'Lots of company'

It is interesting to see the spread of a new technology reflected in my great-grandfather’s journal[1]: in this case, the electrification of the Bells’ farm in Kempsville, near Norfolk, Virginia. A little less than a century ago, this was a project one could undertake oneself.


9 October: Bought truck today for $793 and turned in the old one for $200.

Estelle and I bought light fixtures today for the new Delco system which we installed this week.

23 October: Turned on electric lights tonight.

9 November: Estelle and I went to New York to attend the Hotel Exposition.

14 November: Stopped at Annapolis on way from New York to see Fred.[2]

22 December: Muddy[3] came to spend Christmas with us.

24 December: Fred arrived from Annapolis accompanied by his roommate Donald Olson.[4]

For all his future worries about enjoying a bowl of eggnog, on 25 December 1920 Frank wrote:

Having a big Christmas. Lots of company and plenty [of] Egg-Nog.


The Norfolk Armory can be seen in the middle distance, beyond the Monticello Hotel.

Frank Bell’s mother-in-law went back to New York in January, and a month later Estelle and Frances[5] paid her a return visit. In a rare reference to his professional activities, on 12 April he wrote: Rotary Convention. I served 1500 in Armory.

3 May: Entered flowers in Norfolk Flower Show and won first prize on Snapdragons [and] Poppies and second prize on Sweet William.

16 May: Very cool spell. Log fire in living room.

27 May: Estelle, Frances and I went to Annapolis to see Fred off on his first cruise.

Fred Bell in Glasgow, 1921.

3 June: Fred left today on his cruise to Norway, Scotland, Lisbon & the Mediterranean.

22 June: Presented Frances with pony.

10 July: Estelle and Frances left for Chicago.

7 August: Received only one letter from Fred written from Norway.

Watermelons and Cantaloupe ripe in garden. No one [at home] to help me enjoy them.

14 August: Received letter from Estelle today from Memphis, Mo.[6]

21 August: Estelle and Frances returned home from Missouri and Chicago.

28 August: Fred returned from his midshipman cruise to Christiania,[7] Lisbon and Tangier, Africa.

30 August: Fred came to spend the month of September with us, leaving Sept. 29 after a happy month.

Served Kiwanis banquet, 800 plates.

1 October: My 43rd birthday. Estelle baked a wonderful cake for me and placed 43 candles on top, all lighted when I walked in the dining room.

Continued here.


[1] J. Frank Bell (John Francis Bell, 1878–1944) was married to Minnie Estelle Jackson 1902–35 and to Margaret Feller Stegall in 1936.

[2] My grandfather Frederick Jackson Bell (1903–1994) was in his first year at the Naval Academy.

[3] Estelle Jackson Bell’s mother Rebecca Jane Eggleston (1856–1937) was married to Oliver Dodridge Jackson 1875–1915 and to William E. Waterman in 1924.

[4] Like my grandfather’s future brother-in-law, in 1922 Donald Palmer Olson dropped back from the Naval Academy class of 1924 to ’25.

[5] Frank and Estelle’s daughter Frances Fairfax Bell (1909–1997), who married Robert Gentry Norman in 1929.

[6] Mrs. Jackson was the youngest in a family of six children. In 1920, her sister Lucinda Mankopf, her widowed sister-in-law Emily Eggleston, and her brother Harvey Eggleston all lived in Memphis: presumably the Bells were visiting their cousins in July–August 1921.

[7] Renamed Oslo in 1925.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward