The current Bell Inn is a three story victorian building that was previously a private home which sat vacant for many years in downtown Peabody, Massachusetts. It was slated to be torn down when developer Eddie Greeley and restauranteur Jeff Cala stepped in. The long, several year process of restoring this building was finally complete this past October 2023 when they opened their doors to the public as a tavern, speak-easy, dining room and 8 guest room inn.
The history of the building runs deep in the town of Peabody. Known as the O'Shea mansion by many locals, the building had many lives. At one point it was a furniture business, another point a halfway house and then a vacant building but if we go back a bit farther its origins are a lot more interesting than that.
The first building at this location, before the three story victorian, was the original Bell Tavern which was built in 1757. This location was also a meeting point for local militia who went to fight in the battle against the British in the revolutionary war. An impressive history for the town of Peabody, once referred to as "leather city" because of the leather manufacturing that was so prevalent in the area.
Over the next century the site had many iterations. The Bell Tavern was torn down, store fronts were put up, those were relocated and another home was built. By 1897 Josiah Thomas had purchased the building and after demolishing it began costruction on the home that exists there today. He built it for his grandson Elmer Thomas. By 1900 Thomas O'Shea purchased the building and owned it until 1969 when the Bettencourt Furniture company purchased the building. If you look at photos of the building from 1937 the exterior looks almost exactly the same as it does today.
The exciting part about this project was being able to work with a team who cared about the integrity of the building. They wanted the history and story of the Bell Inn to be reflected in the design. When creating the interior design plan I kept that in mind and found that as we moved through the process the home dictated the direction.
Although, walls were moved and removed and some elements could not be saved, much was saved. The doors were reused when we were able. Moldings, fireplaces, were saved, original cupboards were relocated, the original floors with a gorgeous greek key pattern were refinished and of course all of the beautiful woodwork and mahogany details on the first floor were saved and enhanced.
This project was also a great example of a town coming together to support the vision of developer Eddie Greeley, who owns other mixed use buildings in the town of Peabody such as Mills 58.
It would have been very easy to do what many had done in the past. Tear it down and start over but in New England versus lots off other parts of the country we have an amazing history and many of the stories of that history are told through our buildings, our architecture, our homes. Every time we are able to save one of these buildings it's an opportunity to tell the stories to the next generation.
The Bell Inn is located in Peabody, Massachusetts at 2 Washington Street and is open for lunch, dinner, drinks and to stay.