Norwich bell project gets $100,000 from probate court surplus fund

Norwich's Emancipation Proclamation bell project received a $100,000 grant and two other local agencies will receive funding through a $2.3 million surplus fund from the state probate courts, approved by the General Assembly last week.

The funding to the city of Norwich will cover two-thirds of the $150,000 cost to cast the nation's first Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration bell and erect a permanent tower to house the bell outside City Hall. The project is part of the city's celebration of the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's order that freed southern slaves.

The $2.27 million from the Probate Court Administration Fund was distributed to 19 entities statewide, including $75,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut and $35,000 to the Norwich-based Connecticut Pardon Team, which holds informational forums on the non-inmate pardon system.

According to the probate court website, the money is accrued from probate fees used to fund the state probate court system. Surpluses go into the state general fund for distribution.

The 155-pound bronze bell, to be cast by the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati on June 15, will be rung for the first time on June 16 at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park. The tower will be dedicated Sept. 22. Norwich will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the proclamation on New Year's Day with a re-enactment of the city's original celebration - ringing all city bells for an hour along with a 100-gun salute.

City Historian Dale Plummer, co-chairman of the Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee, said the state funding is appropriate because the Norwich event will be the largest Emancipation Proclamation celebration in the state.

"We're anticipating we will be able with additional fundraising to complete the hard part of the project and to move forward with a number of programs," Plummer said.

The committee will work with local schools and the Slater Memorial Museum to show that freedom and equality for blacks and other minorities has been a long, slow process, Plummer said.

"We really want to do this in a big way, because it was a turning point in our nation's history," Plummer said.

Committee Secretary Dianne Brown resigned last week in part over her objection to the state grant. Brown said the project started as a private fundraising effort.

Cindy Morrison, new executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut, said the agency operates year to year mainly on grants and donations. The $75,000 grant will bring a big boost to the club and teen center at the Crystal Avenue apartments in New London, she said, and to programs in Groton.

"This will enable us to do more and offer more to the kids around us," Morrison said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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