Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Village of Bell: As if it Never Existed

Many people in our area have heard of, or visited, Besser Natural Area off of Grand Lake Road in Presque Isle Township. Jesse Besser bestowed this land to the public in 1966 because it was the only virgin pine stand in the area that had not either been cut down in the old logging days or destroyed by the Metz Fire of 1908.

Most people know there is a trail, the old road that used to loop around the small peninsula at the edge of the bay, which is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Along the trail are a few reminders of civilization including a lonely stone chimney, a sign, and other scattered debris.

(images in this post from Flickr user bmcirillo)

There is also a cemetery, with only one remaining original grave, which was lovingly restored in the 1980s and given fences and one stone with the names of some of those known to be buried there. I am currently working with the current keeper of Presque Isle Township history to provide her the dates of death of these people and find the unknown burials. More about that later!

It is a very common misconception that the village of Bell existed entirely within the Besser Natural Area. That couldn't be further from the truth, as I discovered this week. In comparing the 1903 Plat Map against a current-day aerial Google Map, I found that most of Bell was actually found along the stretch of Grand Lake Road between the Township Hall and the Hide-a-way! The school, the post office, and most of Bell's known residents can all be found along that stretch of road. This is great news, because it means there's actually a lot more left of Bell than we realized. It means that those who built the historic farms along the road were citizens of Bell, and some of their homes are still intact!

When I decided to do something to find out more about these lost residents and the logging town they called home, I was very surprised and disheartened to find out that there is only a very small amount of information available on the topic. It has become clear that many people are interested in knowing more about the lost village of Bell, and I am very excited to participate in helping find and share information with the public.

Look for many more posts on Bell and the people who once called it home. I'm currently pouring a lot of my energy into the subject and will be posting my findings here. Follow me and be the first to know when new info is available!