95-year-old elementary school in Columbia starts new tradition

(Photo: WKRN)

COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) – The oldest elementary school in Columbia began a new tradition this year.

McDowell Elementary School rang in the 2017-18 school year with a 130-year-old restored bell.

Bob McDowell has been considered a leader in education in Maury County since the school opened as a one room, one teacher room in 1883.

The county’s first PTA started at the elementary school, and so did its first Girl Scout troop. McDowell is also credited for leading the way in school desegregation in the 1960s.

Now, in 2017 history continues to live at the school and it’s celebrated each day.

“I’m really excited about celebrating who McDowell is,” said Principal Dr. Breckon Pennell.

(Photo: WKRN)

The 95-year-old building is Columbia’s oldest active elementary school. It’s weathered many storms over its years and time has taken a toll on the building.

“I noticed that the school, in my opinion, has not been maintained well. A lot of chipped paint on rails,” Pennell said.
Beyond the wear and tear, Dr. Pennell sees opportunity.

“I saw a lot of potential here,” the principal said. “I thought this is really an old school – almost 100 years old, but we’re in the 21st century. We have 21st century learners in this building and what an interesting contrast that is.”

Five generations of families have attended the elementary school and class pictures dating back to 1930 are proudly displayed throughout the building.

There is also an extensive collection of teacher grade books, and McDowell’s most treasured symbol – the school bell – is back in action this year.

No one knows when the century-year-old bell fell silent, but Donald Marshall, owner of General Machine Works and McDowell class of 1954, knew how to bring it back to life.

(Photo: WKRN)

“It was missing the clapper, that’s the thing inside the bell that makes it go dong. It didn’t have any way to swing the bell. I had to refurbish a piece where you can put a rope on it where you can swing the bell,” Marshall explained.

For the first time in recent memory, McDowell students gathered on the front lawn to begin a new chapter in the school’s storied past.

“We’re going to have a tradition where every year we ring out the old school year with a fourth grader and ring in the school year with a kindergartner, because that is really a special bell. It’s part of our history,” said Dr. Pennell.

Dr. Pennell said she believes it’s important for students to know their history so they can understand progress and that progress does happen, but we have to all work together to make it happen.

Click here for more of Anne Holt’s Tennessee stories.