History of the Tower

How Jefferson Got Its Tower – by Mikki Schwarzkopf (1981)

It must have been on one of his trips to Florida that Mahanay fell in love with the idea of a bell tower.  His inspiration was the Bok Memorial Carillon Tower in Lake Wales, Florida. Floyd Mahanay died on May 15, 1947 in West Palm Beach, Florida, of a cerebral hemorrhage, telling no one in Jefferson about his plans for a bell tower.  After the death of Mrs. Mahanay in 1962, family attorney Francis Cudahy found an immense amount of literature on bell towers in the Mahanay home at 507 W Harrison.

A sheet of detailed plans for the Jefferson tower was attached to the will, and the will itself provide for financing, location, and even the words to be inscribed on the plaque:  “This Tower and Chimes, Erected to the Glory of God, are Gifts to the Citizens of Jefferson, Iowa, by Mr. and Mrs. W.F. Mahanay.”  Cudahy believes that Floyd had the very human desire to leave his name behind him for all to see, and the tower is an example of that.

Cudahy theorizes that the southwest corner of the courthouse lawn was chosen so that many travelers on old highway 30 would see and enjoy the tower as they passed through Jefferson.  Mahanay would have been disappointed to learn that the highway was moved north of town in later years, bypassing the tower.

Nearly all of Floyd’s estate was designated for the bell tower, and some of Dora’s estate was used to complete it.  Mahanay directed in his will that his money go to his distant heirs if the city did not accept the tower.  The structure, 32 bells, carillon and patio had a combined cost of about $350,000.  He was very specific in his will, indicating that 50 percent of the music played should be sacred and patriotic.  Daily concert times were set and Easter, Christmas and July 4th concerts were directed.

Public reaction to Mahanay’s bequest was mixed.  Some greeted the idea of a bell tower with enthusiasm, but others thought the money would be better spent for a new park, medical facility or school.  In the midst of so much controversy, local officials were uncertain whether to accept the bell tower.

Strangely enough, an elevator helped settle the dispute.  It was suggested that a long-wanted elevator be put in the courthouse as part of the tower construction cost.  An entire room on the top floor of the courthouse houses controls, records, etc. in accordance with Mahanay’s will.  The new elevator not only provided access to the control room, but would serve the rest of the courthouse well. The offer of the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower (plus elevator) was accepted gladly.

Some still feel Mahanay’s money was misspent, but a growing number of residents show an appreciation for the tower and its frequent concerts.  They speak of the tower as a unique landmark, setting Jefferson apart from other small Iowa communities.  As one resident said, “Jefferson would have gotten practical things like a school or hospital eventually, but we never would have a carillon tower without Floyd and Dora Mahanay.