For whom the whistle blows

By: 
KATIE DUNN
S-E Staff Reporter

Every city has its quirks, and for rural communities like Colville, Kettle Falls and Chewelah, the noon whistle is one of them.

Colville's noon whistle was considered for the chopping block at the Feb. 14 City Council meeting.

Concern from some Colville residents who live near the siren, which is located on a pole outside City Hall, prompted the discussion on the necessity of the siren going off at noon.

That's as far as the agenda item ever got.

The majority of council members claimed the noon whistle was a historic feature of the city's, and no council member made a motion to stop the whistle.

The Statesman-Examiner asked readers “should Colville cease the noon siren?”

Out of the 326 votes received, the majority, at 92 percent with 299 votes, want to keep the noon whistle. Fifteen people agree that the whistle is loud and unnecessary, four people were unsure how they felt and eight people said they didn't care one way or another.

The poll inspired many conversations, with many people questioning the actual historical background of the siren.

First bells

On Feb. 13, 1892, most people in Colville were gathered at the Myers Opera House (where the R.E. Lee Shoe Store is today.)

Shouts of “fire” interrupted the play and everyone rushed outside to see the Old Dominion Hotel on fire (where the Statesman-Examiner is currently located).
A bucket brigade was started and everyone began moving water to the fire.

The Rickey Building, a one-story lean-to, was next door to the hotel and in danger of catching fire.

The firemen decided that in order to prevent the fire from spreading down the block, the Rickey Building had to go.

The owner agreed to have dynamite destroy his building. The explosion was said to have broken a lot of windows, and debris went in all directions, but it did its job.

After this fire, Colville residents made a plan to form a regular fire department. That became a reality March 16, 1901. The town's population at the time was 600.

In 1903, when the population had grown to 800, the town council built a small frame building at the corner of First and Oak Street. The building had two rooms. One was to store the hose cart and the other was a meeting room for the town council.

A 3'8” x 28” sized bell weighing 305 pounds was erected beside the new building. The bell did not swing, but was instead sounded by pulling a rope.

If there was a fire, the bell was rung quickly. If there was a meeting, it was sounded slowly nine times. The bell was also rung to announce noon, and it served as a 10 p.m. curfew bell, sounding each night for children ages 16 and under to go home.

In 1939, the bell was placed on top of City Hall, but its vibrations proved too strong for the roof and was moved.

Today, the bell is located at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Elm Street, attached to the current fire station.

In 1952 the bell was replaced with the 300-pound siren most people are familiar with. The siren was installed on a pole outside of City Hall by Washington Water Power and Pacific Telephone and Telegraph workers.

Break

There was one period of time when the noon whistle did not go off.

Around May of 1998, the time battery died in the siren. Then Mayor Duane Scott wanted to see if its noise would be missed, so he left the noon whistle off.
It was missed.

People reportedly cheered in the streets when the noon whistle returned.

For nearly 65 years the siren has announced the noon hour and has called Colville's Volunteer Fire Department into action. And as far as Colville's current City Council is concerned, it's going to remain that way for awhile yet.

Sources: Statesman-Examiner articles from 2006, Seattle Times Article “Silence Too Much For Colville, So Town Siren Is Turned Back On.”

Hear the siren: http://www.statesmanexaminer.com/content/colvilles-noon-whistle.

Category: