Farmers in the countryside beyond Concord University sometimes speak of a strange phenomenon that occurs there in winter. The sound of the school's 48-bell carillon, often no more than a distant melody, swells to a thunderous intensity miles from its source when the weather is cold, and the effect can be haunting.
Caused by air inversion, which magnifies sound that travels over the fields west of the New River, the circumstances are not precisely understood, though it's likely Dr. Joseph F. Marsh, Jr., who gifted the bells to Concord, knew of it.
The son of a former Concord president who became a Concord president himself, Marsh in 1995 was living on Faculty Hill as president emeritus when he announced that he would provide the school its largest gift — the financing necessary to build a world-class carillon (pronounced CARE-ILL-AHN) within a bell-tower tall and massive enough to carry its peals across the landscape.
Cast and tuned by Paccard Founderie de Cloches et Carillons, of Annecy, France, and assembled by Bergen Bellfounderies, of Charleston, S.C., the bells were hung in a tower designed by Kreps & Kreps, of Charleston, W.Va., and raised by Swope Construction Co., of Bluefield.
It's been said that Dr. Marsh had been moved as a youth by carillons in Europe and later at Dartmouth University, his alma mater, though in any case, he was willing to wholly fund the $750,000 monument that now rises from the front of Marsh Hall.
Dedicated in 1997, the carillon is one of the nation's few "concert carillons," qualified as having at least 47 bells and a range of four or more octaves. Its bells range from a 29-pound instrument only seven-inches high to 2.96-ton bourdon more than 36 inches high.
Concord President Kendra S. Boggess says the carillon continues to be a chief attraction on the campus, inspiring students and faculty as well as residents of the town of Athens and attracting visitors from afar.
"The Marsh Memorial Carillon has certainly become an icon on the campus at Concord University," Boggess said. "The melodies can be heard all over campus and throughout the town of Athens most days."
Performed regularly throughout the year, concerts led by guest carillonneurs are supplemented by 15-minute daily concerts that regularly attract tourists to the campus and southern West Virginia.
"A lot of folks look forward to the afternoon concerts and the seasonal music the carillon plays, and we have guest carillonneurs, occasionally, that draw visitors to our campus from all over the country."
Traditionally, daily concerts are performed in the afternoons, though visitors should call the school at 800-344-6679 to determine times, which change seasonally.
Established in 1872 as a college for teachers at "Concord Church," now Athens, the school was founded by veterans of both the Union and the Confederacy, named "concord" for the ideal of harmony and fellowship.
Concord today is one of the Mountain State's leading liberal-arts universities, renowned for its excellent business, arts-and-sciences, teacher education, and pre-professional programs.
For more information on touring the region, visited the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Lost Mercer Saltworks known to only a few locals, adventurers
The legend of the Mercer Saltworks may be remembered now by only a few, and its ruins—tumbled stones along an isolated stream—may be known to even fewer. Accessible by a rough trail, it was once among the most important landmarks in the New River Valley. The salt lick there on Lick Creek, less than a mile from the New River, was much visited by Native Americans, who passed their knowledge on to settlers. Read the full story here.