Bell County, Texas History, Genealogy, Old Photos, Postcards, Maps, and Information
Bell County, in east central Texas, is located along the Balcones Escarpment about forty-five miles north of Austin and is bordered by Coryell, McLennan, and Falls counties on the north, on the east by Falls and Milam counties, on the south by Milam and Williamson counties, and on the west by Lampasas and Burnet counties. Belton, the third largest town in the county, serves as the county seat and is sixty-five miles north of Austin.
Cities, Towns and Communities
Bartlett | Belton – county seat | Fort Hood | Harker Heights | Heidenheimer | Holland | Killeen | Little River Academy | Morgan’s Point Resort | Nolanville (Nolan Springs) | Rogers | Salado | Temple | Troy
Bell County. Settlement began on Lampasas River, 1847. Created Jan. 22, organized Aug. 1, 1850. Named for Peter Hansbrough Bell (1812-1898), native of Virginia; veteran of Battle of San Jacinto; served in Somervell expedition to stop Mexico’s Raids into Texas; officer in Mexican War; Governor of Texas 1849-1853; U.S. Congressman, 1853-1857. First county seat Nolanville. Moved Dec. 16, 1851, to Belton. By 1860 population was 4,799. Sent 12 troop companies into Civil War. Furnished goods from flour mills, hat factory, tanyard, leather works, blacksmith shops, cabinet shop, beef slaughter pens. – Historical Marker Text. Marker erected 1965.
Bell County. Settlers came to the Bell County area after peace treaties of 1843-44, and Indian raids into the county became less frequent. By the census of 1850, the population of what would shortly become Bell County was approximately 600 whites and sixty black slaves. Bell County was formed on January 22, 1850, and named for Peter H. Bell. Nolan Springs was chosen as the county seat and named Nolanville. On December 16, 1851, the name was changed to Belton. In 1854 Coryell County was marked off from Bell County, and in 1856 the legislature attached a six-mile-wide strip of Falls County to Bell County. In 1860, when a resurvey of the line between Bell and Milam counties was made and recognized by the legislature, Bell County assumed its present boundaries.
Early settlement in the county was along the creeks and rivers, but by 1860 most of the county land, some 462,884 acres, was divided into farms. A series of drought years in the mid-1850s hindered the development of farming in the area, and Bell County farmers still operated in a frontier economy on the eve of the Civil War. Due to the uncertain supply of water, much of the land in the county was considered worthless for anything but undeveloped pasture, and county residents raised large herds of cattle and sheep. The 42,037 cattle enumerated by the 1860 census was not equalled again until the 1950s. Corn and wheat were the main crops, though cotton was introduced into the county along the Little River in the mid-1850s and 514 bales of cotton were harvested in 1860.Cotton rose to successive heights of 9,217 bales in 1880, 37,473 bales in 1890 and a peak of 58,050 bales in 1910.
Attracted by economic opportunities in ranching and farming, large numbers of immigrants swelled the population of Bell County in the later nineteenth century. The number of residents doubled between 1860 and 1870, from 4,799 to 9,771, more than doubled again to 20,517 in 1880, and had reached 45,535 by the turn of the century. Many immigrants came either from the older counties of Texas or from other southern states, particularly Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
Bell County citizens pioneered the Grange movement in Texas in the 1870s, and Salado became one of the state centers of Grange activities.
The military base at Fort Hood was established in the western part of the county; this large installation continues to function as a military training center. In the 1980s much of western Bell County lay within the boundaries of the military reservation, and the fort’s estimated 160,000 military personnel, dependents, military retirees, and civilian employees exerted a tremendous economic and social influence on the civilian communities bordering the base. Neighboring Killeen was the largest city in the county, and the contiguous communities of Killeen, Harker Heights, and Nolanville, with an estimated combined population of 50,949 in 1980, were home to almost a third of the county’s inhabitants.
The growth of the Fort Hood-Killeen area was matched by developments in the rest of the county. Bell County’s population shot up to 73,824 in 1950, and increased by 27 to 32 percent every decade thereafter, to reach 157,820 in 1980 and 191,088 in 1990. Among the noteworthy educational and medical institutions in the county were the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Central Texas College, Temple Junior College, the University of Central Texas, Scott and White Memorial Hospital, and the Olin E. Teague Veterans Center.
In 2000 the census counted 237,974 people living in Bell County. Belton (2000 population, 14,623) is the seat of government and Killeen (86,911) is the county’s largest city. Other towns include Temple (54,514), Harker Heights (17,308), Salado (3,475), Morgan’s Point Resort City (2,989), Nolanville (2,150), Troy (1,378), Little River Academy (1,645), Rogers (1,117), Holland (1,102), and Heidenheimer (144). Fort Hood had a population of 33,711 in 2000. Recreation and tourist attractions in Bell County include Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes, the Central Area Museum in Salado, the Belton Independence Day celebration and rodeo (July), the Central Texas State Fair in Belton (September), and the Salado Art Fair (August) and gathering of the Scottish clans (November). Source: Handbook of Texas Online.
Story of Bell County, Texas, 2 vols., 1988.
History of Bell County, 1936.