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Sussex Register - April 19, 1893 issue


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 county.

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.