Note: As of April 1, 2023, the Liberty Bell Museum is sadly closed. The collection will soon be on display at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center.
Every year, millions of people see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. However, did you know that the Liberty Bell was once hidden away under the basement floorboards of a church in Allentown, Pennsylvania? By visiting the Liberty Bell Museum, you can learn about one of the most fascinating rescue missions in American history.
The Liberty Bell was cast in England in 1751 and arrived in Philadelphia in August 1752. The bell was to be placed in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (known today as Independence Hall). However, when it was first rung, the bell cracked.
Unable to return the bell to where it was made, local craftsmen were able to fix the bell’s crack, and it was finally placed in the bell tower in the summer of 1753.
Throughout the years, the bell was rung for everything from celebrations to calling students to class. However, despite popular myth, the bell was not rung on July 4, 1776 to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’s possible that the bell was rung on July 8, 1776 to mark the first reading of the text, but it would have done so with other bells in the city.
When the Continental Army under the command of George Washington lost the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, it left Philadelphia essentially unprotected. Recognizing that the city’s bells would likely be melted down to create weapons for the British army, a group of Philadelphians devised a plan to whisk the bells out of the city.
Hidden in carts amongst hay and manure, the Liberty Bell, then known as the Pennsylvania State House bell, and other large bells from city churches (including the bell at Christ Church) were secreted out of the city. The bells arrived in Bethlehem on September 23.
The following day, the 11 bells were hidden under the basement floorboards in Zion’s Reformed Church in Allentown (known at the time as Northampton Town).
The bells would stay hidden at the church until the British left Philadelphia in June 1778. However, the Pennsylvania State House’s bell tower was damaged, and the Liberty Bell was placed in storage until 1785.
Today, Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ, as it’s now known, still stands in the heart of downtown Allentown, though it has been expanded on several occasions over the years. Visitors to the Lehigh Valley can not only enjoy the beauty of this church’s exterior, but also head into its basement to visit the Liberty Bell Museum.
This small, two-room museum is located in the space that the bells once occupied below the church’s floorboards. Visitors can explore this space and see one of Pennsylvania’s two official replicas of the Liberty Bell.
This bell, along with 50 or so others, were cast in the 1950s and sent to every state and territory in the country. Pennsylvania received two, with one going to Philadelphia and the other ending up in the Liberty Bell Museum in Allentown.
This bell is an exact replica of the Liberty Bell, with one important change: its crack has been painted on. However, this means that the bell can be rung, and visitors are invited to ring this copy of the Liberty Bell hidden in Allentown. It should be noted that since the bell is located within a confined basement, they have a felt mallet, which rings with a much softer tone.
In addition to seeing this replica of the bell that was once housed here, visitors can view the 1960s mural which shows those intrepid Philadelphians moving the bells in 1777. There is also a display case filled with Revolutionary War artifacts and a replica of the type of cart that would have carried the bell from Philadelphia to Allentown.
In addition to the displays related to the Liberty Bell, the museum also has several pieces of local history. These include pictures and information on how the museum was set up and the church’s original bell. This bell would have also rung on July 8, 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was first read in Allentown.
Finally, the museum is home to Pip the Mouse, a beloved Christmas character from Allentown’s Hess’s Department Store. Since 2003, the museum has continued the legacy of this local holiday tradition by hosting this historic Christmas program.
However, the star of the museum is their replica of the Liberty Bell, and the chance to learn about this secretive mission that saved one of the world’s most famous bells from certain destruction.
Note: My visit to the Liberty Bell Museum was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Liberty Bell Museum
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 12pm-4pm, Second Sunday: 12pm-4pm,
Third Thursday- 12pm-8pm
Cost: Adults: $2, Children: $1
Address: 622 W. Hamilton Street