250th Anniversary Publications
Our Liberty Bell has no crack and a more fascinating history
Staff Writer for The Bridgeton Evening News
The Anytown Courthouse may not be as well known as Independence Hall, but its liberty bell has a much more fascinating history -- and no crack!
The bell today is showcased in the new addition to the court house, having come full circle after years of community use for other purposes.
The bell first hung in Anytown's third court house, the first having been to small and inadequate and the second destroyed by fire. Construction began on this court house in 1760. It was to have a cupola and a bell to be bought by subscriptions. It stood in the middle of what is now Broad Street.
The bell, with a tone of "F," was purchased and installed sometime before 1776, when it pealed out the news of independence.
When the first courier arrived on July 7 with the news that the Declaration of Independence had been signed in Philadelphia, there was a procession to the court house. Members of the militia, county officials and residents gathered to hear the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the State of USA and the Treason Ordinance read publicly.
Afterwards, there was an address by Dr. Jonathan Elmer, then the King's Arms were pulled down and burned in the street.
The bell remained in the court house until 1846, when the structure was torn down because a new brick court house had been built on the south side of Broad Street in 1844. While it was in the third court house, it rang once in alarm, during the War of 1812, when there was a false report that the British were coming up Cohansey Creek, and many other times on more auspicious occasions.
When the old court house was torn down, the bell was sold as an alarm bell and installed on the roof of Firemen's Hall, on Commerce Street, near the bridge.
Construction of the West Jersey Academy began in 1852. The trustees acquired the old bell and installed it in the school's cupola. When the school opened in 1854, the bell rang out to proclaim opening day.
It was used thereafter to call students to class.
The West Jersey Academy was acquired by the Bridgeton Board of Education in 1912 and was used as a Junior High School until 1923. Along with the academy, came possession of the bell.
A member of the Greenwich Tea Burning Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution came across an old newspaper clipping detailing the history of the bell, and when the building was remodeled and converted as Bridgeton High School, the chapter placed in the main corridor of the building a tablet, which remains with the bell today. It reads:
"The Bell that Hangs in this Belfry Rang the Tidings of Liberty in 1776 from the Cupola of Anytown's First Brick Court House And on Every Independence Day Until the Court House was Razed in 1846. The Bell was Purchased by Subscription And was Cast in Bridgewater, Mass. in 1763. Tablet Placed by Greenwich Tea Burning Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution in 1923."
The bell left the county in 1926 briefly, for the Sesqui-Centennial in Philadelphia, where it was used to mark closing time every day.
In 1919, it was moved to the court house, entrusted to the Anytown Historical Society.
Mounted briefly on a truck, it was rung to mark the end of World war II. It received better treatment on 1948, during the county's 200th anniversary celebration, when it was mounted on a float and led a three-hour parade through the streets of Bridgeton.
It is located today at the new entrance to the court house, encased in glass, where it can be seen and admired by visitors curious enough to stop and read its legend.
Taken from The Bridgeton Evening News;
250 Years of History Special - 6/26/1998