The fall semester started just over a month ago at Augustana University.
KELOLAND News was there on the first day as the university cheered on students heading to class. Part of that celebration included the ringing of the Eidsvaag Bell.
But we quickly found out the bell has a story of its own.
Before diving into the history of the bell, it’s important to know where and when Augustana University got its start.
Today you know it as a long-standing part of Sioux Falls, but it earned the name “The College on Wheels” from historians.
Augustana opened in 1860 in Chicago.
It later moved to Paxton, Illinois
In 1869, the school headed to Marshall, Wisconsin.
That’s where the story of the Eidsvaag Bell begins.
Augustana received the bell after it moved to Marshall.
“There was a Norwegian farmer there who apparently had an affection for the college, and an affection for the mission of the institution and an affection for the church and so he gave this bell to Augustana,” Retired Augustana University President Rob Oliver said.
The bell was installed in the bell tower, but after a while Augustana was back on the move, this time heading to Beloit, Iowa in the early 1880s.
“They started packing up all the belongings of the institution, including the bell. Well, there were some community members who were not very happy. The community of Marshall, Wisconsin was not very happy that Augustana was moving and the bell was kind of a symbol and they were saying ‘No, you’re not taking the bell,'” Oliver said.
Despite attempts to keep the bell with the school, the college had to head to its next destination without the bell.
After a legal battle, it was decided the bell belonged to Augustana and it later arrived in Beloit.
It then followed Augustana to Canton before reaching its final and current destination: Sioux Falls.
In 1918, it was installed in the Old Main bell tower.
“It was used for celebrations over the years. It was always rung for the start of classes, for the start of chapel. It was a real celebratory instrument for many years,” Oliver said.
An aging Old Main was closed for classroom use in the 1980s, and the bell stopped ringing as a safety precaution.
That is until Augustana celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2010.
The bell was plucked from the Old Main tower so it could ring again.
Augustana University Writer-in-Residence Patrick Hicks was asked to write a poem about the bell for Augustana’s 150th anniversary.
He said yes right away and then asked to see it.
“It was really kind of a wonderful moment to see it, to know this is really the foundation of Augustana’s history,” Augustana University Writer-in-Residence Patrick Hicks said.
Today the bell can still be heard on campus from time to time.
“We ring it to inaugurate the new academic year. We’ll ring it for graduation services, so it’s become this iconic sound and it literally is the sound of the 19th century,” Hicks said.
Oliver hopes its story will ring throughout the years to come.
“Artifacts like that, the stories are easily lost. Time passes and people don’t know the story and so I think it’s really important to retell the story again and again and to remind people this is part of the history and the history is rich and full of interesting tales of individuals who sacrificed to make the institution what it is today,” Oliver said.
It’s not known exactly how old the bell is, but it was crafted in the 1860s.
That means it’s possible the bell is as old as Augustana.