Foundation to preserve historic Bell House in Winchester
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation became the new steward of the Bell House off of North Cameron Street in Winchester on Monday.
Terry Heder, director of interpretation, education and history for the foundation, said the house represents a cross section of the homefront and the battlefield throughout the Civil War, when Winchester changed hands many times.
“It was an uncertain, uneasy way to live,” he said. “… The people who survive the war, they’re really at the mercy of the forces that are raging around them.”
The foundation received the keys to the house on Monday after having approached proprietors Tom and Kathy Bell earlier this year, according to Janice Hannah, chief officer of major gifts for the foundation. She said the house has been in the same family for around 205 years through five generations of the Bell family.
Heder said the family has kept the house in excellent condition for its age. Accordingly, he said it wouldn’t be able to handle heavy traffic as a visitor’s site. Instead, it would likely be reserved for special events and tours.
Hannah said it would likely take a few years for any events or tours to include the Bell Estate as a stop, since the foundation would want to confirm accurate and valid information on its history. She said it’ll provide a window into civilian life when all of Winchester was a battleground.
“It isn’t every day that we preserve a bricks and mortar residence – it’s just not something we often do,” she said. “Just because it is not a battlefield doesn’t mean the story is not as significant or relevant.”
She said the foundation is considering offering the Bell House as an event space, though she said the foundation would likely be selective about the reservations it takes. The money made from those events would contribute toward the upkeep and maintenance costs for the house.
“This is one of the first – and only because we need to look at preservation a bit differently,” she said. “Many of our properties, we’re working toward them being self-sustainable.”
Hannah said she isn’t aware of how much the house was acquired for. The Bell House’s website states that it’s under contract for $795,000.
Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org