The original Bell Mansion, now the historic Bell Mansion Tea House, was built by Edward Bell in 1822. The Georgian style structure was constructed out of bricks made with property ground clay, found along the banks of the Little Juniata River. It is said to be the first brick structure built in Northern Blair County.
Located about 100 yards north of the historic Bell Mansion, across the northern parking lot, is the log home that was built in 1805 by Edward Bell’s father, John Bell, and served as the family homestead, for both John and Edward, until the completion of the larger mansion in 1822. In this smaller log home, Edward and his wife, Mary Ann Martin/Bell, began raising their nine children (James, John, Samuel, Martin, David, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Adie and Benjamin. Moving to the larger Bell Mansion not only made for more spacious living but also reflected the growth and wealth achieved from Edward’s numerous businesses: a saw mill, a grist mill, land surveying and appraising of local land. It wasn’t until 1830, after the Bell Mansion was built, that Edward became a prominent iron master with his three sons, John, David and Martin. Edwards son, John, built the Mary Ann Forge Iron Works and Edward’s sons, Martin and David, erected and ran Elizabeth Furnace in 1832.
Above: Portrait of Edward Bell / Elizabeth Bell – Dysert / Portrait of Bell Siblings after David’s death
Below: Portraits of Martin Bell (founder of Elizabeth Furnace) and wife, Eliza McKnight-Bell
After Edward Bell’s death in 1852, the mansion was handed to Edward’s youngest son, Benjamin Franklin Bell, and stayed in the Bell family until 1877, when it changed hands in a public sale to James Lowther and family. During the late 1800′s, the turn of the century and throughout the early 1900′s, the Bell Mansion remained the Lowther’s single family home. The mansion was eventually divided into several individual apartments in the 1920s, by extended Lowther family members.
From the 1950′s and through the 1980s, the mansion was no longer property of the Lowther family and witnessed several new owners and many renters come and go. From the mid 1960s to 1989 and under new ownership, the property surrounding the mansion was used by a local salvage company as a salvage yard. In the early 1970′s, the mansion saw the departure of its last apartment tenants. In the late 1970′s and through the 1980′s the home experienced its sadder days! This was a time when salvage engulfed the entire property’s grounds, invaded the interior of the mansion and weakened the building’s structure and stability. The the entire property was neglected to almost complete ruin.
In 1989, Antis Township bought the deteriorating Bell Mansion property and the beginning of the grand mansion’s restoration began! Using Federal Community Development block grants, Antis Township completed an extensive structural renovation of the Bell Mansion property and restored the building back to its former structure in 1995. The historic Bell Mansion property was meticulously restored, adapted for reuse and dedicated by the township of Antis and proudly honored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission with a prestigious 1995 Historical Preservation Award!
Beginning in 1995, the historic Bell Mansion served as a senior center for the Bellwood-Antis area until Antis Township found the property to be too costly to maintain and the mansion changed hands, once again, through a public auction in the spring of 2010. In the summer of 2010, a few months later of the same year, the mansion was placed on the public real estate market by the new owner, a local building contractor. In the fall of 2010, the historic Bell Mansion property was purchased by the Decker family and the interior carefully cosmetically restored back to the grandeur of both the Victorian era and Edwardian era, reflecting the time in which the mansion was built and in which it served as a glorious family home for both the Bell family and Lowther family. The Decker’s historically accurate restoration and re-use of the historic Bell Mansion, as the Bell Mansion Tea House, was publicly recognized, on a county level, in November 2012. The Decker family graciously received the Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation from the Blair County Historical Society.
The mansion had successfully regained a rightful place of honor in our community as the historic Bell Mansion Tea House! From January 2011 to April 2013, the Decker family was honored to be caretakers of such a rich piece of local history and to have been able to share the restored mansion with many local and traveling guests!
Photographs of Edward Bell and wife, Mary Ann Martin-Bell