BRIDGETON, N.J. - One of the highlights of Bridgeton's 325th anniversary celebration in 2011 involved Cumberland County's Liberty Bell. The bell was removed from its glass case in the county courthouse and carefully carried to a public park near the Cohansey River, where it tolled to mark the occasion.
That may be the last time that the bell, which has rung to mark everything from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to calling children to school, will be moved for some time.
Members of the Cumberland County Historical Society fear that the bell is becoming too fragile to be safely moved, County Administrator Ken Mecouch said. The society raised the concern after the bell was moved for the Bridgeton celebration, he said.
"When you look at it, it's not the strongest structure any longer," Mecouch said.
"The less we move it, probably the better," said Matt Pisarski, whose duties with the county Department of Planning and Development include dealing with the county's historic attractions.
No one is exactly sure how fragile the bell has become. County records show it was cast in Bridgewater, England, in 1763.
Pisarski said no condition assessment had been done. Mecouch said that was something the county "might look at in the future."
The bell has not been moved much in recent years. The last time it left its glass case before Bridgeton's anniversary celebration was around the mid-1980s.
The bell has a long history and some varied uses. It hung in the old Cumberland County Courthouse, built around 1760. County officials used the bell to call residents together for news and meetings.
One of those bits of news involved the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. County officials rang the bell to mark the occasion.
The bell was rung in 1948 as part of the 200th anniversary of the founding of Cumberland County. It also was given a role in the defense of the country, as it was to ring as a warning signal during the War of 1812. No information was available as to whether it was rung for that purpose.
The historic artifact was also used as a firefighter's bell and a school bell at the West Jersey Academy and the old Bridgeton High School.
Unlike the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Cumberland County's bell has no crack.