Bells Lake is a 33-acre man-made lake and has a very long and interesting history. No one knows exactly when Bell’s Lake was created. The original owners and inhabitants were the Leni Lenape Indian tribe. The Leni Lenape tribe sold the land in the 1600s to the English for household articles and trinkets. The property passed hands many times and was known by different names over the years. The property was usually identified by the current owner’s name and has been known as ‘Arrell Tract,’ ‘Williams Mill Pond,’ ‘Prosser’s Mill,’ and ‘Mill Pond.’
A sawmill was the first business on the property and was run by John Williams, the owner at that time. In the early 1800s a gristmill was built on the property by carpenter John Turner (Turnersville). John Turner is one of the many known owners of the land, which at one time was a 3,000-acre tract of land. In 1880 Thomas Boody and Samuel Sharp bought the land. They were partners with Mr. Boody running the gristmill and Mr. Sharp operating Sharp Farm. Mr. Sharp lived on the property near the gristmill. He built a farm, boathouse, clubhouse and ice house on the property. Mr. Boody and Mr. Sharp went bankrupt while they owned the property and in 1899 sold it to Samuel Bell Jr. of Philadelphia.
Mr. Bell bought the property as a summer residence. The Bell family was rich and already owned a gristmill in Philadelphia. During the 19th Century, the family made a fortune in flour, under the name GOLD MEDAL. In 1928 the Washburn Crosby Company merged with other mills, Bell’s Mill being one of them, and General Mills was formed. The gristmill at Bell’s Lake produced flour under the Gold Medal name for General Mills until 1937. Flour and grain were sold in sacks with the Gold Medal logo from the mill store located on the property.
Mr. Bell also bought all the land on both sides of Greentree Road between the mill and the Black Horse Pike. Back then, Greentree Road actually went around a portion of Bell’s Lake and over the dam. The gristmill was on Greentree Road and the mill store in front was where the flour and grain were sold. Greentree Road was subsequently moved over to its present location in 1941 after the mill and store were closed and the road on the dam became private property.
Mr. Bell built a large mansion on the property which stood on a low hill near the boathouse. There was a fishing cottage and the boathouse had a porch built out over the lake. He planted exotic trees along Greentree Road and throughout the property. If you take a walk around the property today you will still see some of those trees, including a Ginko tree, tulip trees, and pecan trees. In 1928 the county did work on Greentree Road and built the bridge over the spillway, and repaired the dam. The gristmill was still in use in 1938.
Samuel Bell died in 1937. Herbert Bell, Samuel Bell’s son and the last owner of Bell’s Lake Estate, died in 1954. Bell’s Lake Estate was sold to a realty company in 1954. The Bell’s owned the land for 54 years. Several transactions later, Collins Corp. began construction of the development. Sample homes were on the Black Horse Pike and much of the land was divided. The 116-acre lake property remained untouched. Bell’s Lake was open to local residents for a fee and the boathouse was used as a refreshment stand. Vandals struck and destroyed the buildings little by little. The gristmill was destroyed by fire in 1962. The Collins Corp. went bankrupt. In 1966 the lake property, all 49 acres of it that were left, was sold to the Greenwood Park-Bells Lake Community Club for $1.00.
The mansion, clubhouse, and the Sharp farm were torn down in 1966 because they were no longer safe.
The pool and community club now standing were erected in the early 1970s. As of today, much of the wooded land surrounding the lake is still in its natural state. There are still remnants of the gristmill left behind. The boathouse was the last building of the past remaining on the property and was consumed by fire in the 1970s.
Sailboat regattas were held on the lake every year during the 1970s. Many neighbors and club members owned sailboats and it was a beautiful sight to see the colorful sails in the summer breeze. Before the pool was put in, there were no fences and neighbors mowed right down to the lake to do their part in the upkeep of the property. Evening dances and parties were held at the clubhouse and were enjoyed by all.