Refurbished Ghost Town Bell

By Ricki Chaikin, Co-Owner Reclaimed Relics as Featured on Abandoned

This school bell was recovered from Johnsonville Village in East Haddam, Connecticut. Founded in the early 19th century, Johnsonville was once a thriving village inhabited by workers of the nearby Neptune Mill, a prosperous twine and rope factory. The original town included the offices of the company, a library, post office, general store, housing, and a mansion built by the mill’s owner. When the village began to decline in the 1960’s, millionaire and historic preservationist Raymond Schmitt purchased this 52-acre parcel of land. Some of the original structures were restored and Schmitt even had several other historical buildings moved to the area. When Schmitt died in 1998, his family sold the land. The current owner has done little with the property and it remains largely untouched. A church, school, general store, town hall, saloon, carriage house, and other Victorian structures compose this strange village, stuck in time, preserving the history of a bygone era. The school is where we recovered this mid-1800’s, 24” cast iron bell.

There is some contention among historians as to just when bells were first made. Authentic history, however, tells us that bells were used no later than the second century! Bells were originally believed to be used as alarms signifying something, presumably an enemy, and there was at one time a great deal of superstition connected to bells, believing they could ward off evil spirits and storms. By c. 400 A.D. the use of bells had evolved and the first church bell was in use. Throughout the millennium, the styles, sizes, and uses of bells changed and spread throughout the entire world. Bell towers were built to house free swinging bells, such as this one, and the bell became a main source of communication throughout small towns.  A bell could signify almost any event, from the beginning of a school day, a town meeting, a marriage or a war. It also signified the end to many things, including life… a saying made famous in, “For whom the bell tolls.”

This bell was removed from the 1860’s schoolhouse in East Haddam CT. After carefully removing this bell from the bell tower, Jay brought it back to Pa where restoration began. Amazingly, after over 150 years, this bell was intact and the cradle, yolk, body, and wheel were still in extremely good condition. After sand blasting the bell to remove any rust or decay, the clapper was repaired. During casting, there were imperfections in the clapper which Jay filled. (Some original repairs are evident, but are solid repairs and add to history and character of the bell). He then applied a coat of primer and painted the bell a flat black. Finally, he replaced the tattered leather on the muffles with reclaimed leather from an old belt and attached it with antique copper rivets. The oak stand the bell now sits on is to demonstrate its intended use… to be suspended as a free swinging bell and be rung from below. While attaching the rope, we couldn’t help but picture a mischievous young boy sneaking in to ring the bell!

This bell is so much more than an antique piece of cast iron. The messages delivered by this bell to thousands of people hold an amazing part of our past. Long before all the modern communication we’re now accustomed to, it was this bell’s sound that drew the townspeople together. It was this bell that we used to communicate with our families, neighbors and communities. It is our great hope that wherever this bell ends up, it remains a source of communication and comfort and serves as a reminder of a time when townsfolk were connected. As a sidenote,  Jay’s favorite movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life”… so remember when you do hear this bell ring that an angel got its’ wings! Find out more about the bell on Reclaimed Relics and see some of their other finds from this episode.

Tonight on Abandoned: Connecticut Ghost Town, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to explore not just an abandoned building, but an entire town. Johnsonville, Conn., was purchased by a millionaire who planned to turn the mill and the surrounding village into a tourist attraction, only to shut it down in 1994. Jay, Dan and Mark expect to find well-preserved properties, but are shocked by excessive mold, mildew and disrepair. After struggling to negotiate fair prices, Jay decides to make an unprecedented offerto buy an entire schoolhouse.



  1. Carrie
    McAlester, Ok
    September 19, 2012, 9:10 pm

    Ive been a teacher for 21 years. Were there other items from the school you would sell?

  2. susan sutherby
    show on 9/19/12
    September 20, 2012, 1:12 pm

    I would like to know about the toilet paper holder on the show, can people buy these items? im redoing my bathroom and that would be so cool

  3. Steve Kuczynski
    East Haddam
    September 20, 2012, 9:04 pm

    As a lifetime resident of East Haddam and only living less than a mile from Johnsonville, I was disappointed in this episode due to your lack of properly identifying the surrounding area. The area you labeled as Johnsonville was actually twenty minutes away and two towns over. Also I would have much rather have seen a show come in that was looking to come in and maybe try to preserve this piece of history that our town has instead of buying the stuff to bring back to Pennsylvania and sell to someone who has no appreciation for where it came from. To alot of the people in this town that village has a lot of memories to there personal upbringing here. It is very sad to see what has happened to the village over the years but also sad that Mr. Dirgo seems to have no desire to even try to keep things around the village looking good. He was put in charge to care take not to careless take. In the right hands that old village has much potential. There should have been a show that went through the village highlighting all the history it really has and maybe try to get it out there to people that may have money and also see the potential in the whole package, not just on individual items that they take away from the history there, and possibly could maybe try to turn it around. I realize the work needed to do so but anything is possible. It’s a perfect place for a little shopping village with a restaurant or tavern and some place to let the history of the village and the town of East Haddam as a whole live on. There is actually a lot of history in this little one horse town and Johnsonville is a big part of it. If Mr. Schmidt was still around he would be ashamed of what has happened to his dream, and that the person left in charge is just letting it all fall apart with no effort at all to even try to preserve it. I realize all things must come to end but this is history not a game of monopoly.

