Bells Were Among Founders Of Hill City

Monday, August 14, 2017 - by John Wilson

David Newton Bell helped develop Harrison into the county seat, but failed to lure the all-important railroad to the river community. His son, James Smith Bell, was one of the Hill City(North Chattanooga) promoters and Bell Avenue bears his name.

The Bell family was living at Wythe County,Va., when David N. Bell was born in 1797. But when he was a young boy, his father, Samuel Bell, brought the family to Knox County. Samuel Bell had been born in 1756. The other children of Samuel Bell were James Smith, Margaret, Jane, Samuel Givens, Rosannah, Robert M. and Washington. Samuel Bell died in 1843 and was buried at Bells Campground Cemetery at Powell, Tn.

As a young man, David Newton Bell moved to Philadelphia in Monroe County. There he married the widow Eliza Martin Manley, daughter of John Martin. Their first son, Samuel Granville Bell, was born in 1837. Though he kept his home in Monroe County, Bell began investing in Hamilton County, where there was agitation for a new county seat to replace the one at Dallas on the north side of the river. Bell and other investors anticipated the new site would be across the river, and they began to sell lots at Vannville, which was "situated on a beautiful eminence commanding a beautiful view of the Tennessee River surrounded by a beautiful country with a first-rate spring.'' The Vannville promoters argued that the Western and Atlantic Railroad could save $35,400 by running its track to Vanville rather than Chattanooga. They said it was "the most direct and practicable route to extend said road to Nashville, and being near the center of Hamilton County, possessing the above advantages it will doubtless be selected for the county site of said county.'' It turned out that Harrison in 1840 was chosen the county seat to replace Dallas. This was near Vannville, and the latter settlement was a few years later absorbed into Harrison. David Newton Bell moved to Harrison in 1844. But Bell and his cohorts at Harrison and Vannville were outdone by Chattanoogans Rush Montgomery, Samuel Williams and James A. Whiteside in the battle to land the W&A. Though the line had been surveyed toward Harrison and a stretch of road bed graded from Tyner's Station, the tracks were finally built in 1849 through Missionary Ridge into Chattanooga.

Even without the railroad, David N. Bell thrived at Harrison by trading in land, livestock and merchandise. He accumulated 2,200 acres and by 1860 had a fortune of $71,000. One listing of his assets included a one-horse buggy, a two-horse buggy, a piano forte, a silver watch, and $28,234.28 money loaned or deposited at interest. He sold the lot in 1848 where the Harrison Male Academy was erected. Eventually he extended his endeavors into Chattanooga, becoming president of the Discount and Deposit Bank.

Ellen, Bell's youngest daughter, married Allen C. Burns, the bank's cashier. The Burns couple lived in town on McCallie Street (Avenue). Both his son, Samuel, and son, David Newton, died at a young age. The daughters also included Mary Jane who married W.H. Smartt, Sidney who married C.F. Swann and then James Laymon, and Rosa who married Gus Cate. Sidney died in 1879. David N. Bell was residing with his daughter, Rosa, at Cleveland, Tn., when he died in 1882.

Another son, James Smith Bell, was born at Harrison in 1848. After attending the Harrison Male Academy, he studied at Ewing and Jefferson College and Maryville College. He also had a business course at Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He ventured into Chattanooga as a young man and worked as a cattle trader for Samuel Williams,his father's former foe in the railroad effort.

The connection "evidently proved agreeable and profitable for soon after Mr. Bell married Anne, the daughter of Mr. Williams.'' Rev. T.H. McCallie presided at the wedding of Jan. 15,1873. It was held at the stately Williams home opposite Williams Island. James S. Bell was a Chattanooga school commissioner and was one of the founders of the Hamilton County Industrial School (Bonny Oaks School). He was a deputy in the county clerk's office and was director of a number of Chattanooga businesses. He rose to the presidency of the Richmond Hosiery Mills. It was said that his "careful economic habits of mind made Mr. Bell's services valuable in public capacities.'' He was a commissioner to the Tennessee Centennial. He also owned valuable farmland. James S. Bell was among those developing the former Cowart farm across the river from Chattanooga into the suburb now known as North Chattanooga, and he made his home there. Bell Avenue was named for him.

Of the seven children of James Smith Bell, a number went to live in the West as many of the children of Samuel Williams had done. James Edgar, David N. and Charles A. went to Oklahoma and Ralph W. to Colorado. A daughter, Mrs.W.A. Quinn, lived in Oklahoma City. Daughters remaining in Chattanooga were Mrs. Thomas S. Myers and Mrs. I.B. Merriam. A former sergeant in the Union army, Merriam was a Chattanooga merchant. Anne Williams Bell died at the old Bell homestead in North Chattanooga in 1917.James S. Bell lived until 1930.

Eldon Raymond Bell of Springdale, Ark., wrote a book about the Bell family.

ANOTHER Bell living in Hamilton County before the Civil War was Dr. William S. Bell, who established Bell's Distillery and a flour mill near the foot of Cameron Hill. He was mayor of Chattanooga in 1858. Dr. Bell was a brother-in-law of Reese Brabson, having married Elizabeth Keith. When the war broke out, Dr. Bell disposed of his business interests and moved to Memphis. He volunteered his services as a surgeon to the Confederate army. Dr. Bell was standing on a steamboat at New Madrid, near Cairo, Ill., when a cannonball struck him below the knees, carrying away both his legs. He lived for only a few hours.

His son, Charles Keith Bell, was a member of Congress from Texas for many years. Elizabeth Keith Bell made her home with him at Fort Worth.


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