Transcribed by Mary Ann Kaylor
Dr. James M. Bell is a retired physician of Rochester and was born in Rochester township, Sangamon county, August 6, 1856. He is a son of James H. and Milla (Dotson) Bell. His father was born November 30, 1822, in Nicholas county, Kentucky, and was a son of Robert Bell, whose birth occurred in Bourbon county, Kentucky, March 8, 1795. The great-grandfather of the Doctor was a native of Ireland and had four children, Robert and three sisters, and the son, after the marriage of his sisters, had no relative in America bearing the family name. During the war of 1812 Robert Bell served as a soldier from Bourbon county, Kentucky. On the 12th of February, 1818, in that county, he was united in marriage to Susannah Baker, and in the year 1830 they removed to Sangamon county, Illinois, arriving in the fall of that year. They settled four miels south of the village of Rochester, where Mr. Bell began farming, following that pursuit until his death, which occurred June 25, 1872. He sustained injuries in a runaway accident near Illiopolis and after four days passed away. His wife was rendered a cripple for life in the same accident. They had lived together as man and wife for fifty-four years. She survived him until February 29, 1876.
James H. Bell, the Doctor's father, came to Springfield with his parents and was married in Illinois to Miss Milla Dotson, who was born in Loudoun county, Virginia, in November, 1822 and gave her hand in marriage to Mr. Bell on the 7th of May 1843. They became the parents of four children: Eliza A., born February 25, 1844, was married September 4, 1864, to Benjamin C. Gray, whose birth occurred near Hopkinsville, Kentucky, August 12, 1832. Mrs. Gray died in December 1874. John W., the second member of the Bell family, died when less than two years of age. Hiram F., born December 17, 1852, makes his home with his brother, the Doctor, but is now visiting in Texas. The fourth member of the family is Dr. James M. Bell. His father, James H. Bell, resided in Sangamon county for over seventy years and at the time of his death, which occurred May 30, 1901, he had reached the age of seventy-eight years and six months. He could relate many instances of the early days. There were hardships and trials to be borne by the pioneer settlers and yet there were many pleasures to be enjoyed. Schools were few in early times and James H. Bell largely spent his summer months at work in the fields and in the winter times was engaged in making rails.. In order to pay for the first land which he owned he made rails at fifty cents per hundred. He resided upon that farm from the time of its purchase until four years after the death of his wife, at which time he sold his stock and removed to Springfield in order to give his youngest son better educational privileges. After residing in the city for three years he returned to the farm and continued to engage in general agricultural pursuits. Twice he made trips to the mountains of the west, traveling by different routes both going and coming in order to familiarize himself with that section of the county. He also made several trips to the south with stock, traveling by rail and boat. At other times he made the journey across the country and in company with a partner he at one time purchased a flatboat at Peoria and loaded it with produce with which they went down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers as far as Vicksburg. There they remained for three weeks before disposing of the boat and cargo. While at that point Mr. Bell viewed the battle-field and stood under the shade of the tree which was said to be General Grant's headquarters, while nearby stood the tree to which the General tied his horse, the ring and staple being still in the tree as he had left it. James H. Bell was among the substantial citizens and honored pioneers of Sangamon county and is yet remembered by many settlers.
Dr. Bell obtained his education in the common schools of Springfield, but before he had completed the regular course he put aside his text books in order to take up the stud of medicine under the direction of Dr. H. O. Bowles, who directed his reading for two years. He then matriculated in the Michigan University at Ann Arbor and was graduated in the medical department of that institution with the class of 1879. For three years, the Doctor engaged in teaching school in Sangamon county and then entered upon the practice of medicine in Blackburn. Subsequently, however, he returned to Sangamon county, making his home on a farm near Berry Station until his removal to Rochester in 1884. Here he located, continuing an active member of the medical profession until about 1895.
Dr. Bell was united in marriage April 29, 1880, to Miss Laura F. North, who was born in Sangamon county and is a daughter of Robert and America (Schmick) North. Her father was of Scotch lineage and her mother of German descent. His birth occurred in Buckingham county, Virginia, in October, 1814, and Mrs. North was born in Lincoln county, Kentucky, February 10, 1816. The year 1832 witnessed the arrival of the North family in Sangamon county, Illinois. Mr. North died September 24, 1880, but his widow still survives and yet makes her home with her children in this county. Mrs. Bell was born in Sangamon county, November 7, 1859, and obtained a good common-school education. By her marriage she has become the mother of one son, J. D. Earl, whose birth occurred November 19, 1891.
The Doctor is a prominent Mason, belonging to the lodge, chapter and commandery of Springfield and his is also connected with the Knights of Pythias of Rochester, the Modern Woodmen of American, the Court of Honor and the Yeomen of American. In politics he is a stalwart Democrat and has served as a member of the county board of supervisors, while for eight years he was a member of the board of Rochester township. He has frequently been a delegate to the county, congressional and state conventions of his party and for twelve years he did effective service as a member of the board of supervisors and during that time filled out an unexpired term as chairman. For nine years he was identified with the school board and acted as its president for a number of terms. In church work he is also deeply interested and has served as an elder in the Christian church to which he belongs and as superintendent of the Sunday school. He was one of the incorporators and formerly president of the Bank of Rochester, of which
he is now vice-president, the institution being conducted under the firm name of Brown, Bell & Company. He also has large interests in rice and timber land of the south in addition to splendid farming land in this county. He is now living retired from active practice, but superintends his financial investments and keeps up his active interest in church work, being a zealous worker in behalf of the cause of Christianity. Through the years of his residence in Rochester he has ever taken an active part in business, social, intellectual and moral advancement and Rochester claims him as one of its valued citizens. He represents one of the old families of this part of the state. When his grandfather, Robert Bell, came from Bourbon county, Kentucky, he settled upon the wild prairie where the land was unbroken and everything was primitive, giving little promise of future development. Because everything was so wild members of the family were afraid to go out upon the prairie only three-fourths of a mile from
their home. Prairie wolves were almost numberless and great quantities of wild turkeys and other game were killed. Deer were seen in droves and venison was a frequent dish upon the table of the early settlers. During the youth of the Doctor's father all wore homemade clothing and they had to build their fires without the aid of matches. Numerous incidents worthy of relating could be told of pioneer conditions at the time of settlement of the Bell family in this locality. Of this, however, extensive mention has been made in historical portion of this volume, for unto such men and families has been due the remarkable development of Sangamon county.