By Mike Steely

It sits by itself in a lonely spot in Oak Ridge, a symbol of peace between Japan and the United States and a reminder of Pearl Harbor and the dropping of atomic bombs that ended World War II.

The Friendship Bell seems like a contradiction between the horrors of war and the blessing of peace. The huge bell, which weighs more than 8,000 pounds, was cast of bronze in 1993 in Japan and transported to Oak Ridge where it was dedicated with much fanfare. Shortly thereafter the city was sued because some people thought the bell was a religious symbol of Buddhism. The city won the case and a decorative pavilion was built atop the bell only to be torn down in recent years because of rotten wood.

Now a campaign is underway to rebuild the pavilion and relocate the bell to a more visible place in the city. Currently it sits by its self in A.K. Bissell Park near the junction of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Oak Ridge Highway which becomes Illinois Avenue once the road enters the city.

With the new Manhattan Project National Park being created in Oak Ridge the idea is to create a larger plaza for the bell. A citizen committee put together by the Parks Advisory Board is heading up the fundraising effort, with the Rotary Clubs helping them coordinate. While the former pavilion was being dismantled, leaving only the pillars that supported it, the city fenced off the area for safety but the bell could still be viewed.

Today the lonely bell sits in the far corner of the large city park. Only a few small road signs direct visitors to the bell, which is actually along Badger Avenue.

Sarah Self, Oak Ridge’s Public Information director, told The Focus that the fund raising effort is trying to get $750,000 and about $550,000 has been raised. She said that a larger plaza will be created further down in the park closer to the Oak Ridge Turnpike complete with a new pavilion, a garden, lots of trees and a walking trail.

Obviously Oak Ridge from Knoxville is only a few minutes’ drive and you might want to visit other interesting places there like the Museum of Science and Energy, the Children’s Museum, or the South Appalachia Railroad Museum.

The former Oak Ridge mall has been demolished except for the two anchor stores and two new big box stores are being constructed as the city develops a shopping center complex to replace the old enclosed mall.

EDT: Fundraising has passed the $600,000 mark now!