David C. Bell has been called one of the last great civic leaders of Minneapolis. Born on a small farm in West Almond, New York, in 1841, Bell left for Minneapolis at the age of 17 to work for his brother, John Bell, as a clerk in his small general store. Able to communicate in English and German, Bell used his bilingual advantage to appeal to customers of the day. With clerking experience under his belt, he moved on to open the Bell Bros. Dry Goods store on the corner of Nicollet and Washington Avenues in 1862.
Later, Bell took on an admirable number of ventures starting with a stint as Hennepin County treasurer. In 1886, he co-founded the YMCA. He served as the first president and held that position five times. He also co-founded the American Automobile Association, the Minnesota Linseed Oil Company, several banks and ultimately a mortgage company under his name – David C. Bell Investment Company.
In 1880, Bell began originating mortgages in Minnesota and sold them to banks in New York. The first mortgage bond from the David C. Bell Investment Company was drawn up in 1888 for the sum of $3,500. The business Bell began not only employed numerous Minnesotans; it also brought a significant amount of money and development into the area. Perhaps that is he is referred to not only as an entrepreneur, but also one of the Twin Cities’ founding fathers.
The David C. Bell Company continued to flourish, weathering The Great Depression and two world wars, and embracing nearly 100 years of local development before its purchase in 1980 by Gary Kirt.
Bell’s civic accolades rival his business accomplishments. In 1901 and 1902, he served as special agent of the United States Treasury Department and visited Europe in the interest of the Columbian Exposition. An advocate for education, he was a founding board member of the Minneapolis Athenaeum, served as trustee of Carleton College and taught Bible classes at Plymouth Congregational Church. He also was a member of the state board of charities and corrections.
David Bell lived out his later years in California, but always regarded Minnesota as his home. He referred to Minneapolis as the “city of my love and young manhood, where in 1862, I brought my young bride and established a home.” David’s many contributions as business and civic leader helped shape Minneapolis into the city it is today.