  4. Ed Arnold
    Chicago Il
    September 21, 2012, 7:52 pm

    As presented by this show, the principals of relics do not come across as preservers of history, but opportunists whose only motivation is making a fast buck. Tearing down a 150 year old schoolhouse for it’s salvage value is not preservation; talking about the scrap value of a bronze church bell to price it makes Mark sound like the ultimate Bubba.
    NatGeo should spend it’s production money elsewhere. The crassness of this show is upsetting, to say the least.

  5. John
    September 21, 2012, 8:02 pm

    Hey I was watching this episode tonight and something caught my eye… When they went into the church I was struck by the look of it from the inside. The church looks like a set used in many shows and movies that depict the witch hunt trials as seen in Salem and the surrounding areas. Does anyone know if this could be the case? or do all churches from that era have the same design and look? I mean I could be completely off here as I am know historian nor have I studied the films, but it just all seems very familiar. I look forward to you responses and I won’t be found insane! Thanks in advance….

  6. Mary Anne Prashina
    East Chicago, Indiana
    September 27, 2012, 3:44 pm

    I find this show very disturbing. After helping my community try to preserve many of our ols buildings and history, I do not like watvhing someone exploit greedily the demise of a building or community. I had the misfortune of having to deal with someone exactly like him in 1987 when our church was being demolished. The contractor tried keeping older women in 80,s and 90s from getting candle holders as a remembrance of their lifr long church. Many came here from Lithuania after the war and the church had been their home. I detest him and this show.

  7. Reclaimed Relics
    October 4, 2012, 2:33 pm

    Hello fans! This is Ricki, of Reclaimed Relics here. And I’d like to thank the fans who appreciate our show and address some of the others: Steve, people in Pennsylvania do appreciate antiques, regardless of what state they came from. While it’s sad that no one from East Haddam or Johnsonville attempted to save these items, we are very fortunate that the owner wanted to sell us these items rather than have them continue to deteriorate. Ironically, several people from your area have contacted us to purchase them! To Ed: We do not tear down buildings for scrap. Please visit our other website, to see how we painstakingly dismantle buildings like these to have them rebuilt and given another life. As far as making a “quick buck” doing so, we cordially invite you to come with us the next time we dismantle a building. There is nothing quick about it and most men could literally not handle the physical work involved. To MaryAnne: As far as the old ladies who weren’t given a candle: you will not meet a more generous man than my husband if you live to be 200 years old. A serious consideration of mine when closing our antique shop 15 years ago was that he would regularly give our inventory away to little old ladies who had a sentimental attachment or fond memory of an item. But most importantly, thank you to all of the viewers who love the show, appreciate that we are saving pieces of history that would otherwise be discarded or destroyed , and understand that there are high costs of both time and money to do what we do.

  8. Jody
    October 5, 2012, 2:47 pm

    I thought it was interesting that this school was from Caterbury, CT (1962). Connecticut’s state heroine is Prudence Crandall (1803-1890) who had a school in Canterbury for young black girls in the 1830s. In 1833, she was arrested for violating Connecticut’s Black Laws. Her case was dismissed in 1834 but that did not stop an angry mob from attacking her school and forcing its closure. While this school was built nearly 3 decades after these events, it could still be said to be related to them. In 1862, the civil war was waging and the rights and freedom of black citizens were very much at risk. While I have no evidence that this school is in any way connected to Prudence Crandall, those who built it would have remembered these events.

  9. jay at reclaimed relics
    October 9, 2012, 10:58 pm

    jody thanks for sharing the information with us.

  10. Nora Laudermilk
    October 10, 2012, 4:07 pm

    I’m shocked by some of the comments. If they cared so much about the items – where were all of you when the bulding and items were rotting? If you’re so concerned get up and do something about it. If this company did not go in and save them they would be lost forever. I don’t think they are greedy at all. They must pay labor, transport and then refurbish and advertise. That costs alot of money. Isn’t everyone in America allowed to support their family? I think the show is great and I love Jay and his crew. Jay seems to be a fair and honest man and I can’t wait for the next episode. Thank goodness there are people like them to take the time to find and save these items.

  11. jay at reclaimed relics
    November 8, 2012, 7:55 pm

    Dear Nora. Thank you! with all of my heart THANK YOU !

  12. jay at reclaimed relics
    November 8, 2012, 8:03 pm

    Dear Nora. Thank you! with all of my heart .It is great to know that you have our backs.Thanks for your support.Hope to see you come second season.

  13. Elvira
    November 10, 2012, 8:23 pm

    I would like to propose not to hold off until you get enoguh amount of cash to order all you need! You can get the or financial loan and feel yourself comfortable

  14. Teresa
    January 30, 2013, 11:48 am

    I love this show, and I agree with show – I’d rather see items salvaged & restored then left to rot into the ground. I think the guys do a great job and if Moodus/East Haddam & the current owners of Johnsonville cared years ago, everything wouldn’t be falling apart now. At least there are some things left to salvage & carry on the history!

  15. Betsy Baumann
    April 6, 2013, 8:09 am

    I was borned and raised in moodus, ct. I have been all around johnsnville. it was heart breaking to see the village in bad shape. In 1990 I was married in that church. I look at the pictures and see it know, it was sad. The village at christmas time would decorate it and people would come from all over just to see it.