Many traditions given us by our ancestors have been forgotten or lost due to changing times but the only thing lost about The Bells of Fincastle is the origin. 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. Each year, the New Year’s Eve ringing of the bells in the town of Fincastle, is a synchronized to end the old year with a joyous tolling and to celebrate the beginning of the New Year.
Not just anyone rings the bells. That duty and honor has been performed by the same families for generations. The privilege of ringing the bells has been handed down through families such as Bolton, Breckenridge, McDowell, Peck, Simmons and Waid. Newer names – Campbell, Holt, Kessler and others have joined these ranks in the past two generations.
At fifteen minutes until midnight, the courthouse bell rings first, this is followed by the Presbyterian Church bell, then the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, and on to the Episcopal Church. The courthouse bell rings 12 times, marking midnight.
Taps are played from the steeple followed by three shots from a shotgun, to signal the beginning of the ringing of all the bells together for ten minutes. This New Year’s Eve ceremony has been popular for well over 150 years. Revelers gather throughout the Town for this joyful celebration.
After the Court House burned in December 1970, the usual participants climbed atop part of the ruined structure and, using a bell borrowed from The Botetourt County Museum which had hung in one of the previous Botetourt County CourtHouses, the tradition was carried on.
Each year, thereafter, a makeshift arrangement made it possible to continue until the present Court House was completed. Since 1974 the “new” bell in the “new” belfry has led, and will continue to lead, the proceedings each New Year’s Eve in the “Old” way.
Photo and story credits to Historic Fincastle, Inc.