September 1777, the American Colonies having declared their independence, are engaged in armed conflict with the British Crown for over a year. The British Army is massed and prepared to march on Philadelphia, the center of the new, self proclaimed, American Government and seize control of the City. Revolutionaries under the command of Colonel Thomas(*) Polk, with 200 cavalry from the colonies of North Carolina and Virginia have secured the State House (Liberty) Bell and begin a journey to evacuate this bell and several others from Philadelphia and secure them 60 miles north, in Northampton Town (Allentown). September 18, 1777, the entourage and armed escort arrive in Richland Township (Quakertown). The Bell is pulled to a small house, owned by Evan Foulke, at the crossroads (the building now known as “Liberty Hall”, 1237 West Broad St.). The proprietor of McCoole’s Tavern (Abel Robert’s Tavern, currently, the Red Lion Hotel) extends full support, Polk’s horses are cared for and fed as the Cavalry bivouacs for the night, before continuing the journey. Seven days later, on September 24th, the long and arduous trip from Philadelphia to Allentown ends. The Bell is safely hidden in the basement of Zion Reformed Church , where it is to stay until the end of the Revolution.
The 7-foot x 20-foot acrylic on plaster mural depicts the Liberty Bell, escorted by Col. Thomas Polk’s cavalry of 200 troops, as it arrives from Philadelphia, late in the day, at the intersection of what is now, Broad (old Allentown Road) and Main Streets in the present day Borough of Quakertown, Pennsylvania. The small building on the right, now called “Liberty Hall” was built by Abel Roberts in 1772. The inn called the “Sign of the Red Lion Tavern”, built by Walter McCoole in 1747 or 1748, occupies the foreground and a part of the Thomas residence (demolished 1891), is visible behind it.
The story of the mural begins in 1974. Calvin D. Baker, President of Community Federal Savings and Howard B. Freed, Senior Vice President discussed the subject of the long bare wall. A year passed, before a mural surfaced as the only logical answer. Several artists were contacted and proposals and discussions ensued, relative to just what the mural should “be”. Baker and Freed liked the ideas and sketch proposal of artist, James Mann. The first drawing submitted to Community Federal, by Mann, was a small (1 inch equals 1 foot scale) and quite rough sketch, with mere suggestions of form and color, but it was enough for Howard Freed to give the go-ahead. Mann drew a working color grid this time, with the ratio of 2 inches to 1 foot, and from this drawing, transferred the forms and figures to the wall and began to apply the Acrylic Polymer paints. Spaced over a period of a month, the mural was completed approximately 100 hours later, in early March of 1976.(**)
In the early 1990’s, The Intelligencer-Record newspaper acquired the building and with it, ownership of the Mural. Some time later, The Intelligencer discovered that a water leak had slowly contributed to a deterioration of parts of the plaster wall on which the Mural is painted. The leak was repaired. In 1998, James Mann was contacted to evaluate the Mural’s condition and subsequently restore the damaged areas. Presently the Mural, located at 408 West Broad Street, Quakertown, is owned by PhillyBurbs.com, the office is closed and the Mural is unavailable for viewing.
* From the inception of this painting… I had been under the impression that the transport of the bell, was under the command of Col. William Polk. In June 2006, I am informed by William Polk Cheshire, of North Carolina, 3rd great grandson of William Polk and 4th great granson of Thomas Polk, that I have been in error, as follows:
“The Polk who commanded the Continental troops that removed the Liberty Bell and other bells from Philadelphia to Allentown in September 1777 was not “Col. William Polk,” as is sometimes reported, but William’s father, Col. Thomas Polk of the 4th Regiment, North Carolina Continental Line. At the time William was a Major in the 9th Regiment, North Carolina Line, one of the regiments engaged in the Battle of Brandywine that month and afterward in the Battle of Germantown, where he was seriously wounded. He and his regiment were with Washington at Valley Forge, following which the North Carolina regiments, weakened from illness and expiring enlistments, were reduced in number from ten to three, and William Polk was rendered a supernumerary officer. He returned home and subsequently was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel of the South Carolina Militia under Thomas Sumter. His father, rescuer of the Liberty Bell, also was rendered supernumerary, was appointed Commissary General under Gen. Nathanael Greene.”
“Leonidas Polk, Bishop and General” by William M. Polk, M.D., New York, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915, vol. 1, p. 14. (Dr. Polk was Maj. William Polk’s grandson.)”General Leonidas Polk, C.S.A.” by Joseph H. Parks, Baton Rouge and London, Louisiana State University Press, 1962, p. 5.”The Papers of Archibald D. Murphy” William Henry Hoyt (editor), North Carolina Historical Commission, Raleigh, 1914, vol II, pp. 400-410. (“… containing William Polk’s autobiographical reference to being in both the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of Germantown, where he was wounded. He could not have been in these battles and simultaneously moving the Philadelphia bells to safety.”)
** With permission, from the brochure, “Quakertown Harbors the Liberty Bell – 1777”, originally issued by Community Federal Savings, 1976.