Hidden History: Chesterfield’s oldest artifact dates back 268 years

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — With a careful hand and an arsenal of brushes and chisels, Sharon Norquest preserves Chesterfield County history.

“We’ve all seen iron rust. We know it doesn’t last forever, so the fact that this is still here, this is a great treasure,” says conservator Sharon Norquest.

Liess van der Linden-Brusse with the Chesterfield Historical Society explains the bell has been in Chesterfield since it split from Henricus to become its own county.

“It’s the oldest artifact in Chesterfield County. It’s from 1749. It’s three years older than the Liberty Bell, and it’s not cracked,” she chuckles.

The bell hung and rang at the original 1749 Chesterfield Courthouse. It was one of the few items surviving its razing, and then it moved to the new one built in 1917.

“This was designed to be a functional object, to ring for those important moments,” says Norquest about the bell.

It likely rang for some of the county’s most infamous court cases, including seven Baptist ministers on trial in 1770 for preaching without a license. In 1911, a wealthy businessman named Henry Beattie was sentenced to death for killing his wife.

More recently, the bell rang for a solemn moment.

“It was rung 32 times for the Virginia Tech Massacre,” van der Linden-Brusse remembers the tragedy in 2007. “One for every person who lost their lives. That was the last time the bell was rung.”

Last year the Chesterfield Historical Society took the bell down to get ready for this year’s 1917 courthouse centennial celebration.

Norquest is also safeguarding the 268-year-old artifact for even more generations to come.

“It’s part of, part and parcel of Chesterfield County from the very beginning,” says van der Linden-Brusse.

After Norquest finishes her work, the bell will go on permanent display at the Chesterfield Museum, 6813 Mimms Road in Chesterfield.

The centennial celebration at the 1917 courthouse is October 26.

Donations are being accepted for the bell’s preservation at this link.

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