Caleb Bell House - 817 Front Street

From: Early Domestic Architecture in Beaufort, North Carolina - Summer Field Study 2011 - College of William and Mary & Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Dept. of Architectural and Archaeological Research (Klee and Lounsbury) - Images are Field Study drawings and photographs.  
Click images to enlarge.

The building at 817 Front Street is characteristic of Beaufort cottages. This house has seen several periods of change since it was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its original story-and-a-half plan consisted of a main floor with three rooms and an enclosed rear staircase. The entrance led into a large heated room on the southwest side with a smaller unheated room on the southeast side. The rear space was most likely a one-story shed similar to the one at the Ward- Hancock House. In subsequent years the house received a new partition wall, a remodeled staircase, a window seat, and was moved 30 feet southward so it could receive a substantial addition by the current owners. 

The west exterior chimney heats two rooms, one on each floor, and is laid in Flemish bond with scribed joints and closers at the corners. There is some random glazing and the shoulders are stepped. The house originally sat on piers made of ballast stones. The spaces between the piers have now been filled.
The front entrance now leads to a five-foot wide center passage that was probably inserted in the 1870s when a wall was added to form the west partition. A large rear wing (which has since been replaced with the modern addition) with a room on either side was also added. The southwest room, which is heated, has exposed un-chamfered timbers. An early 1920s window seat addition sits to the left of the fireplace, extending the west wall out by a couple feet. On the other side of the passage is a small room enclosed by a one-inch vertical board partition. All joists and trimmers in this room are beaded, indicating that the ceiling framing in this room was originally exposed. Floorboards are whitewashed and many are not undercut except for an apparently patched area alongside the partition, where there are a handful of gauged and undercut boards. 

The present stair, while old, is not in its original location. Inside the lobby, an original joist has been cut through to accommodate the present run. In addition, the stair rises awkwardly from the back of the passage, with its first step about three feet from the door and a pair of unusually large winders rising to the second flight of steps. The odd configuration and the cut-through joist suggest that an earlier stair existed in another location. Since there is no sign of any alterations in the board partition wall, the most likely configuration is in a much tighter, steeper run, rising from the rear of the passage along the east side of the board partition, inside the small unheated room. And indeed, the relatively wide spacing of the two westernmost ceiling joists could easily accommodate a steep winder stair. In addition, the patched area of gauged and undercut floorboards is over this pair of joists, making it the most likely location for the original staircase, probably in a sheathed enclosure much like the present one. The second floor reveals much construction detail. One of the most striking features of the hewn and pit sawn frame is the up-brace of the four-foot high half story visible at the top of the staircase. The hand rail at the top of the steps is scribed and tenoned in place. The common rafters are hewn and pit sawn and the roof sheathing is from mixed periods, the earliest being mill or sash sawn. The siding and studs on the west gable end have been replaced by circular sawn boards in the late nineteenth century. The rear attic space displays evidence that the rear shed is original due to the lack of nails on the lower parts of the common rafters. Also visible are the main rafters which are attached to the wall plate with rose-head wrought spikes. Additionally, the rafters are tenoned and pinned at the ridge. On a batten door found in the heated room upstairs is evidence of a scoring pattern for the placement of clinch nails in the three beaded battens.

The stair originally rose from the back of the passage and up a set of winders to run along the east side of the partition. It was later reconfigured to rise along the east wall of the inner room. It currently enters directly into one of the two chambers. Although both rooms are of equal size, each has their own details to suggest their function or importance. The floorboards in the east room are narrower than those in any other room. This, along with the gauged and beveled undercutting, suggests higher quality. At the same time the west room was heated suggesting it was the chamber of choice during the winter.

All of the contradictory evidence makes dating difficult; however, several elements suggest that the earliest time period as the 1810s. The combination of hewn and pit-sawn and hewn and sash sawn members, the story and a half plan, Georgian moldings, board and batten doors with wrought nails, wrought iron strap hinges, narrow partitions with narrow beads all suggest that the Bell house most likely dates to somewhere between 1810 and 1815, or slightly later. In the 1870s a center passage was formed, creating the current size of the west room on the main floor, and a large rear wing was added. In the early 1920s the window seat in the west gable-end was added, extending the wall. In more recent years the owners demolished the 1870s wing and replaced it with a much larger addition. It was at this time that the original foundation of the house was moved thirty feet toward the south and the rear room received two partitions, breaking it off into two rooms divided by a continuous center passage.

Caleb Bell Family - researched by Mary Warshaw

Mary “Polly” Thompson 
Greenfield Bell
3rd wife of Caleb Norris Bell 

(Family Photo -
Caleb Norris Bell (1788-1872)
Son of Caleb Bell (1731-1811)

G-son of Joseph (1695-1777)  

(Family Photo -

Joseph Bell (abt 1698-1777) and Mary Corbett (abt 1702-1775) were married about 1722 in Princess Anne, Virginia. Joseph received land in Carteret County from his father Andrew (bef 1670-1725) and migrated into North Carolina about 1736, where he quickly became a colonial leader. By 1741 Joseph became a justice in Carteret County, a post he held for 36 years. He served as a colonel in the Carteret County Militia, represented Carteret County in the North Carolina legislature and served in the colonial assembly. By 1757, Joseph was a commissioner for the town of Portsmouth. In 1766 he received a license to operate an ordinary in Beaufort. This house on Turner Street (across from the restoration grounds, now plaqued John C. Manson, may have been used as Colonel Bell’s town house. Joseph was buried in Bogue Sound Family Cemetery.

