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Spring Prairie house owned by nurseryman

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Ginny Hall | April 11, 2014

The John and Margaret Bell house is located at 554 Spring Prairie Road in the town of Spring Prairie. It is just west of County Highway DD. The house was listed on the register of Wisconsin Historic Homes and the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 15, 1994.

The home is a wonderful example of side-gable vernacular stone. It has hints of both Greek Revival and Italianate styles of architecture. It is both larger and longer than most homes in the area. The two- story house was built from sandstone which was quarried locally. 

The window placement and the details of the front entry are typical of Greek Revival.  The brackets under the eaves give it a look of an Italianate house. It has thicker walls than most stone buildings of that time.

John and Margaret Bell lived in the house between 1852 and 1902; the house was kept in the family until 1914. 

Bell came to this county in 1837 and settled in Section 23 of the town of Spring Prairie.  The 1857 plat map shows J. Bell as the owner of 80 acres.  It also shows an extensive orchard. 

The first nursery in the county was established by Bell, who moved from Ypsilanti, Mich., for that purpose. He leased 10 acres of land from Palmer Gardner and brought trees from Ypsilanti via Detroit and Milwaukee by water. 

He started with 400 trees and by 1858 his nursery numbered 250,000 trees. His first nursery entry shows a sale of 75 apple, 15 pear and 10 plum trees plus two grape vines and three currant bushes. In 1852 he bought 100 acres across the road from his nursery and built his home. He had married Margaret O'Conner in 1844. 

Bell was chairman of the board of supervisors in 1852 and 1853 and a member of the Wisconsin Assembly in 1853.  Bell's brother, Nathaniel, settled in the town of LaFayette.  He was chairman of the first county board of supervisors and the last territorial sheriff for the area.

Bell's sister, Mary Ann, was married to Dr. Jessie C. Mills.  Earlier I wrote about their farm as a part of the Underground Railroad.

In 1853 John Bell was awarded a medal from the Wisconsin Agriculture Society; he had 10 of the best apples and six of the best pears in the state. He gave up the nursery in 1858 because of “bark louse” and did farming.  In 1904 he sold the property to his sister, Anna Bell Cocroft.
 



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