Published in Talent News and Review September 2012
|"Bell House" sign is visible and family in front includes Amanda (second from right) and Thomas Jefferson Bell on the left. Note the water tower in the background that is long gone|
by Jan Wright
The dwelling that stands in the midst of commercial buildings next to TARKS' (now Ray's) parking lot in the downtown area was probably built about 1897 by the Hanscom family. It is known as “The Bell House” or simply “The Bell” after Thomas Jefferson Bell and his wife, Amanda, who purchased it in 1907. The Bell family operated a boarding house and restaurant where Amanda did the cooking and cleaning and her husband, “Jeff” was the baker, making bread and sweets for the boarders. Single orchard and farm workers who boarded there found the house welcoming, comfortable, and located close to work. Anyone could stop by the restaurant and get a hardy meal for dinner or supper. In the Jim Briner diaries, oyster soup and pies were the only entrees mentioned by name from the menu at the Bell.
Thomas Jefferson Bell was from Missouri coming to Oregon by wagon train after the Civil War. He and his family lived on a homestead north of Suncrest Orchard across Bear Creek before moving into town. Bell wore a beard which was frequently stained with tobacco juice. He liked to show off his surgically-removed appendix which he had on display in a jar.
Amanda was Bell’s second wife. She had been tried as an accomplice to the murder of her former husband, Lewis McDaniel, but was acquitted. The man found guilty of the deed, Lewis O’Neil, was the last person to be executed by hanging in Jackson County. Amanda’s sweet face did not reveal the mystery behind her involvement and her relationship with O’Neil. In a 1924 interview with historian Fred Lockley, she said her name had been McDonald instead of McDaniel. Her obituary did not mention McDaniel or anything about her close call with the law. It is doubtful that the boarders or restaurant goers in Talent knew of her past as she served their meals and made their beds each day. Bell family tradition says that Jeff Bell was on the jury that acquitted her, though public records do not substantiate that as a fact.
The Bell continued to operate as a boarding house and restaurant until about 1916. The house was sold to Thomas and Cora Lamb in 1927 and was passed on “with love and affection”to their daughter, Katie Lamb Estes. Mrs. Estes lived in the house until the 1970s. Since that time it has been remodeled and partially restored to it's original integrity by the current owners. Some of the surrounding grounds have been lost to the commercial building on the right and by Tarks parking lot on the left but the essential design of the house remains as do the old grape vines on the side.