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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: The talented and influential Bell family

October 28. 2013 5:36PM

Just south of the chapel in the Valley Cemetery in Manchester are the granite grave markers for members of the Bell family.

These Manchester Bells belonged to the prominent New Hampshire family that included several men who were influential in the worlds of law, politics and commerce.

This list includes Samuel Dana Bell, who was one of the most important leaders in the new City of Manchester that emerged in the mid-19th century. He had been inspired to pursue a life of public service by his father, also named Samuel. The elder Samuel Bell (1770-1850) had a legendary career, helping to establish the rule of law and good government in New Hampshire. He was a Justice of the Superior Court, a State Representative, a State Attorney General, a Governor, a Governor's Councilor, and a three-term U. S. Senator. The senior Samuel Bell is buried in the Village Cemetery in Chester, New Hampshire.

His son Samuel Dana Bell (1798-1868) was born in Francestown. He graduated from Harvard College in 1810 at the age of 17, and set up his first law practice in Meredith Bridge. After a year he moved to Chester. He was elected as a State Representative in 1825 and 1826, and served as Clerk of the House of Representatives in 1827-1828. He married Mary Healey in 1826, and in 1830 the family moved to Exeter, when Samuel became the cashier of the Exeter Savings Bank. In 1836 the Bells relocated to Concord where Samuel again practiced law. In 1839 he was hired as an attorney for the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, so the family moved again, this time to Manchester. Samuel soon established a thriving law practice on Elm Street.

There were few places to live in the center part of Manchester in 1839, so Samuel built a two-story wooden house on the southwest corner of Chestnut and Amherst streets. This was one of the first structures built in the new downtown. The land on which the house stood was one of the lots sold by the Amoskeag in its first land sale in 1838, right after the streets in the downtown were laid out. By 1856 the Bell family had moved to a larger home on the corner of Hanover and Beech streets. By the 1880s the former Bell home on Amherst Street was transformed into a grocery store. In 1932 the building became the popular Post Office Fruit Luncheonette, which operated until 2009. The structure was recently rehabilitated and is awaiting its next occupant.

When Manchester's city government was established in 1846, Samuel D. Bell was named the first Justice of the Police Court, which conducted business in City Hall. In 1848 he became Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and the next year was appointed Justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire. This became the Supreme Court in 1855, with Judge Bell presiding as Chief Justice from 1859-1864.

Judge Bell was very busy beyond his judicial duties. He helped organize the Manchester National Bank and Amoskeag Bank, and was active on the civic front. He served on the organizing committees to build the City Hall, to establish the city sewers, to develop the school system, to establish the Valley Cemetery, and to create the city library. He was also a founder of the Lyceum, a private organization that sponsored educational lectures for the benefit of the public.

Judge Bell had lost a dear brother whose promising career was tragically cut short at the age of 30. Doctor John Bell was visiting Louisiana in 1830 when he passed away. He had studied medicine in Boston and Paris, and had graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine. At the time of his death, he was professor of anatomy at the University of Vermont. It is unclear where his body was buried in 1830, but sometime after the Valley Cemetery was opened in 1841, it was moved and re-interred on the west side of the Cemetery. The family marked the graveside with a simple white marble obelisk.

Samuel Dana Bell and his wife Mary Healey Bell had five children, only three of whom lived to adulthood: John James Bell, Samuel Newell Bell and Mary Wallace Bell.

Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — The story of Samuel Newell Bell.

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at

History Manchester

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