Darren Doyle, story and photos:
Personnel working on the top structure of the courthouse, or cupola, discovered a hidden gem inside last week, which was the original bell that was used when the courthouse was first built in 1874.
According to information obtained by Judge Executive Wil Cannon's Office, the cupola was used to house the bell, which was rung when court was about to begin. At that time, the cupola was open and the bell was visible. The bell was also rung on special occasions over the years.
We spoke with former Edmonson County Circuit Court Clerk Ann Stewart, who served as clerk from 1970 until 2000. She said as a young girl, she remembered the bell being rung frequently--every day, to be exact, at 12 noon.
"They rang it everyday at noon as a reminder of the time," she said. "For years and when I served in office, they rang it at the start of every court session which was at 9 AM. They also rang it when it was time for the jury and everyone in the court to take a lunch break, then they would ring it again after lunch to call everyone back into the courtroom."
She also provided interesting insight for the reasoning why the bell was no longer used. She said the rope used to ring the bell hung down into the courtroom and at some point the rope was fashioned into hangman's noose, which was used as the handle. Mrs. Stewart said that it regularly grabbed the attention of those coming into the courtroom but that around 1978, a district judge named Robert Hawley thought the noose was inappropriate in the courtroom. He asked that the rope be placed back up into the ceiling tiles, which a jailer obliged. It was then that the bell stopped being used.
She also said the cupola was boarded up in the late 70s or early 80s as a result a birds being able to come inside the courthouse through the structure. She said birds even made their way into the courtroom and that boarding up the cupola was the only way to be sure to keep them out. She also added that the sealing up of the cupola had nothing to do with the function of the bell, nor did the bell's use or lack thereof have anything to do with the sealing of the structure.
Last week, the cupola was disassembled and the bell was discovered inside, still intact after decades of being sealed up. Workers took photos and sent to the the Judge's Office with one worker reportedly asking, "Did ya'll know there was a bell up here?"
The Judge Executive's office said they reached out to local historian and retired educator Norman Warnell, who had undergone extensive research on the courthouse and bell.
In a statement sent to Judge Cannon's Office, Mr. Warnell wrote:
"The Edmonson County Courthouse was completed in 1874. The bricks used in the construction were cast in a kiln that stood where the lowest place in the parking lot between Cee Bee Food Store and C & C Firearms. At the same time, the bricks used in the courthouse at Morgantown were cast there, and shipped down Green River where a building similar to the one in Brownsville was constructed."
"The bell that was hung in the Brownsville Courthouse was cast by the W.M. Kaye Bell Co. of Louisville. Kaye was an English immigrant and served as mayor of Louisville during the Civil War. After his death, one of his sons took over the River Street foundry (est. 1841) until it went out of business in 1895."
According to the Judge's Office, plans for the bell are for it to be restored and permanently mounted in the courtyard square so it can be used for Memorial Day and other veterans and local programs. It is cast in solid bronze and still has the ringer inside. It is currently at least 146 years old.
*10/2/20, 11:07AM: This story was updated after speaking with Mrs. Ann Stewart, former Edmonson County Circuit Court Clerk from 1970-2000.