History preservation group opens Bell Township museum in former restaurant

Mary Ann Thomas
| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 10:50 p.m.

Never lacking in history, Bell Township finally has a new museum to house its more than 5,000 historical photographs as well as hometown artifacts, including a decades-old varsity letter sweater and a cheerleader uniform.

Operated by the Bell Township Historical Preservation Society, the museum is along Main Street in Salina in the cozy one-story, frame building that used to be the Bell Echo restaurant.

Binders of historical photographs, yearbooks, obituaries, interesting historical clothing and display cases line the walls and custom-made shelves — a treasure trove for a researcher or someone digging into their family genealogy.

“This is a finalization of everything people have put away that would otherwise be unknown,” said Steve Nelson of Bell, president of the preservation society. “Our ancestors' way of life is slipping away but here, we are saving it in pictures.”

This is not the first museum for Bell Township. A fire decimated the society's museum in St. James Lutheran Church in 1996.

But that was many photographs ago.

Preservation society member Carole Novosel continues rack up more images as she asks everyone in town for their historical pictures. And she hasn't stopped.

The museum opened on July 8, drawing about 10 visitors.

This was a good number for the small town, according to preservation society members.

“They can't find what we have on the Internet,” said Dolores Colledge, a charter member of the society along with husband Robert.

Here one can find a plaque honoring George Karnes, a World War I veteran who helped everybody, whether it was a ride to the doctor's office or directing traffic during important town events.

“Since he served in the first World War in France, he spoke French to all of the ladies in town,” said Novosel.

He died in 1966 of peritonitis after swallowing part of a tooth pick in a stuffed cabbage, she added.

Shortly after his death, two plaques commemorating his public service were installed in the area. Through the years, the plaques disappeared, but preservation society members were able to find one of them, which is displayed at the museum.

There are curious artifacts that promise, at the very least, a couple of good conversations that reveal the origins and life in the early years of the township, which was incorporated in 1853.

A fiddle that is at least a half-century old has special meaning to Novosel.

In the Tinstown section of Bell, where bachelor coal miners lived in shanties, roughly, from the 1920s through the 1940s, there was a popular man named John Gracious.

“He wanted beer and didn't have the money,” Novosel said.

“So he sold the fiddle for $3 to the owner of one of the area's speakeasies,” she said. “Everybody had a speakeasy then.”

That owner was Novosel's father, Nikola Novosel.

As the artifact brings back memories to Novosel, she hopes that the holdings in the museum will do the same for others who have connections to the town.

“You need to know where you've come from,” she said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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