ROCHELLE — Those traveling to the downtown area of Rochelle might have noticed the straw bell positioned in front of the Masonic Lodge.
Designed and crafted by Bill Schermerhorn, the bell is the exact replica of the Liberty Bell of the West that is permanently housed in Kaskaskia, Illinois.
The bell was made in time for Hay Day, the city of Rochelle’s fall festival scheduled for this Saturday, Oct. 13.
Schermerhorn said he had been approached to make something for the city in honor of the state’s 200th birthday. The construction process took about two weeks, which he assembled in two halves over a wooden frame and transported by trailer to the location.
Just like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Illinois bell has a crack in it when two floods 20 years apart caused the bell to knock over. Before the second flood, which made the crack even larger, visitors could tap the bell. The state rang it every July 4.
A plaque, dated Oct. 26, 1995, near the bell depicts its history:
“This bell, given by King Louis XV of France to the Catholic church of the Illinois country in 1741, has been in Kaskaskia for centuries. The people of Kaskaskia rang it in celebration after George Rogers Clark occupied the town on July 4, 1778, during the American Revolution. It continued to be rung on July 4 for many years thereafter.”
Another of Schermerhorn’s works is the Blackhawk statue, currently in front of the Rochelle Municipal Utilities building. He also made a straw replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek.
He credits another local artist, Fran Volz, for giving him the idea to work with straw.
“Fran got me interested in straw originally,” Schermerhorn said. “I made Blackhawk for the competition a few years ago, and this year it was at the Ogle County Fair and was used to promote the fundraising for the Blackhawk statue restoration project.”
Although the city’s fall festival is this weekend, Schermerhorn is already toying with some ideas for next year’s project.
“I’ve got some ideas — I’d like to make the time machine from Dr. Who but I will play it by ear and see what happens as it gets closer,” he added.
Schermerhorn has also helped to restore plasterwork inside the former home of the Hub Theater, now Kennay Farms Distillery, as well as exterior and interior work on several downtown buildings.
The third annual fall event begins this Saturday, Oct. 13 at 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Lincoln Highway and throughout the downtown area. The family-friendly event features a petting zoo, inflatables, tractors, face painting by the RTHS Interact Club, a magician and fall treats.
Children are welcome to dress in costume. The Flagg-Rochelle Library will host pumpkin art at the event and City Hall is hosting a pumpkin-decorating contest. There will also be activities provided by the Ogle County 4-H Club, Happy Babies and the Flagg Rochelle Museum.
There will be several food options, music by The Templetons bluegrass band and a special performance by the Rochelle Performing Arts Academy at 12 p.m.
Along with the straw sculptures situated downtown, over 40 hay bales have been decorated around Rochelle.