Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
Pekin has its own ‘Liberty Bell’
Probably every American schoolchild knows of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, an iconic symbol of the nation’s independence and ideals. But did you know that Pekin has its own replica of the Liberty Bell?
The original Liberty Bell last rang out on Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 1846. The ringing that day caused the bell’s famous crack to worsen, permanently silencing it. By that time, however, the Abolitionists had adopted the Liberty Bell as the symbol of their movement to outlaw slavery. As recently discussed in this column, many abolitionists lived in Pekin in those days, so it’s no surprise that the Celestial City eventually was one of many American communities to acquire a replica of the Liberty Bell.
The story of Pekin’s Liberty Bell begins as a chapter in the history of Pekin’s high school buildings, then becomes a part of the story of Pekin’s city halls.
Pekin’s original high school operated out of the “Fourth Ward” schoolhouse, which was located at the present site of Washington Junior High School. Opening in 1869, it was destroyed in a fire on Dec. 2, 1890. “The story goes that during the holocaust many spectators gathered bits of metal from the melting bell and wore these as watch fobs for years thereafter,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial.
The old high school “was replaced for $28,000 by a more imposing structure on the same site which became known as Washington School. High school classes were taught there until the new high school, what is now known as West Campus/Old Main, was first occupied in 1916,” according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004).
Since the Fourth Ward school’s bell was lost in the 1890 fire, a new bell for the new school was commissioned: Pekin’s replica of the Liberty Bell.
After the high school students moved to West Campus, grade school and junior high school students continued to attend Old Washington School until 1930, when Old Washington was demolished and replaced with the current Washington Intermediate School. At that time, “the Liberty Bell found a new home at Pekin City Hall,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”
Located at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets, the old city hall had been built in 1884 at a cost of $6,500, and was replaced in 1952 with a new building at a cost of $330,000. The bell was then displayed in the plaza in front of city hall.
Finally, in 2002 the new Pekin Municipal Building was constructed at the corner of Capitol and Sabella streets. The bell now hangs atop a brick bell tower attached to the structure exterior, positioned right behind the mayor’s seat in council chambers.
Pictured below is an image of the bell in the plaza in front of the old city hall at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets.