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From The Beginning


A Town Is Born

   J. D. Bell owned and operated a flourishing general merchandise store in Woodhull, Illinois during the 1860's and 1870's. There was much advertising and publicity in those years about the vast amount of good farmland available in the new state of Nebraska.
   After corresponding with a former friend, Mr. Mowry, who had settled in the Platte valley southeast of Columbus, Mr. Bell decided to go west and look over the land in the Platte valley. He arrived in the small town of Columbus on the recently completed Union Pacific railroad. Mr. Mowry met him there with a team and wagon. They crossed the Platte river on a wooden trestle bridge and went directly to Mr. Mowry's farm which was just north of the present Bellwood Cemetery.
   The two men made an inspection trip of the land in the valley and Mr. Bell decided on section 19 in Savannah Township. The entire section was a solid sea of tall waving grass, as was all the land in the valley. Back in Columbus he went to the banking house of Gerrard and Reed and learned that a large amount of the Union Pacific land in northern Butler County, including the section he wanted, had been sold to Seth Richards of Van Buren County, Iowa. However, the land was for sale and on June 5, 1872, Mr. Bell purchased the entire section for $3800. He paid down $2480 and signed a 2-year note for the balance, which he paid in full on June 3rd the following year.
   After returning to Woodhull he arranged with his brother-in-law, Charles W. Derby, to go west and start developing the land. His basic outlay was a team of horses, a mower, a hay rake and a breaking plow. He would clear off a plot of grass and plow the sod, then start on another plot. Charles stayed with the Mowrys the first year.
   Mr. Bell came back to the area in the fall of 1873 and arranged to have a house built on the south side of the section. He had been raised in timber country in Indiana and was very fond of trees. There were no trees at all here so year after year he ordered hundreds of young trees and shrubs

from the nursery in Bloomington, Ill. These were planted in belts around the entire section and across the section both ways on the half-mile lines. He also had many varieties of trees and shrubs planted in and around the farmstead. These included a large circular grove northeast of the house, a large selection of fruit trees and 3 acres of grapes. Also, on the northwest quarter he put out a commercial orchard of 20 acres of apple trees. He found that with some careful nurturing during the first two or three years nearly all varieties of trees grew well here on the plains. An inventory of the trees and shrubs growing on the farmstead in 1920 showed there were over 50 varieties.
   Charles Derby stayed on the farm and in November, 1873 married Capt. Miles Warren's daughter, Ida, who lived across the road south from the new Bell farm home. Charles and his new bride moved into the new home.
   On April 10, 1878 J. D. Bell, his wife Hattie (Derby) and their daughter Lorena moved from Woodhull to the home on his farm in the Platte valley. At this time a new railroad was being surveyed to run from Lincoln to Yankton, S. D. by way of Columbus. Mr. Bell wished to have the railroad run through his land as he wished to start a town on the southeast quarter. He offered the railroad the right-of-way free of cost if they would build a station on his land. On Sept. 18, 1879 he reached an agreement with the Lincoln Northwestern, as the new railroad was named, when they agreed to these stipulations. However they needed a 200 ft. right-of-way (as compared to the standard 100 ft.) for a 1000 ft. length to locate the station and sidings. For this they paid him $400. The station was built on the northeast side of the track directly across from the present Farmers Co-op Grain Co. office.
   Following the transaction with the railroad, Mr. Bell made plans to lay out a townsite as soon as possible. The first train came into the station (then called Platte station by the railroad) in February 1880. The original townsite, consisting of 19 blocks was surveyed by Mr. E. C. Dickenson on Jan. 5, 6, 7, 8 and Febr. 26 and Mar. 3, 4, 5, 6, 1880.
   A distinctive feature of the layout of the town was a row of park areas on the main street of the business district. Overall the street was 200 feet wide with the 3 park areas


View of Bellwood, Neb., from residence of J. D. Bell, May 1882. Founded by J. D. Bell in 1880.


