The NC State Memorial Belltower, which has served as an iconic symbol for NC State since it was erected, received the first of two bell installations earlier this year. The renovations to the tower, which began in August 2019, are working to bring the original vision of the tower to fruition.
According to Tom Stafford, former vice chancellor for Student Affairs, until recently, operations to put bells in the tower were at a standstill. However, in the summer of 2018, alumni Bill and Frances Henry brought their son, William Henry, to campus for orientation where they learned the Belltower lacked bells. This realization eventually led to their pledge to renovate the Belltower, put a staircase in it that leads to the carillon room and to fulfill the tower's intended vision: to add real bells.
The family’s generous contribution came with the request that construction would be completed in time for the bells to be chimed when William Henry graduates in the spring of 2021.
Stafford stated there was not enough money to install real bells at its inception in 1937, and instead, an electronic carillon system was adopted, which included the speakers the Belltower used until now.
The original construction of the Belltower was initiated by NC State alumni after World War I ended to honor the alumni and students who died in the war. Stafford emphasized how meaningful the tower is, stating it is the most sacred and iconic place on campus.
Of the 55 bells scheduled to be installed to the tower, the 37 that have already been installed are the largest. The Henry family was honored for their gift with inscriptions of their names on some of the bells. Other individuals were honored too, including Stafford himself.
The largest of the bells installed is in honor of the class of 2010 who, spearheaded by Matt Robinson, a student at the time, began the original campaign to install bells in the tower, Stafford said.
“Every member of that class that made a contribution to that bell campaign, their name is on that bell,” Stafford said.
The remaining bells are scheduled to be received and installed by the end of this month. According to Stafford, the 18 smaller bells will be carried up the newly-built staircase so they can be installed.
Previously, the tower’s sound system played electronic chimes automatically, but with the installation, there is an opportunity to have people play real bells, Stafford said.
“As far as I know, the University has not yet made any decisions about who will be playing the carillon,” Stafford said. “The cool thing is there are lots of things we could do. We could have somebody go in and play a concert every day at 5 o’clock. The opportunities are virtually unlimited.”
Stafford is excited about the renovation of the tower given its importance to the student body, mentioning specifically his involvement with the tradition of class rings spending the night in the tower. Stafford also mentioned how he has been personally involved in more than a few surprise engagements that have taken place at or in the Belltower.
“When you think about NC State, most of the time the first thing you’ll think about is the Belltower,” Stafford said. “It is the one and the only thing on our campus that is so closely identified with our great university.”