The newly cast bronze bell has a glowing sheen, like a well-worn gold dollar.
Incised on one side is the familiar seal of the city of Jacksonville, the outline of the statue of namesake and former president Andrew Jackson astride his horse over the familiar shape of Duval County.
Below it, the dates showing the reason for the bell — 1822 to 2022 — celebrating Jacksonville’s bicentennial.
At 225 pounds, the bell had its debut Wednesday during Art Walk. A year and a half in the making, it’s a permanent reminder of Jacksonville’s history after the city celebrated it, said Aaron Gibson-Evans, the Bicentennial Bell chairman.
“We really wanted the bicentennial celebration and the bicentennial year to be something that has a permanent reminder to people moving forward for future generations,” Gibson-Evans said. “There wasn’t a lot that was done at the bicentennial that we could find. So we wanted to leave something for future generations so that when the city has its 250th or tricentennial, there is a reminder that efforts were made and people gathered to celebrate our 200th birthday.”
The bell will remain on display in the Main Library as a decision is made on where to permanently place it, historical society CEO Alan Bliss said.
“This is a gift to the people of Jacksonville in the present and the future, and we see this as something that has the potential to send a message to generations of Jacksonville citizens for the next 200 years,” Bliss said. “It calls their attention to the fact that there are people in this city in 2022, now 2023, who care about this city’s legacy and are thoughtful about its future, and mindful of those generations of citizens yet to come.”
The Bicentennial Bell was the combined idea of the historical society and Gibson-Evans, a Riverside resident whose family goes back five generations. Saying that Jacksonville is the oldest city in Florida of the modern era, Gibson-Evans began promoting the city’s 200th birthday on social media back in 2013.
The bell was cast by the Verdin Co. in Cincinnati, the same company that restored the 1901 Greenleaf and Crosby Clock at Laura and Adams streets after a car hit it decades ago, said Jacksonville Historical Society Chief of Staff Kate Hallock. Verdin officials got involved when they saw the society’s social media posts two years ago proposing a bicentennial bell.
“They reached out to us and said, by the way, we do bells,” she said. “We opted to have them make it in the factory and ship it to us. We were very fortunate to have the manufacturing of the bell fully funded by about three dozen donors.”
Gibson-Evans suggested the bell’s design, but it had to have some familiar elements.
“We decided that we wanted the city of Jacksonville seal on one side and the bicentennial logo on the other,” Hallock said. “That’s the two important things about this — it is Jacksonville’s 200th year, and we had an official logo and we wanted to make sure that is remembered into posterity.”
More than $30,000 was raised from 38 donors during 2022 to pay for the bell’s manufacture. The bell has been sequestered in the Main Library since late February. then unveiled to the public on Wednesday during Art Walk, after a donor reception in the library’s promenade.
Conceptual designs show the bell suspended between four granite pillars inscribed with names of the donors who made it possible. While the bell itself is fully funded, the cost to find its permanent home, then build, landscape and light it still needs to be raised within the next six months to a year. Bliss said it could be as high as $500,000.
Many possible sites are under consideration, but one near the St. Johns River in a certain area would be perfect, Bliss said.
“The emerging preference is that it should be somewhere within the (1822) footprint of the original Isaiah Hart
plat of Jacksonville,” he said. “(That is) a pretty well established set of several blocks of the Northbank of the river from this side of Hogan’s Creek to right around the location of the present courthouse.”
Other sites in Downtown are also being considered. The only desire is that it “get a great deal of exposure and presence” by the public, Bliss said.
Donors at the personal (individual/family) level of $1,000, or business level of $2,500, will be recognized with a permanent inscription on the monument. Donations can be made to the Jacksonville Historical Society at jaxhistory.org.
The Jacksonville Historical Society/Jacksonville History Center maintains an archival repository of documents, photographs, rare books and architectural artifacts relating to Jacksonville-area history. Its office is in the Old St. Luke’s Hospital building on Palmetto Street, with four restored downtown structures: Old St. Luke’s Hospital, Old St. Andrew’s Church, the James E. Merrill House Museum, and the Florida Casket Company Building.