Tower History & Statistics

Tower History & Statistics

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.


The Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower, located on the southwest corner of the courtyard, was given to the people of Jefferson and Greene County in accordance with the wills of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Mahanay. The tower is 168 ft. 2 inches high, and it is illuminated by 6 floodlights.

The glass enclosed observation deck at 120 ft. is accessed by an elevator and is fully handicap accessible. At the 2017 Bell Tower Festival, it was named the Paul Nally Observation Deck.

Beginning in 1966, fourteen bells, cast at the world famous Petit & Fritsen bell foundry in Holland in 1966, chimed on the hour, quarter, and half-hour. The electronic carillon bells were played from a manual keyboard. Because of the limited amount of music that could be played with only 14 bells, recorded concerts played two songs after each hour for many years.

The total cost of the tower and the fourteen bells dedicated on Sunday, October 16, 1966 was approximately $350,000.

Through the Years

In 1980, a group of volunteers organized the first Bell Tower Festival centered around what everyone called The Mahanay Bell Tower.

In 1983, a Bell Tower Community Foundation was established with the goal of enhancements to the tower, hiring tower staff and marketing the tower.

In the early 1990’s a campaign for a four octave carillon fell short with only 15 bells of the fourth octave purchased by donors. These bells were placed in a display case in the Greene County Courthouse.

For the 50th Anniversary of the tower in 2016, a new “Let the Bells Ring” campaign was kicked off with the gift from Paul Nally’s estate,
Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation’s grant of $61,500, individual and family donors for bells, and award of Vision Iowa grant funds. These generous gifts and grants helped propel the campaign to the $440,000 needed to add the additional 18 new bells to the 15 bells which had been purchased in the early 1990’s. Finally, a four octave carillon of 47 bells was in sight!As the company involved in producing the original 14 bells, the Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio was contacted to work on this project.

In August of 2016, 9 bells were removed from the tower to take to the Verdin Company in Ohio for repair to the strikers. The remaining 5 bells were repaired on the structure so the Westminster chimes could continue to be played.
Eighteen bells were cast at the Petit & Fritzen bell foundry in Holland. All bells were fitted with strikers and engraved with the names of the donors.

On May 25, 2017, the bells returned to Jefferson and the process of hoisting the bells to the roof began.

Daily Tower Tunes Live concerts at 12:15 – 12:30 pm started during the 2017 Bell Tower Festival. Rick Morain was the first musician to play the bells at 6:15 pm on June 9 and again at 3:15 pm on June 10.

Featuring local musicians, guests from the area, and musicians returning to the community, Tower Tunes Live concerts occur at 12:15 daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.