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down the centerline, each being 75 feet wide and one block long. These were planted to several varieties of trees and now, 100 years later, many of them are still living and of great size. Most of them are catalpa, but there are also hackberry, sycamore and black locust. The many very large American Elms succumbed to the Dutch Elm disease in more recent years. These trees provided shade for the horses at the hitching rails along main street in the earlier years and for the autos in more recent years and for the people throughout all the years.
   In about 1915 a well-designed bandstand was built in the north park. This was well lighted and enclosed with screen. The Bellwood band held concerts every Saturday evening during the summer. This was open night for all the stores and the business district was usually quite crowded with people and the hitching rails with horses.
   The first street lights in the business district were acetylene gas. The gas generator plant was located a short distance north of the present Co-op service station in block 2. These were installed some time in the late 1880's or early 1890's
   About 1900 Biney Curtis constructed the first electric plant. This set at the south end of the north centerpark. The plant was a 110-volt direct current dynamo run by a flat belt from a gasoline engine. This did not provide continuous service, but was started up at dusk and shut off at 10:30 p.m. Service was provided for all the homes and business places in town who subscribed for it. This plant burned to the ground in the early morning hours in about 1915. Shortly thereafter the village erected a larger generating plant, also 110-volt D. C., which was housed in the concrete block building on the NW part of block 2 now used for the city water pressure equipment. When the Iowa-Nebraska Power Company ran a high voltage line into town in the early 1920's, this electric plant was taken out of service.
   When the townsite was laid out and building got under way, the Ladies Aid Society was asked to propose a name for the town. Mary Finch proposed the name of Bells Woods due to the great many trees that J. D. Bell had planted. Shortly thereafter, the name of Bellwood appeared on the new depot and Bellwood it stayed
   People in the locality had been getting their mail at a post office called PATRON that was located on the east side of the section road directly east of the present grain elevators. The first post office in Bellwood was located in the front of E. F. Hutchinson's general store and Mr. Hutchinson was the first postmaster. This store was located on the southeast corner of block 13 where Chris and Viola Kamenske now live.
   The town got off to a quick start with construction of homes and business places. Lots were selling for $20 to $50. In the fall of 1881 J. D. Bell erected a large 2-story general merchandise store on the southwest part of block 2 where the Co-op Service Center is now located. The second floor was designed for gatherings and was used for meetings, church, Sunday School and social events. A number of rather prominent entertainers appeared on the stage there before the turn of the century.
   The J. D. Bell store was quite successful from the start, attracting customers from a broad area. At times the business required 7 clerks to wait on customers.
   The town grew rapidly and in 1883 Mr. Bell had a new addition of 22 blocks surveyed and were soon ready for sale. The following tabulation of U. S. census figures for Bellwood is of interest.

  1880-zero 1910-397  1940-434  1970-361
1890-413 1920-369 1950-389 1980-401
1900-410 1930-391 1960-361

The drop in population following the first World War was partly due to the returning soldiers finding opportunities elsewhere. Also due to the rapid increase in the use of automobiles and improved roads the population everywhere became more mobile. The peak of 434 in 1940 was, no doubt, due to the great depression of the 1930's and the consequent lack of opportunities in the cities.

   Mr. Bell had a number of plans to enhance the business

opportunities of the community, but his untimely death following a brief illness in 1889 brought most of his plans to a halt.



Bellwood-Ideal Home
Of The Farmer

                     Bellwood Gazette, Nov. 13, 1896    Bellwood, Nebr., a progressive little city of 500 population situated on the B & M Railroad.

   Corn is King and the average yield is 60 bushels per acre and of the best quality. Oats is superior and yield is 50 to 80 bushels per acre. Wheat and rye do especially well, too.

   Geological writer, Owen, described the land as resembling the loamy deposits in the Nile Valley, famous the world over for its richness. The principal stream is the Platte River which affords a most excellent water and drainage system.

   A lively little city of 500 population, and with an excellent reputation as a trading post, is this town of Bellwood. Its merchants and citizens are a hustling and enterprising group with a determination to succeed in their work.

   Bellwood had a fine two-story frame school building erected at the cost of about $5,000. Professor C. E. Shea is in charge of the school with his assistants, Miss Friend and Miss Stork. There are 117 pupils.

   Various religious denominations are established here for the spiritual good of the families of our city. The Methodist, Catholic, and Baptist Churches are all flourishing.

   J. Francis and W. H. Garwood are in charge of the shipping company's business for the past four years. Mr. Garwood is also operator for the Western Union Telegraph Co. and is the agent for the Adams Express Co.

   Under the name, The Gazette, a neat, well-edited and creditable newspaper is issued weekly.

   The Platte Valley State Bank was established here in 1884 by Dave Beisley and in 1885 was purchased by H.R. Gould. Officers were H. R. Gould, Pres., A. H. Gould, Cashier, and R. C. Gould, Assistant Cashier. A judicious, conservative banking business was carried on, interest was paid on time deposits, good bankable paper was negotiated, and insurance was written. The bank would also buy and sell land and made available farm loans. It was noted to be a solid and reliable monied institution and worthy of unlimited public confidence.

   He owns the leading and largest store in the city and came here from Saunders County, where he had 14 years experience. His general store has groceries, dry goods, as well as boots and shoes for the family.

   Mr. Hager is a carriage maker and carpenter. He assisted with the erection of the Bellwood depot in 1880. He also is an agent for Butler Co. lumber dealer, W. A. Wells of David


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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller and Carolyn Wilkerson