General M. Fred Bell had a distinguished career as an architect and businessman. He served as adjutant general of the state of Missouri from 1897 to 1901 during the Spanish-American War. He left his mark on Fulton and Callaway County as the architect of Missouri School for the Deaf, Fulton State Hospital, Callaway County Public Library, First Christian Church, Pratt’s Theatre, buildings at Westminster and William Woods, plus many homes.
General Bell was born near Hagerstown, Maryland, August 18, 1849, son of Frederick and Susan (Tritle) Bell. He was a descendant of Captain Peter Bell, an American officer in the Revolution. Bell grew up on a Maryland farm, was educated in public schools, and in 1869 was graduated from Duff Commercial College at Pittsburgh, where he had specialized in architecture.
Bell came to Missouri in 1869, first locating in Mexico. He then spent a short time in Kansas, but returned to Missouri and established a home at Fulton in 1871. On November 26, 1873, he married Miss Marie Dreps. They had two daughters, Beulah and Kathryn. Beulah married George W. Berry, of Berkley, California. Kathryn married Fred T. Montgomery, of Fulton. They named their son Fred Bell Montgomery in honor of General Bell.
In 1882, General Bell established a telephone exchange in Fulton. It was the fifth telephone exchange in the state of Missouri. The telephone at that time was still experimental. Only six years had passed since the first successful demonstration of the instrument had occurred at Philadelphia. Bell was manager of the Fulton telephone exchange from 1882 until 1929.
Governor Stephens appointed Bell adjutant general of Missouri in 1897. He held this office throughout the four years of the Stephens administration. During that time the Spanish-American war was fought, and under Adjutant General Bell Missouri mobilized her forces for that war. President McKinley offered Bell the post of assistant adjutant general of the United States. He declined, since he considered his nearest duty the mobilization of Missouri’s troops.
After his four years as adjutant general, Bell returned to Fulton and resumed his work as an architect. He designed buildings and homes throughout the state, including Jesse Hall on the University of Missouri Campus in Columbia.
General Bell was a member of the Presbyterian Church in Fulton. He belonged to the Civitan Club, the Rotary Club, and the Chamber of Commerce. In Masonry, he was especially prominent in the Order of Knights Templar, serving eight years as eminent commander of Calvary Commandery No. 28 at Fulton, and during 1898-99 as grand commander of the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of the State of Missouri. He was a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason in the Valley of St. Louis, and for thirty years was a member of the Mystic Shrines.
From the 1884 History of Callaway County, Missouri, page 621 – 622.
Transcribed by Kris Breid, 15 September 2004.
Morris Frederick Bell, one of the leading architects of Missouri, and a prominent, influential citizen of Fulton, is a native of Maryland, born in Washington county, on the 18th of August, 1849. In early youth he received a common-school education in that county, and at the age of thirteen was apprenticed to the builder’s trade, at which he worked for three years, two years under instruction at Martinsburgh, West Virginia. Resolved to qualify himself thoroughly for the profession of architecture, soon after the conclusion of his term of instruction at Martinsburgh, he became a matriculate in Duff’s well known college, at Pittsburg, in which he continued until he graduated in the winter of 1868-9.
The following May, Mr. Bell came to Missouri, and located at Mexico, where he began his career as an architect, a profession of which he was soon to become a leading representative. Successfully occupied at Mexico for about two years, he then went to Lawrence, Kansas, but returned four months afterwards to Missouri, and located permanently at Fulton.
Since his location here Mr. Bell has been architect to many of the more important buildings erected in the interior of the State. He was associate architect of the State Insane Asylum, the State Deaf and Dumb Institution, and of a large number of other buildings, public and private. He is widely and well known throughout the West as one of the most capable and successful architects in this section of the country. The buildings he has erected in the last eight years alone, represent an expenditure of over $750,000. Mr. Bell is a member of the American Institute of Architects, and superintendent of the Mechanical Department of the Deaf and Dumb Institution at Fulton. He is also prominently identified with the business interests of this city. He is secretary to the Howard Manufacturing Company, manager of the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Exchange, and is connected with several other important local enterprises. In business affairs he is one of the most energetic and active citizens of the place, and is more than ordinarily public-spirited and progressive in advocating and aiding measures for the advancement of its general interests. Though taking no active part in politics, he has been repeatedly elected to the city council, a position he consented to fill only at the urgent solicitation of friends, and with an eye single to the public good. Personally he is popular with all classes, and being a man of culture and refinement, as well as of high character and personal worth, his standing is among the best citizens of the community.
In November, 1873, Mr. Bell was married to Miss Maria Dreps, of this city, a lady of singular amiability and intelligence. Mr. Bell’s father, Judge Frederick Bell, recently of Washington county, Maryland, makes his home with his son in this city. Judge Bell, formerly a county judge in Maryland, and for over forty years a leading citizen of Washington county, where he was largely interested in farming and milling, is now over seventy years of age, and is still in comparatively good health.