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  • Writer's pictureAmy Traweek

Photographic Memories: Bevil Cohn of Historic Waco - Life of Captain Bell

Updated: Mar 6

captain joseph daniel bell waco texas
Captain Joseph D. Bell & the Texas Historical Marker at the Bell's Hill School where Bevil Cohn worked for 33 years.

waco texas heritage and history magazine 1972
Waco Heritage & History Magazine | Vol. 3, No. 3 - Fall 1972

This episode features Bevil Cohn, a volunteer from Historic Waco Foundation, as she speaks about a not-so-well known figure in Waco's history, Captain Joseph Daniel Bell. Bell needed water on his hilltop farm at the edge of town and was told by city officials that this would be impossible, given the location of his property. Bell didn't accept this answer and instead, drilled for more than a year before discovering the hot, artesian water, that bubbled and shot up to the surface like a geyser, as the illustration on the cover of the Waco Heritage and History depicts above. The publication is still produced by the Historic Waco Foundation to this day.

waco texas history nataroium bath house indoor pool
Photo by: Fred Gildersleeve | Natatorium built in 1892 by R.B. Parrot at 4th & Mary

Because of the medicinal value of water, two natatoriums (bath houses) were built in town and people traveled from near and far to come here and bathe. Captain Bell would go on to drill 16 wells in the area that became known as "Bell's Hill"; there is still an elementary school there, named for him; Bevil served as the principal at the modern-day Bell's Hill School for many years, where he interest in Captain Bell first began. After the discovery of the well, Waco then became referred to as "Geyser City", because of all the wells - which seems to have faded away over time.

st mark's lutheran church cathedral 2000 clay street waco texas history bell's family farm
Original location of the Bell Family Farm at 2000 Clay St., Waco TX

Bell's family farm was located where the St. Mark's Lutheran Church now stands at 2000 Clay St. Other key figures discussed during this episode include: Captain R.W. Lusk (of the historic Lusk-Clifton home), Sally's sister, known as "Muggie" & QZ Valentine. To hear more, please listen to the full episode here.

Bevil goes on to talk about her character role during the annual "Walking Tales" event at Oakwood Cemetery, where she portrays Captain Bell's wife, Sally, while donning a 1920's bathing suit. She tells visitors to the Bell Family cemetery plot, about his life and achievements and the impact Bell had on Waco's success as a growing city. The Walking Tales event at Oakwood this year, will be Saturday, October 19th.

The images included in this post, are referenced in the podcast and are meant to serve as a visual aid to accompany the episode. We would like to give a special thank you to Historic Waco Foundation, whom Revision Photo Restoration is proudly sponsored with, for allowing us the use of these images and content for the podcast and blog. For more information, please visit:

Historic Waco Foundation manages multiple historic homes (museums) here in Waco, including the Earle-Knapier-Kinnard, East Terrace, McCulloch & Johnson-Taylor (Nell Pape Gardens) venue. Tours of the homes are available Wed-Sat, 10am-4pm.

waco texas history Bell's Hill fire department 1908 1911 1912 horse drawn fire engine
Rider: Jim Meers, Waco's 1st paid fire chief. This image depicts the "new" 1911 Model 1000 Steamer, sitting atop Bell's Hill at the original firehouse in 1912, located at 1716 Clay Ave., Waco TX. | Horses: Duke, Country Boy & Blue

first waco texas well bells hill jd bell history
First well in Waco, TX - Located at 26th & Clay Ave | Dug by J.D. Bell

Lusk Clifton House Waco Texas Muggie Margaret Clifton wife old timey portrait
Lusk-Clifton House built 1866

bells hill school orchestra waco texas old band photo

Captain RW Lusk Waco TX Old timey portrait
Captain R.W. Lusk | 1834-1883

Q.Z. Valentine

Waco texas heritage and history magazine illustration geyser city
Source: Waco Heritage & History Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 1

bells hill school original waco texas history
Photo by: Fred Gildersleeve | Original Bell's Hill School, collapsed in 1923 due to instability caused by ground-water extraction.

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