What do Philadelphia and Anoka have in common? Both have a historic cracked bell – one proclaimed liberty and one announced fires.
A few years ago our friend and local historian Jerry Jacob researched and wrote about the Anoka fire bell. He painstakingly tracked city council actions and newspaper references to piece together the somewhat mysterious travels of this bell.
In tribute to Jerry who passed away last month, we offer his story to our readers which follows here just as he wrote it.
History of the fire bell
The first official fire bell for Anoka was installed at the site of the town hall, the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Jackson in the summer of 1874. The fire station occupied the lower level of the structure and a special tower was constructed for the bell.
There were two large fires in the commercial area in 1877, in August and November, the November fire “swallowed the town hall” — and the bell was destroyed.
The next year, 1878, found the community of Anoka converted into a city with a much limited geographic area. In the same year the county of Anoka was constructing a new court house that was soon to replace the rented court house building then located on the present day Main Street parking lot.
After the loss of the town hall in the fire, the new city of Anoka needed a city hall. The owner of the now vacated county court house, Alderman Lane, offered to sell his building to the city of Anoka for $1,800. This was accepted and Alderman Pierce provided the down payment of $400, on loan, to conclude the deal, this being February 1879.
A new fire station and bell tower, plus a bell, was now needed – the fire station together with a jail were located near the corner of Jackson and Second Avenue – probably on the site of the vacant lot on Jackson Street.
At a city council meeting of May 5, 1879, O. L. Cutter, the chief engineer of the fire department, made several recommendations to improve the department – one being “that the iron kettle now in use as a fire alarm bell be sold or exchanged, and a suitable alarm provided, and that a tower be built for the bell, and for drying hose on the engine house.”
At an August 1883 council meeting the city agreed to purchase a 1,000 pound bell from the Baltimore Bell Factory, at 21 cents per pound at Chicago – freight for delivery from Chicago was later dealt with.
No reference has been found for the location of the bell tower, however, this bell was delivered and installed and later re-installed in the bell tower of the city hall to be constructed in 1885 after the “big fire of August 1884.”
The frame city hall purchased in 1879 lasted until August 1884, when it, together with the Jackson Street fire station and jail, were destroyed by fire. A new city hall was immediately built on the same site and included a fire barn and a jail, plus a bell tower in which the 1883 bell was installed.
On Dec. 5, 1885, a celebration was held at the completion of the city hall.
In the late fall of 1885 a fire at the James O’Keef residence on Main Street occurred and it was noted “that the fire bell was broken while being rung – it probably being weakened by the great fire.”
In the mid 1950s this city hall was razed after the completion of the new city call.
The new city hall resulted from a gift to the city of Anoka from the Olin Foundation, Federal Cartridge Corporation and Charles Horn, its president.
The city commission at that time made a present to Charles Horn of the fire bell that was taken from the old city hall. This bell was placed on a pedestal at a site just east of the clock house at Federal Cartridge – where it can be seen today.
~ By J.E. Jacob