John S. Bell was born in Ireland in about 1838. Eliza Bell was born in Pennsylvania in about 1836.
By the late 1850’s, the future Eliza Bell was the wife of Robert McKee, a salesman. The couple lived in Allegheny (now the Northside), on Federal Street near Jackson (now Jacksonia) Street. John S. Bell began boarding with the McKee family by 1860.
The 1860 manuscript census enumerated a household headed by Robert McKee in Allegheny’s Second Ward. The census reported that Robert McKee, 25, was a native of Ireland who worked as a salesman, and that Eliza McKee, 24, had no occupation. Robert McKee owned no real estate and had no “personal estate,” or cash savings, but Eliza McKee owned real estate worth $1,000 and had a personal estate of $5,000.
In 1860, Robert and Eliza McKee had three children: John B., four, Amelia, two, and Christian, five months. All of the McKee children had been born in Pennsylvania.
The 1860 census reported that John S. Bell, 22, was a clerk who boarded with the McKee family. Bell was reported to own no real estate and have no personal estate.
A servant, Mary Kress, also lived with the McKee family in 1860. Mary Kress was 18 years old and had been born in Ireland.
City directories show that the McKee family and John S. Bell moved from Federal Street to 67 Logan Street in the Hill District (on or near the site of the Civic Arena) in 1861 or 1862. By 1863, Robert McKee died, and Eliza McKee and John S. Bell moved to 71 Logan Street. John S. Bell and Eliza McKee were married in 1863 or 1864. Shortly after their marriage, the Bells moved to 294 Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh.
In 1865, John S. Bell became a partner in Bates & Bell, dry goods merchants, located at 21 Fifth Avenue. Bell’s
partner was Alexander Bates of Highland Avenue in East Liberty. The Bates & Bell partnership lasted until 1869.
The Bell family moved to 52 Ferry Street in Pittsburgh in 1865 and lived at that address through 1867. In 1867, the Bells’ neighbors included Harry Darlington, who built a four-story mansion at 721 Brighton Road about 24 years later. In 1867, Harry Darlington was the owner of a brewery and lived at 35 Ferry Street.
The 1868 city directory listed John S. Bell as living on Beech Street near Grant Street (now Galveston Street).
The 1870 directory listed John S. Bell as a partner in Bell & Moorhouse, dry goods merchants. Bell’s partner was John L. Moorhouse of 118 Centre Avenue in the Hill District. Bell & Moorhouse was located at 21 Fifth Avenue, the former location of Bates & Bell. This partnership lasted only one year.
The 1870 manuscript census enumerated John S. and Eliza Bell at 47 Beech Street with their six children and a servant. In 1870, the Bells’ children were Amelia, 11, Charles, seven and William, five, all attending school, and Bessie, three, John B., two and James, five months, at home. All of the Bells’ children had been born in Pennsylvania.
The Bell family’s servant was Frances Pleasant, 27, who had been born in Ohio.
The 1870 manuscript census, which was the last census to provide information on assets of persons enumerated, reported that John S. Bell owned real estate valued at $141,500 and had a personal estate of $1,000.
City directories indicate that after selling 47 Beech Avenue in 1870, John S. and Eliza Bell moved their family to Jacks Run Road in Bellevue. During the 1870’s John S. Bell was listed in city directories as an agent.
The 1880 manuscript census enumerated the Bell family living in an unnumbered house on Jacks Run Road. John S. Bell was employed as a millinery agent, and Eliza Bell did not work.
In 1880, the census reported that the Bells’ children were Charles, 16, William, 14, Bessie, 11, Bates, nine, Nellie, six, James, five and Frederick, four. According to census records, only William Bell attended school.
During the 1880’s, John S. and Eliza Bell experienced financial difficulties, losing some of their property in Bellevue at sheriff’s sale and selling other property to the person who had foreclosed on them. John S. Bell last appeared in the Pittsburgh city directory in 1884.