In 1818 a treaty was made with the Chickasaw Indians, whereby West Tennessee was opened to white settlers. Years before Bells became a town, Cherryville was the shipping point of the South Forked Deer River.
This town was first called Harrisbury, and was the first town in West Tennessee. Incorporated in 1821, it was three and a half miles west of Bells.
Daniel Cherry operated a store in this location and one night, as the story goes, in 1827 two young men stopped to spend the night on their return trip to South Carolina.
They had been searching for fertile land in Kentucky, but did not like what they found. Cherry told them that they were on some of the best land that they could want, so John and William Bell purchased 1,000 acres from Cherry for $1 an acre. This land is where Bells stands and extended to the Forked Deer River.
Bells Depot, Haywood County, was founded in 1855 and was named in honor of William Bell, who built the first dwelling in the town. He was the grandfather of W. E. McQuarrie and Mrs. Sally Koonce, who are living in Bells today. A small part of the McQuarrie home was the original first house.
Julia Bell built nearer the river and was the grandfather of Mrs. A. P. Casey, J. R. Barnes and B. B. Barnes, Sr., all of Bells.
Before the Civil War, stage coaches were running between Brownsville and Trenton and as the territory grew, a better means of travel was needed, so in the early 1850s the L&N Railroad was built from Memphis to Brownsville.
Later the rail was extended through Bell's Depot.
When the road was first talked of one man said, "Gentlemen, when this road is built, you will be able to go as far as Memphis and return in the same day," and another exclaimed,
"It's a lie; that is utterly impossible."
The first merchant was C. C. Clay, who moved from Cherryville to Bell's Depot and began selling goods in 1859. The following year Harrell & Wood opened a dry goods store; A. C. Allen, a family grocery; A. M. Anker, a bakery; and Tom Evans, a saloon, where the Corner Drug Store now stands.
During the Civil War years no business was transacted at Bell's Depot, the stores all being closed. As Crockett County had not been organized, there was no military annals from the county during the Civil War, but a full company was organized at Bell's Depot.
The company joined the 27th Regiment of the Tennessee Infantry as Co. G. The company passed through the entire war, taking part in many engagements such as the battle of Shiloh, the battle of Franklin and many others.
At the general surrender of the Confederate army in 1865, only the three men out of the 107 were accounted for. Capt. Francis J. Wood, father of Mrs. C. J. Montgomery (who is now a retired teacher with 33 years teaching to her credit) was one of these three. He had assisted in the organizing of Co. G. The captain was severely wounded at Atlanta, Ga. and because of this was appointed provost marshal at Macon, Ga., where he was captured.
After the war he was elected Crockett County's first county court clerk in 1872.
Bell's Depot was incorporated in 1868 with Hardy L. Winburn as first mayor. Others who have served as mayor are the late J. J. Farrow, Dr. A. G. Hicks, Dr. S. H. Thomas, J. C. Best, L. F. Walker and C. Rex Mehr, Sr.
Also serving were R. L. Spellings, J. R. Barnes, A. L. Brigance and the present mayor, E. F. Barnes. By 1887 Bell's Depot had the population of about 600. It was the largest and most important town in the county. Land was then worth $9.72 an acre.
Before the building of the I. C. Railroad through Dyersburg, Bells was one of the best cotton markets and trading centers in West Tennessee. Farmers came here from miles around to market their cotton and camp overnight.
The lots at the rear of the present stores, now occupied by warehouses, were used as camp grounds. The leading cotton buyers at that time were E. Solomon, W. F. Dawson, Frank Barnes, E. F. Hicks and Ewell Midyett.
Crockett County was organized in 1872 and was formed from portions of Haywood, Dyer, Madison and Gibson Counties. After its organization in the 1880s by an act of the government, "Depot" was eliminated and we became Bells and part of Crockett County instead of Haywood.
A year or two after Bell's Depot was established, an old grocery house was fitted up for a church and was used by all denominations. The first church erected was the Christian Church in 1867. It was a log building on the lot where Mrs. Iva Richards home now stands - this burned in 1869 and a brick church was built at the cost of about $2,100.
A note at the end of the article states that the information was taken from an article written by Mrs. Nancy Ann Pearson and published in The Jackson Sun, June 29, 1958. This article is not to be reprinted, or used for any commercial purposes.
The preceding article was contributed to this web page, with permission of the Crockett County Historical Society, by Natalie Huntley.
This information was taken from an article published in the book "Crockett County Courthouse Centennial, 1874 - 1974", prepared by the Crockett County Historical Society.
Saturday, 29-Apr-2000 13:27:47 MDT