Saturday, August 10, 2013

Old Academy Bell - University of Penn - Philadelphia

Old Academy Bell - U of Penn. - 1752

On March 14, 1752, two months after his commission to create a silver inkstand for the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), a bell that Philip Syng had ordered from London arrived in Philadelphia. This bell was to be shared by the Union Fire Company that he and Franklin had founded, and, the Hand-In-Hand Fire Company. With nowhere to hang the bell, Franklin, Syng and their fellow trustees agreed that the bell would now also be shared with the Academy and hung in a steeple that would be added to the Academy's "New Building". There, it would sound fire alarms and "answer the purpose of the Academy in giving Notice to the Scholars of the Hours of Meeting." After a long and stormy history of ownership, the Academy Bell was returned to the University of Pennsylvania in 1945. Again without a belfry, it is today displayed in the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt-Deitrich Library.

This time the Trustees decided they had no power to act in this situation, although they had power to refuse in 1807. The wardens of St. James, being in possession, had the weight of the bell and the height of the steeple on their side, and the bell remained where it was.

In 1869 St. James was razed and a new church erected by the congregation at the comer Of 22nd and Walnut streets. The bell was moved to the new location. It no longer sounded any alarms.

In 1945 the congregation sold its property at 22nd and Walnut to the Atlantic Refining Company as the site for a filling station. Demolition was begun in April 1945. At this time, without minutes, petitions, ceremony, or special deliberation, the bell was quietly turned over to the University of Pennsylvania, largely through the efforts of Mr. William Du Barry, an officer of St. James and Vice President of the University.

For 193 years, the name used had been the "Academy Bell"--not the Union Fire Company Bell or the Hand in Hand Bell or the Phoenix Bell. Therefore the bell came back to the Academy.

The Academy at Fourth and Arch is gone; the "Presidential Palace" is gone; the fire companies are gone. Two St. Jameses are gone. But the bell and the University remain. And for the third time in its history the bell has no belfry. The Library has no belfry either, but it has an honored place for the bell, which rang the last time for the dedication of the Van Pelt wing of the Library where, as President Gaylord Harnwell announced on that occasion, "it shall remain as long as the building shall stand."


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