Yesterday’s Press Democrat printed a great article about local examples of how small towns in Sonoma County celebrate our nation’s independence. Unfortunately, missing from the description of six other towns; Petaluma – my favorite river town – was missing. For the record, here is the story of our “Bell Ringing” tradition that started 48 years ago.

“The original use of the Korbel Lumber Company bell was to alert workers of any accidents, fires or other emergency situations. The bell came into the possession of Miriam McNear Korbel (Mrs. Leo) when the lumber company disbanded. When the Korbel family home was sold, Mrs. Korbel gave the bell to Rutherford Putnam who was president of the Petaluma Historical Society and known for his interest in collecting historical memorabilia.

This bell reposed in Mr. Putnam’s garage some time. His wife, Helen, came across a news item about two Connecticut Yankees who promoted the idea of bells ringing out all over the United States at the very same time every Fourth of July, thus proclaiming this nation’s freedom. Helen thought this was the ideal opportunity to use the Korbel Bell. In 1962, the couple had it mounted on an “A” frame with a rope attached. Just before the holiday, it was set up on the front lawn of their home (B & Fair Streets), the American and California Bear Flag were hosted near an oak tree. They invited friends and children and anyone else who might be interested to attend the bell-ringing ritual.

After pledging allegiance to the flag, a youngster blew a few notes on a bugle. The bell was rung at 11:00 a.m. to coincide with the stipulated 2:00 p.m. for similar services in the East. Then, after everyone had a chance to pull the rope. The contingent repaired to the rear garden for lemonade and cookies. This event proved such a success that it has been repeated every year since with constantly increasing attendance. President Kennedy endorsed the July 4th bell ringing and a resolution to that effect was passed in Congress in 1963. Mrs. Putnam was a teacher at Two Rock School and Petaluma’s first woman Mayor in more than 100 year history and she added the reading of the resolution to the program and thus a tradition was born.”

After the death of Mrs. Helen Putnam in 1984, her son, Rush, presented their “Liberty Bell” to the Petaluma Museum to continue the tradition; which it has done for the past 26 years.

 Note to readers: This Petaluma tradition may not be known to many present day residents. Please share it with family, friends, and neighbors, and ask them to mark their calendars now for next year’s celebration at the Petaluma Historical Museum on July 4, 2011.