Willie and Bill Simmons at the Courthouse Bell in 1966. Photo courtesy Historic Fincastle, Inc.
Bells of Historic Fincastle
Each year the New Year's Eve ringing of the bells
in the town of Fincastle is a synchronized and solemn requiem to
end the old year and a joyous tolling to celebrate the beginning of
the new year. The Botetourt County Court House and four churches
join in a ritual that was begun so long ago that no one knows
exactly when it started. Not just anyone rings the bells; that duty
and honor has been performed by the same families for
On December 31, 1999, promptly at 11:45 p.m., Willie
Simmons, the third generation of his family to lead the ceremony,
signaled with a flashing light to the persons in the belfry to
begin. The court house bell rings first, which is followed by the
Presbyterian Church bell, where illness broke the string of three
generations of McDonells and a new tradition has started for bell
tolling. The Baptist Church bell is next with the third generation
of Boltons doing the honor. Next rings the Methodist Church bell
where brothers Kerry and Bill Campbell are the second generation in
charge; and on to the Episcopal Church were another third
generation family, the Waids, pull the rope for the traditional one
peal of the bell. This sequence of ringing lasts for 15 minutes,
then the courthouse bell rings 12 times, marking midnight. A second
generation of the Kessler family plays taps, and the year is rung
in. Simmons follows with three shots from his shotgun to signal the
beginning of the ringing of all the bells together for ten minutes
to celebrate the new year.
"The ceremony is simple: the bells toll for the old
year, then strike midnight; taps are played, and the new year is
struck. Then the shotgun blasts in the new year and the bells peal
and peal." (From
The Roanoke Times, 1978)
Fincastle, which was incorporated as a town in 1772,
was settled by German, Scotch-Irish and English immigrants. The
town has always been the seat of Botetourt County. The original
Botetourt Country Court House was built in 1845; after a fire it
was rebuilt to the original Thomas Jefferson design. A walking tour
through historic Fincastle reveals wrought iron fences, flagstone
walks, gravestones dating back to 1795, handsome cupolas on the
courthouse and churches, and steeples. Three antebellum and two
late 19th century churches still serve their congregations.
Documentation includes photographs, newspaper
clippings, brochures, and a Botetourt Country catalog.
Originally submitted by: Bob Goodlatte, Representative (6th District).
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.