Joseph Daniel Bell (1837-1900) drilled the first successful artesian wells on his property in 1886, an area that came to known as Bell’s Hill. Artesian wells sent 103-degree water from 1,800 feet below the surface shooting skyward, allowing Bell to create the Bell Water Co. Inc. and garnering Waco the moniker of “Geyser City.”
Water from Bell’s wells were used to supply the entire growing city of Waco with its water for several decades after the formation of his utility on April 20, 1889.
His concession to supply the city’s drinking, bathing, fire protection and swimming waters engendered some professional jealousy on the part of his would-be competitors. A rival concern, Waco Water and Light Co., sued the city and Bell’s company in 1894, charging that a monopoly was unfair to the taxpayers.
A 15-year contract to serve 125 hydrants was to be backed by tax collections, but the Court of Civil Appeals noted the municipality was still free to pursue other water purchases and make additional hydrant purchases from other suppliers if it so chose.
The local press waxed rhapsodic about how the development of Waco into a thriving metropolis benefited from the prolific water supply of the artesian wells and Bell’s pipes.
“Waco might very properly be christened anew and called Artesia instead of Waco,” reported The Evening News on April 26, 1889 — barely a week after the Georgia native incorporated his business. “Water is the great overshadowing thing in Waco, and will be till (sic) it is as plenty (sic) and as common as air.”
About 2,100 tons of piping were procured through a contract with the Rusk Penitentiary to supply the city’s first water system. The paper opined that after the miles and miles of pipes were laid downtown, the Bell’s Hill region should be turned into a first-class sanitarium (health spa) for the enjoyment of thousands of visitors.
At the time of Bell’s death at his 1305 Washington Ave. home on Dec. 4, 1900, the Bell Water Co. was worth $300,000 — or more than $7.75 million in today’s dollars. The president was W.D. Lacy. Board members included Bell’s surviving son, Albert Henry Bell (1875-1942).
J.D. Bell was interred at Oakwood Cemetery. Much later, an elementary school erected in 1925 on Bell’s Hill was named after him.
The facility at 2125 Cleveland Ave. was expanded in 1954, with further expansions and additions made in 1988. Just this summer, a groundbreaking for a new elementary took place, which is due for occupancy in August 2012.
This advertising envelope from the 1894 edition of the Texas Cotton Palace in Waco touted the city’s 21 mineral springs and “elegant natatoriums” or public swimming pools where visitors could to “take the waters” for their purported health benefits. Some city fathers had grand visions of Waco becoming a spa center for the Southwest. (Texas Collection / Baylor University)