On Thursday, February 25, 2016, concerned citizens came together at Wegmans Cafe to discuss the recent events surrounding the Bell Tavern, Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, PA.
Thank Goodness for Concerned Citizens
On January 6, 2016, Gary Barrick was passing by the tavern when he noticed a construction crew was starting to demolish the building. Immediately he made a call to his brother to contact Christine Musser, a local historian, and author of Silver Spring Township, to let her know about the demolition. After seeing what was happening to the tavern, Christine contacted Silver Spring Township staff. The following day the township authorities issued a stop work order until they investigated the issue. After learning the demolition permit was obtained legally by Mark Disanto, owner of the property, the stop work order was lifted. However, Mr. Disanto has temporarily volunteered to stop the demolition while in talks with the township staff via the solicitor.
Happenings Since the First Stone Fell
Soon after the demolition had started the local media was contacted. The historical significance of the building soon became evident not only to local residents but also to those living abroad. Although the international press made the history a bit more dramatic, the media coverage has been a benefit to the tavern. According to a spokesperson from Preservation PA the Bell Tavern has been one of the most discussed buildings among preservationist.
Musser has reached out to historic preservation organizations for funding and has gathered information on how to save the tavern. She has also set up a FaceBook page, Instagram and Twitter account all to bring awareness and support to saving the Bell Tavern. A Go Fund Me account has been set up to raise funds for the stabilization of the building, as well as a petition on Change.org.
On February 10 a Bell Tavern coalition attended the Silver Spring Township Board of Supervisors meeting to show support for saving the tavern. Several residents took the mike and shared why they felt sparing the tavern is important to the township’s heritage.
History of the Bell Tavern
Before the wrecking ball hit the building, the tavern stood for circa 236 years. James Bell acquired the property from his father-in-law’s estate in 1774. During the Revolutionary War, the tavern was the scene where local men met to assign leaders to the Cumberland County militia.
On July 3, 1788, seven months after the heated debate between Federalists and Anti-federalists during Pennsylvania’s ratification of the Federal Constitution and the ratification of the Federal Constitution by Pennsylvania, a group of at least four Anti-federalist leaders met at the Bell Tavern to discuss the need the for a bill of rights to be included in the Federal Constitution.
The following is a transcription of the meeting minutes:
“East Pennsborough, Cumberland County, At Mr. James Bell’s – In a meeting of Delegates from the Several Townships of the Beforesaid County Benj’n Blyth – in the chair, called for the purpose of advising the most eligible mode of obtaining such Amendments in the Constitution proposed by the General Convention for the Government of these United States as may remove the causes of jealousy and fear of a Tyrannical Aristocracy, the foundation of which appears to be in many parts to Posterity the Blessings of Dear bought Freedom; and thereby most cordially engage each Stage and Every Citizen, not only for wrath but conscience sake, to aid and support the officers of the Government in the importance of the subject and the Duty of Citizens; have come to the following Resolutions, viz . . . Resolved, that it is the opinion this meeting that the United States is in several parts Destructive of that Liberty for which so much blood and Treasure has been spent, and Subversion of the Several State Governments by which the Rights and Liberties of the People have been guarded and secured. That it is the lawful means to obtain such Amendments in the said Constitution or take such measures as shall be necessary for the Security of Religion and Liberty. – Resolved, that it is the opinion of the members of this meeting that it will be Expedient to Collect as Soon and as Accurately as Possible the Sentiments of the Citizens of this State Touching such Amendments and such mode of obtaining them as shall be to the said Citizens most agreeable. – Resolved, that in order to effectuate the foregoing Resolutions that a Circular Letter be written and signed by the Chairman, and Addressed to such Societys in each County as have already been formed for Political purposes, and to such as shall be formed in any county where none is yet formed, or to such persons as shall be judged fit, requesting that measures be Taken to call a meeting of Delegates from Each Township within the respective Counties, to meet as soon as conveniently may be and take into consideration the necessity and propriety of Amending the Constitution of the United States, and for that purpose to Appoint Delegates to meet in a General Conference of the State at Harrisburgh on the Third Day of September , 1788 = then and there to Consider and Devise a plan the most likely to Succeed in Obtaining the desired Amendment – Resolved by the meeting, that five members be chosen by the County Cumberland, or three out of five to represent said County Cumberland, or three out of the five to represent said County in the Conference to be held at Harrisburgh the 3d Day of Sept 1788 – the place and time aforesaid. B. Blyth, C. M.”
Musser’s research also uncovered that not only was James Bell and Antifederalist he was a true Patriot. According to Phillip I. Blumberg book, Repressive Jurisprudence in the Early American Republic: The First Amendment and the Legacy of English Law, James Bell was arrested “for treasonable expressions” on July 3, 1798, in Carlisle, PA. “He was arraigned before ‘William Levis and James McCormick, Esquires’ and bound over on their recognizance of $600. Unfortunately, further details of the proceedings are lacking.” (page 143). Bell’s arrest coincided with Congress’ consideration of the 1798 Sedition Act, which prevented citizens to freedom of speech, a direct violation of the First Amendment.
James Bell died September 1806 without a will. He is buried in Silver Spring Township in what was once “a private graveyard about two miles north of Hogestown, Pennsylvania.” The graveyard is described as “a dense wood of tall pine trees.” (Capt. James Bell Find a Grave) His son, Thomas, took over the tavern and changed the name to the “Sign of the Rattle Snake.”
Supporters of the Bell Tavern Forms an Association
Seventeen people attended the first meeting of the Patriots for Capt. Bell’s Tavern. During the meeting the following members were elected to leadership roles: Christine Musser, President, Eric Kelso, Vice President, Mary Duncan, Assistant Secretary, and Craig Caba, Assistant Secretary. The group decided on the official name of Patriots of Capt. Bell’s Tavern Association. The next meeting is scheduled for March 16 at 6:30 p.m. with a tentative location at Wegman’s Cafe, Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County. If you are interested in attending the next meeting or future meetings, please contact Christine Musser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Last Word or Words –
Please if you are interested in history, and you care about preserving historical buildings then don’t hesitate to contribute to the Go Fund Me account. Christine Musser is currently working with Preservation PA to make the donations tax deductible. Our first goal is to raise $10,000 to stabilize the building, which will be done by a notable contractor familiar with 18-century buildings and who has knowledge and experience in restoring such buildings.