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The 1960s were a time of rapid growth and change for Salem State as it made the transition from a single-building teachers’ college into a diverse four-year liberal arts campus. By the end of the decade, Salem State was the largest and fastest-growing state college in Massachusetts.
In September 1960, new state legislation enabled Massachusetts’ ten teachers’ colleges to transition to publicly supported liberal arts colleges. The newly renamed Salem State College had long been eager to expand its offerings. College President Frederick A. Meier told the Boston Globe “We are turning away more and more qualified students…this year we had to refuse 200 youngsters.” Under Meier’s then five years of leadership, the college had already more than doubled the number of students and faculty – and completed a modern building that housed a new library, auditorium, and gymnasium at the cost of $1.9 million. Additionally, he had broken ground on a new $2.5 million Arts and Sciences Building, which would eventually be named for him. The focal point of this new campus design was a Carillion and Clock Tower. A Carillon is a set of bells that are played using a keyboard or by an automatic mechanism like that of a piano roll. The tower featured four clocks representing different time zones. Although, as alumni will tell you, it was never a reliable source. The new Bell Tower was unveiled on North Campus in 1966. It was dedicated to the college’s alumni in 1979.
The Bell Tower loomed over campus activities and became a gathering spot for the community in times of celebration, mourning, and activism. In April 1967, the first Vietnam protest at Salem State took place here. 68 students and 10 faculty members gathered at noon under the Bell Tower for a silent protest of the war. As at many public colleges, opinion on the war was divided. Soon, a second group of around 20 counter-protestors picketed and jeered the anti-war group.
In the late 1980s, the college became concerned with the stability of the structure and debated removing it. This plan was met with staunch opposition. Following a Salem Evening News article about the Bell Tower’s future in May 1989, George F. Gannon wrote to the editor: “For Salem State, the bell tower is so symbolic in so many ways. Frankly, it is the only structure on campus that one may notice, take a picture of, or recall after leaving the campus. If the bell tower is razed, no identifying structure will remain at Salem State. The campus will be a simple collection of buildings.”
The Bell Tower was demolished in June 1990 after its shale facing began to shed.
Bell Tower Photographs and Ephemera