A retired teacher from the Freedom School District told the about this bell and it was a really neat story so I thought I would share!
In 1832, two guys named Jonathan Betz and Stephen Phillips founded Freedom. These guys also owned a steam boat business and thought that Freedom would be the perfect spot for it. The entire town was built around this steam boat yard and all road pretty much lead directly to it. By 1837, Freedom had grown into a population of about 600 people, and mainly relied on this ship yard and also a distillery as the main businesses.
As years went by, this steam boat yard had a list of almost 70 ships built. This boat yard was on the Ohio River, between what was then known as Independence Street and Betz Street. It was really the entire span of town.. Probably from the ramp off of 65 coming from Rochester to a bit past Gilarno’s Auto Repair. The whole town, at that time, either built boats or distilled booze.
The Freedom Bell
This ship yard had a few buildings on its site, a shed and a saw mill, among them. Inside the shed was a bell that the entire town used. It rang at the beginning and ending of the work day for the boat yard and it was also used as the fire bell, the church bell and the school bell. Everyone in town knew the sound this bell made, not only because it was always ringing but because apparently it made a pretty unique sound.
Losing the Freedom Bell
This not-so-little bell kept ringing for years and years, until 1884. That is when the volcano on the island of Krakatoa, Indonesia exploded. This caused tsunamis and destruction worldwide, including massive flooding of the Northern Hemisphere…. And of the town of Freedom.
The ship yard including the saw mill and shed and the rest of the buildings were washed away with the flooding of the Ohio River. Some history claims that residents saw it floating away, ringing loudly as it sailed down the river. Everyone that watched it head down the river just assumed it was gone forever.
Finding the Freedom Bell
It kept floating down the river until a farmer in West Virginia saw it and somehow captured it. He brought it onto his field and he was using it as a farm bell. Years later, fate brought a couple of the old Freedom boat yard workers into West Virginia and into this farmer’s field where they heard the distinct tone of the bell ring again.
These guys had heard that bell ring for years at the start and end of their work shifts so they knew it was the same bell. They asked the farmer where he got this bell and sure enough, the farmer explained how it washed up in the flood! The farmer let the boat yard workers return the bell to Freedom.
Bringing the Freedom Bell Home
So the bell came back to its home in Freedom. Although, since the ship yard shed was no longer there, it went on top of the building that was being used as the town jail and the fire house. This building was eventually torn down in 1913 to make room for a new fire house and a new bell was purchased.
The old boat yard bell was then moved to the then-new Central School Building and was raised to the belfry during a dedication ceremony. There it rang as a school bell until the building was sold in 1969.
As the janitor was clearing out the school, the story behind this bell and its journey came to light. Because of the history of the bell, it was then moved to the Freedom Senior High School and eventually to the Middle School where it rang for special occasions and would be permanently left on display.
Fun facts about Freedom:
-In 1832, about 150 families from Phillipsburg (Monaca) came and lived in board shanties, and the town was referred to as “Shanty Town.”
-The capital stock of Freedom National Bank was $40,000 in 1872 when it opened for business.
-Freedom was a leader in steamboat construction as 108 steamboats were built in town as well as barges and other craft.
–Ashland Oil Company was located in town, and before this it was called Valvoline Oil Company, and before that it was called Freedom Oil Company. Prior to this Excelsior Oil Works occupied the same location.
–Freedom Casket Company was founded in 1895 as Craig Manufacturing Company.
-Freedom merged with Conway and New Sewickley Township to form Freedom Area School District. A new high school was built in 1971, and it is located in New Sewickley Township. In 2015, all three elementary schools were merged into a new school built along Eighth Avenue in Freedom.
-In the 1970’s, a lot of Third Street and the business district was razed in construct the Route 65 bypass. The Vicary Mansion was threatened in this process, but it was saved by public interest and action by the Beaver County Commissioners and state officials.
-At one time, the town had 5 gas stations and three red lights.
-The first home of Beaver County Community College was located in the old Freedom National Bank building, along with other buildings in the town.
History of Freedom
In 1824, the Harmony Society returned to Pennsylvania, from Indiana. The society settled in what is now Ambridge, Pennsylvania, five miles (8 km) up the Ohio River. One of the reasons the society left Indiana was because of harassment for their abolitionist activities. Their settlement was in Beaver County along the Ohio River. There they founded "Ökonomie," now better known as Old Economy Village. Here the Society gained worldwide recognition for its religious devotion and economic prosperity. The Harmonites were abolitionists, and began placing signs along the Ohio River with one word, "FREEDOM". The area of present-day Freedom, Pennsylvania, began to be called "Freedom" on maps of the Ohio River used by the steamboat navigators.
The community of Freedom was founded in 1832 by Jonathan Betz and Stephen Phillips, co-owners of a steamboat building business. They purchased about 100 acres (0.40 km2) of land for $2,000.00 from General Abner Lacock. The original village was surveyed and plotted by Simon Meredith. All of the lots, streets and alleys were located with special preference to the steam-boat building business, the only business at the time. Later, an additional 39 acres (160,000 m2) were purchased from Captain William Vicary for $2,500.00. Vicary himself retained some property in the area, including a stone house; today, the house remains a local landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
About 150 people first located in Freedom and it grew rapidly. The town was laid out on a Tuesday and by the following Saturday, fourteen houses had been built.
In 1833, Freedom contained 40 dwellings, 47 families, and about 320 people. Boat building and distilling were its two main businesses.
By 1837, Freedom had grown to a population of about 600, and 100 dwellings. New businesses included a foundry, and steam engines manufactured by J. Baker and Company, a large steam sawmill, and an extensive distillery and gristmill owned by J. Stahl and Company. The merchants at that time were: Phillips and McConnell, Stile and Fisher, Phillip Bentel, John Donnan, J. W. Mead, three innkeepers: Samuel Furnier, J. W. Snead, and Thomas G. Kerr and two physicians: Drs. William Smith and T. F. Robinson.
Prior to 1832, land on either side of Dutchman’s Run was forest, extending north to the home of Abner Lacock and south to the stone home of retired sea captain William Vicary. After Freedom was established, Captain Vicary surveyed a town on his land south of Dutchman’s Run. It was called Vicary, but in 1867, the village was incorporated as St. Clair, named for General Arthur St. Clair. The southernmost part of the town, called Vicary Extension, was annexed at a later date. In 1896, the borough of Saint Clair joined with Freedom Borough as Greater Freedom. Saint Clair Borough was located in what is currently Freedom's second ward. It was laid out by Captain William Vicary and was often called Vicary or Vicary Extension.