The Bell House

Shelby Lyn Snipes is the Fall 2020 Collections Intern at Andalusia. Her semester-long project includes working on digitizing and cataloging historic photos for the collection. She graduates May 2021 with a degree in English Literature from Georgia College and State University.

In 1878, a young widow, Emma Bell, opened up her home to boarders, first located at 67 North Pryor Street in Atlanta, Georgia. Following the death of Ms. Bell in 1914, the house moved several times.  In 1893 the house moved to 198 Peachtree Street and later to 258 Peach Street. The Bell House was first open to men and women. However, soon Emma Bell, a woman remembered for her exceptional kindness, understanding, and ability, decided to limit her boarders to just men, either bachelors or widowers. The residents became known as “The Bell House Boys,” and considered part of an elite fraternity.[1] The men were held  to high standards of honest manhood because to be a Bell House boy meant “standing in the business community and entree to the best homes in the city.”[2] It was an honor to be a resident of The Bell House, and acceptance, not taken lightly. In 1914, The Bell House became incorporated by the residents who took over the management responsibilities and continued on this way until 1957, when its final resting place, the Thornton Mansion on Peach Street, was demolished.

The question now is, what does The Bell House have to do with Andalusia? The Bell House was home to many prominent Atlanta Professionals. Three men, very close to O’Connor, called the Bell House home: her father, Edward O’Connor, and two uncles Dr. Bernard Cline and Louis Cline.

In the 1930s, Dr. Bernard Cline, an ear nose and throat specialist, patriarch of the family, and considered a “man-about-town” lived at The Bell House. Dr. Cline was known to host parties on the lawn invite more than 50 people to enjoy an afternoon. Also living in the House was Dr. Cline’s younger easy-going brother, Louis Cline.[3] Louis sold used cars and then, as a manager for King Hardware, took an interest in the management of The Bell House. According to records, held by the Atlanta History Center, Louis Cline was a long-time officer for the boarding house’s management team.

Louis loved The Bell House so much when he learned of its imminent demolition; he began moving furniture from The Bell House home to Milledgeville. On two separate occasions, Flannery mentioned this occurrence in letters to her friends. First, she told Betty Hester, “The Bell House is going to be bulldozed, beginning Monday. He [Louis Cline] loves every rotten plank in it …. Everything is scared. It’s just about as poignant to be torn away from a house as a person.”[4] Several days later, Flannery also mentioned the demolition of The Bell House to William Sessions. On a light note, Flannery said, “My round uncle has brought all his beloved Things home [from the Bell House] …. We have come into front-porch rockers from there so our front porch now looks like the entrance to an old ladies’ rest home. I hadn’t rocked for years, but I think I am going to be excel at it with a little more practice.”[5]

Louis Cline, in rockers on the Andalusia Front Porch, 1969. (Andalusia Collection 2019.1.250)

Flannery’s father also lived briefly at The Bell House. Moving from Savannah, Edward O’Connor took a position in Atlanta with the Federal Housing Administration as a real-estate appraiser to provide for his wife and daughter.[6] Regina and Flannery lived with Edward for several months in Atlanta, but city life did not appeal to the women; therefore, they moved to the Cline Mansion located in Milledgeville. Edward then moved into The Bell House. On the weekends, Edward, Louis, and Dr. Bernard would make the drive to Milledgeville to see their family. Edward would live at The Bell House in Atlanta until shortly before his death in 1941.

The Bell House had an affect all who lived there. In 1951, the Bell House Boys donated the gas streetlamp that Ms. Bell believed was a “sentinel angle over her boys” to the Atlanta Historical Society.[7] The lamp serves as a reminder of the love and safety Ms. Bell provided to the boys throughout her life. Louis Cline, Dr. Bernard Cline, and Edward O’Connor were able to find their home away from home thanks to precedent by Emma Bell and shows Southern hospitality is found even in the largest cities.

Bell House artifacts in the Andalusia Collection (clockwise): 2018.1.450, 2018.1.453, 2018.1.452.

[1] The Bell House records, MSS 957, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center,  https://ahc.galileo.usg.edu/repositories/2/resources/2158, accessed November 09, 2020.

[2] “Signal Tribute Paid to Beloved Founder of the Bell House,” The Atlanta Constitution (1917): 3, accessed November 16, 2020, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/63162403/the-atlanta-constitution/.

[3] Brad Gooch, Flannery, (New York: Little Brown & Company, 2009), p 64.

[4] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988), 238.

[5] Ibid., 240.

[6] Connie Ann Kirk, Critical Companion to Flannery O’Connor, (United States: Facts On File, Incorporated, 2008), 315.

[7] The Bell House records, MSS 957, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. https://ahc.galileo.usg.edu/repositories/2/resources/2158, accessed November 09, 2020.

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