Car strikes courthouse bell

Contributed photo The 1890 courthouse bell was damaged Tuesday morning following a single-car wreck. County officials are hopeful the monument will be restored within the next month.

ROCKINGHAM — A piece of Richmond County history was damaged in a single-car wreck Tuesday morning.

According to a report, 61-year-old Denise McGhee, of Martin McGee Road, turned left on to East Franklin Street from South Lee Street around 10 a.m. when she lost control, hitting a handicapped parking sign and walking trail sign before continuing uphill and smashing into the historic courthouse bell monument with her car.

The estimated speed of impact was 25 miles per hour and the front airbag in the car deployed. The estimated damage to the car is $3,000.

The bell was still hanging over the side of the foundation Tuesday afternoon, by a chain attached to one of the support arms.

Although McGhee had no visible injuries, she complained of pain and was taken by ambulance to FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital.

Rockingham police say although McGhee was found at fault for the wreck, she was not given a citation.

The Richmond County Historical Society installed the 1890 bell onto a granite marker on the old courthouse lawn last summer with assistance from a Cole Foundation grant.

The bell was once in the tower at the 1889 courthouse which stood where Harrington Square is today, was saved when that courthouse was torn down in 1924 and was placed on top of the 1924 courthouse.

“We picked the location so nothing would happen to it,” Tom MacCallum of the historical society said with an ironic laugh. “The bell is pretty sturdy, but it’s breakable.”

He said the foundation was damaged and the bell carriage would need welding in several places.

“The extent of the damage hasn’t been estimated yet,” Richmond County Public Works Director Bryan Land said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “We are in the process of getting a professional opinion now.”

Land said his “non-professional estimate” of the damage would be around $1,500-$2,000.

“It is all dependent on whether the foundation and brick work can be leveled back to its original state,” he said.

Land said the county hopes to have the bell repaired within the next month, adding, “It’s really dependent on the insurance adjuster and contractor we choose to repair.”

Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.