Perkins family donates historic bell
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on February 19, 2010 3:04 PM
Florence and Robert Perkins examine the century-old Cherry Hospital dinner bell their family donated to the Wayne County Museum.
In a simpler time, "ringing the dinner bell" wasn't just an expression.
Robert Perkins still remembers the days as a child when he would hear the old Cherry Hospital dinner bell clanging from miles away at his own home.
"You could hear that bell all the way to Rosewood from Cherry Hospital," he said.
At the time, he had no idea that years later he would marry the daughter of two Cherry Hospital staff members, or that he one would one day own the old iron bell that called patients and workers alike in from the fields for meals.
From the time the hospital was built in the late 1800s until the middle of the 20th century, the Cherry Hospital dinner bell rang out every day to summon people to the dinner table, or to let them know when it was time to stop work for the day. The sound carried farther back then, Perkins said, because there was less noise from vehicles, aircraft and other mechanical sources than there is today.
When he and wife, Florence, came across the bell in the mid-1950s, though, the heavy cast-iron keepsake had been thrown out with other scrap destined for the junkyard.
Knowing something special when he saw it, Perkins bought the bell for just $4.
For years the heavy bell sat on a sturdy wooden stand at the Perkinses' home in Rosewood. The old iron clapper was already worn smooth on two sides from clanging against the inside of the bell for more than 70 years, but it still made a mighty racket when the family sometimes rang it.
But as the family's collections of other items grew and their children grew up, the Perkinses decided to donate the bell to the Wayne County Museum.
"We wanted to preserve a piece of history," Perkins said.
Today the bell resides on the museum's second floor as part of the historical medical exhibit, which also includes information on local Goldsboro doctors over the years. The museum had to have a custom-made stand built to hold the heavy bell.
"They knew we'd treat it right," museum Director Johnna Nelson said.
And even though it's not rung on a frequent basis any more, sometimes small vibrations from passing jets or cars will wake the bell up with a loud ring. More than 100 years after it was made and half a century since it was used for its original purpose, the Cherry Hospital dinner bell still sounds just as loud as it did then.
The bell is on display on the second floor of the Wayne County Museum, with an attached plaque dedicating the donation to Mrs. Perkins' parents. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.