The idea for a monument to honor NC State alumni killed in World War I originated with Vance Sykes, a member of the class of 1907. By 1920, Sykes and other alumni had formed a planning committee and hired architect William Henry Deacy to design a memorial tower at the entrance to the campus on Hillsborough Street.
Today, the 115-foot monument, called "a legend in stone," is a symbol of the university and a rallying point for the campus community. Constructed at a cost of more than $150,000, the tower is made of 1,400 tons of granite set on a 700-ton concrete base. Its blending of Romanesque features and Gothic verticality are reminiscent of the towers at West Point.
The history of the Belltower mirrors the turbulence of the 20th century. Work commenced quickly after the cornerstone was laid in 1921 with 10 foot sections added in 1924, 1925 and 1926. But construction was halted for extended periods during the Great Depression and again during World War II.
The stonework was finished in 1937 thanks to the federal Works Progress Administration. Student honor societies and the class of 1938 donated the clock, and the class of 1939 purchased a set of floodlights. Finishing touches, including the chimes, shrine room and memorial plaque were completed in the late 1940s and a formal dedication was held on Nov. 11, 1949.
Although 34 alumni died in the war, the memorial plaque contains 35 names. George L. Jeffers, class of 1913, was wrongly reported killed in action and his name was included by mistake. When the error was discovered, the university decided to alter the extra name beyond recognition. It was therefore changed to George E. Jefferson, a symbol of unknown soldiers at NC State and elsewhere.
The Belltower is a stately and dramatic landmark where students pose for photos before they graduate and where senior class rings spend the night before commencement ceremonies. ROTC cadets receive their commissions in the shadow of the Belltower, which is illuminated by red floodlights to mark NC State's proudest occasions and achievements. Students organize the Krispy Kreme Challenge at the Belltower every year to raise money for North Carolina Children's Hospital, renewing the commitment to service that's been a hallmark of NC State for generations.
The last significant enhancement to the tower was made in 1986, when a new carillon was dedicated in honor of Chancellor Carey Bostian and his wife, Neita. But the tower isn't quite finished. Students launched a campaign a few years ago to raise money to purchase bells for the tower, eager to replace the speakers and sound system now used to play chimes from the top of the tower.
Although the Belltower is made of granite, it still needs regular maintenance and repairs. The tower sustained damage in the spring of 2009 when a direct lightning strike knocked a capstone out of place. This year, the university began a project to reseal the masonry joints throughout the lower 18 feet of the tower to halt the seepage of water into the structure.
Still, the tower stands proud, a graceful testament to the granite strength and timeless values of the Wolfpack.
Stop by Withers Hall and view the "Remembering the Memorial Belltower: The Many Faces of a Campus Icon" exhibit. The exhibit was created and installed by Public History masters students in Dr. David Zonderman's advanced museums course and was installed at the end of April. It will remain in Withers until August 26.
You may find yourself driving by the Belltower at night and notice that it is illuminated in a red light.
What is the significance of the red Belltower?
The Belltower is lighted for holidays that honor our veterans, such as Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, and to celebrate NC State's proudest occasions and achievements.