The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

Bell of prophecy rings once again


Jess Macinko

Ron Ingraham, president of the Klickitat County Historical Society, beside the alternately named Presbyterian Bell, Hanging Bell, Constitution Bell, Centennial Bell, and now, Fairgrounds Bell.

On April 1888, shortly before being hung for murder, Jochin Henry Timmerman cursed the town of Goldendale and swore it would burn to the ground. One month later, it did.

Perhaps the most well-known of local legends, Timmerman's fiery curse had an unlikely witness: a 275-pound bell that rang during his trip to the gallows. The blaze claimed the Presbyterian Church in which the bell hung, but the bell itself survived.

It went on to absorb the blow of years, resonating local and national history. Resuming its station in the rebuilt Presbyterian Church, it tolled there until 1930, when the building was demolished.

The bell then found a new home on the courthouse lawn. It was there that on Sept. 17, 1987, over 400 Klickitat County schoolchildren rang the bell for 200 seconds-in honor of the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution-as part of a nationwide celebration called "Bells Across America."

From 1989 – 2015, the bell represented Klickitat County at the Washington State Centennial Bell Garden, a musical installation featuring bells from each of Washington's 39 counties. Designed by Seattle composer and pianist David Mahler, the installation used a computerized timing system to ring bells along Pike Street, marking the hours and playing original compositions.

Now, the clangorous relic is slated to chime once again. An agreement between the Klickitat County Historical Society (KCHS) and the county Board of Commissioners has allocated $5,000 to display the bell at the entrance to the county fairgrounds. (Initially, KCSH suggested the bell could return to the courthouse green, where it rang during the "Bells Across America" celebration. The commissioners declined, fearing the bell would prove a temptation to passing youngsters, and hence an annoyance to neighbors.)

The bell will be mounted on a beam from John Crocker's 1886 cabin, along with five "name" plaques-each commemorating a key point in the bell's colorful history: Presbyterian Bell, Hanging Bell, Constitution Bell, Centennial Bell, and now, Fairgrounds Bell.

The installation is one part of a planned remodel of the fairgrounds entrance. Klickitat County Public Works Director Gordon Kelsey says plans include a pergola with benches, a walkway, flagpoles, lights, trees and rock-scaping. He expects the project will begin after this year's fair, and will take around three years to complete. The bell display will be one of the first elements to go up; KCSH hopes to have it mounted by the time of the fair.

The bell is currently in storage at the Presby Museum, which is now open for the season, May 1 – Oct 15, daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Museum is accepting registration for the July 8 Quilt Show and the Sept. 23 Military Road Tour. There will also be a one-hour volunteer training session for people interested in helping staff the museum, Wednesday, May 17, at 1 p.m. For more information, contact the museum at (509) 773-4303 or email


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