Mission bell returns to city street corner

A century-old landmark is being revived in The City.

Caltrans on Thursday unveiled a historic mission bell at the southwest corner of Third and Market streets.

The mission bells were used a century ago by service clubs in California to mark the famed El Camino Real, which today is dominated by U.S. Highway 101. Bells were spaced a mile or two apart.

The first bell was erected in November 1909, Caltrans said. More than 450 bells dotted the route from San Diego to San Francisco. However, years of damage, vandalism and theft reduced the number to fewer than 100 by 1996. Caltrans has since received a $1.4 million federal grant and has produced 555 replacement bells from the original mold.

The bell unveiled at Thursday’s dedication ceremony was a rare original and was the 13th erected in Northern California.

Caltrans recently received a second grant to add bells to the final portion of the system, from San Francisco to Sonoma. That restoration will be complete by 2010, Caltrans said.

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