William H. Bell
"Billy" Bell, as he was familiarly called, died in Branchville,
on Tuesday, at the old homestead where his father lived before him,
after a week's illness, of pneumonia.
He was a schemer who had the happy faculty of looking
always upon the bright side and seeing the star of ascendancy in all
his plans, and his plausible manner persuaded very many to believe
as he desired, and in days when money was seeking investment, and
he himself had plenty of it, he became widely known throughout the
He first went into business in Pike county and was
unsuccessful, but during the war he went to New York city and engaged
in the manufacture of cards, which were shipped to Cuba and from thence
smuggled into the South. He is reputed to have made $100,000 at it.
He afterwards returned to Branchville, where he opened a woolen mill
and card factory, the machinery of which were said to be worth $75,000;
John E Howell, then a wealthy resident of Goshen, holding a mortgage
upon the property for nearly four-fifths of that amount. The mills
did not prove profitable.
Branchville and Lafayette can thank him for what was
known as 'Billy Bell's railroad" until the Sussex took possession
about twenty-three years ago. The citizens of Frankford and Lafayette
raised $125,000 to grade and tie the road and afterward $3,500 to
rail it. Influential Newtonians thought to block the road by preventing
direct connection with the Sussex here, but "Billy" wasn't
to be disheartened by so small a damper, and passing around Newton
extended the tracks until they connected with the Sussex at Drake's
pond; and until the cut off was built across the meadows trains came
up to Newton, what is now the freight depot being the passenger station,
and then backed down to Drake's pond before proceeding to Branchville.
Mr. Bell also projected the line of the P.P. &
B. road, seeing that it was the easiest path to the Hudson River,
and persisted until many patches of it were built at conspicuous points,
as the South Mountain Railroad. He is also believed to have been interested
in roads in Nova Scotia and North Carolina.
He represented Sussex county as a Member of Assembly
in 1862-64, and was an aspirant for the Senatorship in a campaign
that cost him many thousand dollars before the convention chose his
rival. That was the last county convention at which the people voted
up and down the hill. He leaves a widow, who is his second wife.