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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Samuel N. Bell, 'inaugurating great enterprises'

November 04. 2013 3:01PM

Buried in the Valley Cemetery in Manchester is Samuel Newell Bell (1829-1889). He was the son of Samuel Dana Bell (1798-1868), and the grandson of Samuel Bell (1770-1850). His father was Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, as well as an important civic leader in Manchester. His grandfather was a Governor of New Hampshire, a U.S. Senator, and a Justice of the Superior Court (later the Supreme Court).

Samuel N.'s older brother was John W. Bell (1827-1893). He studied at the Dane Law School at Harvard University and practiced law in Carmel, Maine, and in Nashua, Milford and Exeter, New Hampshire. He was a judge of the municipal court in Nashua, and was a four-time State Representative. He also served on various state commissions, and was president of the Exeter Manufacturing Company, of the Suncook Valley Rail Road and of the Exeter Rail Road, and he was a director of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company.

Younger brother Samuel N. Bell attended school in Francestown, New Hampshire, and Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, at the age of 17. He then studied law, apprenticing in Manchester under Attorney General William C. Clarke. Once admitted to the bar, he partnered with Clarke and later set up his own practice on Elm Street. He wasn't as interested in the law as he was in commerce, however. His primary focus in life was the development of the railroad systems in the region. He was president of the Concord & Portsmouth, the Pemigewasset Valley, the Profile and Fanconia Notch railroads, and also held financial interests in several other lines.

In Manchester, Samuel was president of the Manchester Horse Rail Road that established the early trolleys in the city. He was also vice president of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company, and was heavily invested in local real estate. He owned a considerable amount of acreage on Wilson Hill, and around Rock Rimmon and Lake Massabesic. He sold his Massabesic land to the city at a low price in order to support the development of the water system. A Democrat, he was elected to the U.S. Congress twice, serving in 1871-1873 and in 1875-1877.

Samuel became very wealthy, but never owned a house. He lived with his parents at their home on the corner of Beech and Hanover Streets for several years, and later boarded at the Manchester House hotel on Elm Street, and then in the Patten's Block nearby, where he had his office. He had business interests in northern New Hampshire, including lumbering. He built the Deer Park Hotel in North Woodstock, one of the famous grand hotels of the White Mountains. One day in February 1889 he was visiting the hotel when he spotted some men harvesting ice on a nearby pond. He went over to chat, and decided to chip away at a block of ice with an ax. While he was doing this, he suddenly fell over and died, apparently from a brain aneurysm. When his coffin arrived in Manchester by train, it was met by a large group of people, including most of the prominent businessmen and politicians of the city.

Although greatly admired by many, there seemed to be one person that Samuel could not please. That was his brother John. When Samuel died, John remarked, "I have often regretted, and very deeply now, that my brother neglected so much the profession of law, and became so involved in railroad matters and the business of making money." To some this comment seemed hypocritical, as John himself has accumulated quite a fortune through his own business interests. Samuel's friend, John C. French, who was an official of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company, commented, "He (Samuel) cared for money only as it would help him inaugurate great enterprises which would help others. All of his undertakings and investments were for the good of the State, and to develop its resources."

Samuel and John Bell's sister was Mary W. Bell. She led a modest life, but left an important legacy behind. This is a cache of letters that record the intimate details of life in mid-19th Century New Hampshire.

Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — Glimpses of life through Mary Bell's correspondence..

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

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