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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History
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Hon. James Bell

Source: "Portrait and Biographical Record - Published 1894 by Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago" Pages 663 - 664

Hon. James Bell, an honored pioneer and for many years Mayor of Sheboygan, was a Canadian by birth, and a resident of Sheboygan from boyhood. He was born in Toronto, June 30, 1835. During the summer of 1848, when thirteen years of age, he removed with his parents to Port Huron, Mich. The next known of him was that he was a sailor-boy on some vessel plying between Buffalo and Chicago, an occupation that he adopted, no doubt, on account of its dangers and hardships, and its peculiar attraction for one possessing a brave and ventursome {sic} spirit like his.

In 1851 his parents removed from Port Huron to Sheboygan, and he came with them. He was then seventeen years of age, active and self-reliant. His father, William Bell, engaged in business as a confectioner and dealer in toys and fancy goods. James was an only son, and at once took his place in the store, aiding his father in conducting the business, to which he succeeded on the death of his father in 1879.

James Bell was a true, stanch and loyal Democrat, and was soon called upon to serve the community wherein he resided in various positions of public trust and honor. "He was first elected Alderman of the Second Ward in 1868, being reelected in 1869, 1870, 1871 and 1872, and was also elected School Commissioner in 1869, for one year, and again elected to that office in 1879. In 1873 he was elected Mayor, and Alderman in 1876 and 1877; also Supervisor and Superintendent of Schools in 1880 and 1881, and was chosen President of the Council in 1871, 1872, 1876, 1877 and 1883. In 1885 he was again elected Mayor for one year, and again in 1887 for a term of two years. It will be seen from the above, that Mayor Bell served the city, in one capacity or another, almost uninterruptedly for over twenty years.

"Mayor Bell was not a great man." He neither presumed nor pretended to be. His friends did not at any time, nor do they now, claim that he was. From the day that he was elected Alderman from the Second Ward, in 1865, up to the very hour of his death, city affairs and matters of one kind or another connected with city business were always uppermost in his mind. He did not mean to, but all the same he did at times and in a measure, neglect his own private and personal business for the sake of attending to what he considered his duty to the public while in office.

The one book of all others that he seemed most interested in, and studied with the greatest care, was the printed proceedings of the Common Council. He seemed to have, and I sometimes used to think he did have, the whole business committed to memory, "learned by heart."

I said that Mayor Bell was not a great man, and that his education was very limited. I now wish to say, in connection with this statement, that the hard, practical, every-day work of the world is being done by just such men as he was, and not by the so-called great or learned men.

In my judgment, he had just the disposition, temperament and habits that in all cases, without exception, go to make a real, permanent and lasting success in any business calling or work in life; namely, individuality, persistency and tenacity of purpose. He thought and acted for himself, and in his own way. When he once decided what in his opinion he thought, was right and best to do in public matters, he simply persevered and persisted in doing, or having it done, no matter how long it took, how much opposition he met with, nor how many difficulties he had to contend with and overcome. When he once took hold and started in, he never let go, nor turned to look behind him.

It was not, then, greatness, smartness or brilliancy, so much as constancy of effort, persistency and tenacity of purpose, that enabled him to bring about in due time, and in almost every instance, accomplishment in the end of what he wanted and started out to do in regard to public affairs in this city. And it is but fair to claim for him, and only just in line to say, that he carried through to success, by persistent efforts, almost every public improvement that has been made in this city in the past twenty years.

This is no exaggeration or fulsome praise, it's the simple truth, we all know it, and now that he has gone from us forever, we not only ought to, but it is our bounden duty to, stand up, one and all, and cheerfully and willingly acknowledge it. And now, as he passes out of our sight and is seen no more with us, we may stop to ask ourselves the questions, 'Will he drop out of our memory and thoughts also? Will what he has been to us, and what he has done for us, be entirety forgotten? Will his good name, that has become so familiar and a household word with the people of this city, and his grand, good personal character as a true Christian, faithful public officer, and pure private citizen, die and be buried with him?' God forbid. And I do not believe, and cannot believe, that it will be so in his case, and it ought not to be, and in reality it is not so in the case of any good man or woman that has gone hence into another world, after having worked so hard and done so well, and accomplished so much good during their lifetime here on earth.

"In the death of James Bell, we lose a faithful, capable public officer, an exemplary private citizen, a good neighbor, a kind friend, a truly sincere, upright, Christian man. All these many good qualities in his life and character we will, I feel sure, often think of and kindly cherish in our hearts and memories."

The above quotation is taken from the memorial address, in respect to the late Mayor James Bell, by the Hon. T. M. Blackstock, delivered before the Common Council of Sheboygan, January 4, 1892.


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