Creek School, but later taught there.

But, there was much curiosity about the bell’s whereabouts after the school was razed, she worried that it might be stolen for its historic value. Therefore, she tucked it away in a closet in her basement. Other than her and her husband, only Dean Nix, a former student of hers, knew for certain where it was.

Nix had approached Marie Adams previously asking if she would sell it to him. She told him if and when she decided to sell it, he would have first choice.

“It was time to let it go, and I’m glad Dean got it,” Mrs. Adams told Hicks. “It means so much to him.” She feels good that he will preserve and protect the bell on his property.

“I was really proud to get it,” Nix said. 

He mounted it atop a tall metal pole on the Shoal Creek side of Piney Mountain, where he lives with his wife, Ann.

He wouldn’t say how much he paid for the bell, but told Hicks it was a price higher than what was paid for the school property in 1922. John A. O’Kelley sold the land on which the school was built for $99, she said.

According to Hicks’ history, the school was located in the Shoal Creek Community, west of Cleveland in White County from 1922, until it closed in 1966. The first day of school was Oct. 15, 1922.

People in the area had wondered where the missing bell was for years. Marie Adams is glad whatever mystery there was is cleared up, and that the historic bell is safe and secure, available for public view and perhaps to be heard ringing again after more than half-a-century.

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Shoal Creek School bell rings again. Photo courtesy LaVenier Mize Hicks
Missing in action

Mrs. Adams had reason to worry about the bell’s fate. Bells and other historical artifacts have gone missing over the years.

One example is the bell from Gainesville Midland Railroad’s Engine 209, where it once stood on display on Spring Street off the Gainesville downtown square. Another is the bell that once hung above the Gainesville Fire Department before the 1936 tornado destroyed its building and later was moved to the new fire department on South Green Street.

Other bells have been preserved like the one at Shoal Creek. The original Hall County Courthouse bell is on display at the entrance of the old courthouse, now the Courthouse Annex. Another is a bell First Methodist Church rang in its original building on South Bradford Street. It is now displayed in the church’s courtyard on Thompson Bridge Road.

Still missing at last count is the old Lyman Hall School cornerstone after the school burned in 1971, last seen in the back of somebody’s pickup truck leaving the scene of the fire.


The name of W.L. Norton Jr. should have been listed among those who have contributed to preserving Hall County history over the years.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, His column publishes weekly.

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