We looked in the files of the Friends Historical Library, and found that the central section of Trotter was built in 1881 as the new Hall of Physics and Engineering “following complaints about fumes from laboratories” in Parrish. The West Wing, where the bell currently stands, was added in 1895, and the East Wing in 1919.
According to a December 1997 article from the Swarthmore Bulletin, the bell “once signaled classes and called students to Quaker meeting.”
Another possible theory is that the bell was intended as a warning system for fire. Trotter was raised the same year Parrish burned to the ground, and since Trotter housed a 10-horse-power Westinghouse alternating dynamo, a 65-horse-power boiler, and a 50-horse-power engine, among other advanced technology of the time, there may have been a concern that Trotter would meet a similar fate.
Trotter also used to be notorious for its maze-like interior and incredibly narrow halls, so it seems that some things change for the better while some change for the worse, or at least the less musical. Want to know more about Swarthmore’s melodious past? Ask the Gazette at dailygazette [at] swarthmore [dot] edu.