Joseph and Mary Bell had five sons: Church (abt 1731-1775) married Sarah Shepard. Andrew (abt 1729-1790) married Elizabeth Lovett. Caleb (1741-1811) married Susannah Coale. Joseph (1739*-1813) first married Hannah Lovett, who died 28 Sept 1795; the following year he married Jane Davis 8 Nov 1796. Joseph was county clerk and also served as captain during Revolutionary War; he and Hannah were buried Bell’s Chapel Cemetery, Mansfield, Carteret County. Malachi (1745-1803) first married Elizabeth Coale (1761) and later married widow Sarah Fulford Robertson. Some family trees note a daughter Sarah born, to Joseph and Mary Bell, in 1725.
* Gravestone: ”Joseph Bell who departed this life 13th day of Feby 1813 aged 73 years 2 months & 7days.”

Malachi Bell’s son Josiah Bell (1767-1848) married Mary "Polly" Fisher; their son Josiah Fisher Bell (1820-1890) married Susan Benjamin Leecraft. The Josiah Bell House circa 1825, on the historic grounds, is across the street from the Joseph Bell House circa 1767. Josiah Fisher Bell was the Confederate agent responsible for blowing up lighthouses on Cape Lookout during the Civil War.

Caleb married Susannah Coale (abt 1755-), perhaps in 1772. Children were Abigail, William (1777-1827) married Sara Ward, Jacob (1784-1850), Joseph Coale (1785-1826) married Hannah Fulford, Caleb Norris Bell (1788-1872) married three time (see below), Charlotte (1790-) married Bartholomew Chadwick, and Elizabeth Bell (1792-).

Caleb Norris Bell Jr. (1788-1872), born in Beaufort, was a traveling minister in the Methodist Church of Virginia for many years; he moved to Kentucky in 1822. He married several times and fathered eight children; he married Judith Harper Moore (1789-1819), of Nottoway County, Virginia, 3 May 1815; Jane Browder (1793-1836) 6 Sept 1820 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia – they reached Todd County, Kentucky 26 Dec 1822; and Mary “Polly” Thompson Greenfield (1800-1869) widow of Samuel Greenfield) 16 Oct 1837 in Todd County, Kentucky. Rev. Bell died 21 Sept 1872 and was buried in Bell’s Chapel Cemetery, Todd County, Kentucky.

In The Story of the Methodists in the Port Beaufort, Amy Muse wrote,

“Tradition has it that Caleb Bell, his wife Suzannah Coale Bell, and his oldest daughter were charter members of our Church. Dr. A. H. Redford in his ‘History of Methodism in Kentucky’ tells of Caleb's conversion: ‘The old gentleman was an Episcopalian but did not know the witness of the spirit. Being in great distress of mind one day he took his Bible and boat and rowed out to one of the islands of the Beaufort Sound and there read and prayed until the burden was removed from his heart. He was made very happy but did not know the nature of the wondrous change nor realize that he was adopted into God's household until shortly afterward the Methodist preachers came in preaching regeneration and the witness of the spirit and at once with his wife and daughter he united with the Methodist Church—the first fruits of their labors.’

“When the great revival ‘struck’ Beaufort, Caleb Norris Bell, son of this older Caleb, was a boy living in Beaufort—eighteen years of age to the month. “One evening while out in the country sitting on a door step, he was convicted of sin. The same night he and his brother, with many others, went forward for prayers at the Church in Beaufort but found no relief. George Read, Clerk of Court and also class leader, invited Caleb and Jacob to spend the night with him [Hatsell House on Orange St.]; at eleven o'clock the power of God came upon them, and they were both, in the same instant, clearly, powerfully, satisfactorily converted.” At the first opportunity, he and his brother joined the Methodist Church at Bell's Chapel built by his grandfather.” The Chapel mentioned seems to have been the chapel on the West side of the Newport River authorized by the vestrymen of the Church of England in 1748. If it is, it was paid for with public funds as were improvements as late as 1766. Its location seems to have been on land which old Colonel Bell in 1755 deeded to the Parish. This and the fact that a Bell always read the service may account for the fact that it was called Bell's Chapel. It is assumed that as with St. John's in Beaufort, the Chapel was abandoned after the War and the Methodists, being the only religious sect near, took it over.

“After the conversion of Caleb and Jacob ‘the preachers urged them to exercise their gifts, and sometimes sent Caleb out to fill their own appointments.’ Thus Caleb was our first contribution to the ministry although he did not join the Conference until 1809; Jacob joined in 1807. There was no North Carolina Conference until 1838. Both boys joined the Virginia Conference, but Caleb's first field of service was in North Carolina; Jacob's in Virginia. A brother, Joseph, also joined the Conference but died when very young. Caleb served the Tampico Circuit in 1809. The following year his father was sick and requested that he be sent to Beaufort.

“Caleb, senior, died in 1811 and young Caleb left Beaufort for another circuit. He worked fervently for the next few years, but so large were the early circuits and so great the hardships that few could stand up long under the strain. Then, too, Caleb had found a girl in Virginia whom he wanted to marry so in 1815 he asked to be ‘located.” Later, 1822, he went to Todd County, Kentucky. ‘Here he found the Methodists few and far between,’ by zeal he built up the church there, and with his own hands helped build Bell's Chapel said to be the ‘best church house in the country at that day.’ Later he lived to see the Chapel ‘too small for the Lord's host (in Todd County) and a magnificent brick house, large enough for the multitude erected in the same beautiful grove.’ Dr. Redford says, ‘The influence of Caleb Bell was universally felt and acknowledged. He was perhaps the most popular preacher in the county—preaching more funeral sermons, baptizing more children, and marrying more couples than any other.’”

MORE FAMILY HISTORY: Excerpts from: Colonel Joseph Bell of Carteret County and Some of His Descendants - Marybelle Delamar 1946