Historical documents tell us that J. Frank Cullen arrived here around 1910 and soon began to develop what we know as Cardiff. In 1914 he donated land north of the ravine, where the elementary school now stands, and built a school with two classrooms, two anterooms, and two restrooms with a social room in the basement.
Pictures of the new Cullen School show a bell tower but there was no bell. In 1924 when a couple of school trustees got wind of a wrecked train engine in Santa Ana, they journeyed there and purchased the Santa Fe locomotive bell for $20.
However, because of the size of the bell, the bell tower had to be rebuilt to accommodate their purchase. The bell, which stands about a knee high, is estimated to weight 250 pounds, and originally had a four-inch clapper. However, a 1950’s news article reported the clapper had been reduced by one inch due to constant use. With the completion of the new school the students insisted they would not move unless their beloved bell went with them.
The bell which rang at the Aug. 27, 1950 dedication of the new Cullen School and continued to ring for many years at the beginning and ending of classes as well as to signal a new school year for Cardiff students.
In 1998 it had been silenced for many years due to wear and use.
Long time resident Mary Margaret Woodward, an original member of the Cardiff Mothers Club whose father-in-law, husband and son all attended Cullen School, wished to see the bell refurbished to ring on holidays, the first day of school and to ring in the year 2000.
Being affiliated with the De Anza DAR, she also wished it to ring on July 4. She was able to find expert help in friends Mark Owens and Owen “Nod” Presley whose dedication and knowledge has restored and preserved the bell.
It sits in a new cradle in the brick tower at the entrance of the elementary School.
On July 4, 1999, Ruth Eischen, a Cullen School alumnus, Mary Margaret’s grandsons Ernest and Wyatt Woodward, members of the De Anza DAR and interested Cardiffites, rang the bell 13 times at 11 a.m. The bell was formally dedicated on Oct. 23, 1999 and rang in the New Year 2000. During the renovation, Mark and “Nod” discovered a date of 1828.
The bell rang 100 times, with 10 bell ringers ringing it 10 times each on Feb. 6. Celebrating the 100th birthday, I was pleased to be one of the ringers.
The bell renovation was funded by Mary Margaret, who passed in 2014, Ruth Eischen and Irene Kratzer.
Irene Kratzer is a Cardiff resident.