- Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 11:16
- Published on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 05:08
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In 1883, the father of Alexander Graham Bell – noted Scottish teacher and researcher Alexander Melville Bell – bought a newly constructed elegant home on the banks of the Potomac River in Colonial Beach. Today, the historic Bell House is still welcoming visitors after more than 230 years.
Anne Bolin first saw the house with its beautiful hardwood floors, stained glass windows and unique balconies in March of 2000. “It was love at first sight,” Bolin said.
She bought the historic home, becoming its seventh owner, and less than four months later turned it into what has become one of Virginia’s top bed and breakfasts.
The home, which is known simply as the Bell House, is the only Colonial Beach house listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it is a Virginia Historic Landmark. Built by Col. J.O.P. Burnside, the son of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, the house on the Potomac River was sold shortly after its construction to Alexander Melville Bell who owned it until his death in 1905.
Famed scientist, engineer and inventor Alexander Graham Bell inherited the house from his father. Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone in 1875, divided his time between the house in Colonial Beach and a home he and his father built in Nova Scotia in the 1880s.
Both Bells were born in Scotland and were dedicated to research on elocution and speech. Alexander Graham’s mother and wife were deaf, strongly influencing Bell’s work and the work of his father. One of the guests at the Colonial Beach house was Helen Keller, the famous blind and deaf author and lecturer, who studied under Alexander Melville Bell.
Alexander Graham Bell’s research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually led not only to the invention of the telephone – which was first known as an acoustic telegraph – but the photophone, the phonograph and an audiometer to detect hearing problems.
Later inventions included the metal detector, hydrofoils and hydroplanes and a number of aeronautical inventions that helped pave the way to the first airplanes. Because of his many inventions, Bell and his father had to travel frequently from Colonial Beach to Washington to deal with hundreds of patent and court challenges to his various discoveries.
Bell sold the historic Colonial Beach house in 1920, just two years before his death. It was then a private home for Bertha Bray, who lived there for 40 years, and then Judith and Bob Warsang, who lived there for 17 years before it was bought by Anne Bolin in 2000.
“Honestly, I never thought of owning a bed and breakfast,” Bolin said. “But when I first saw the house, I thought golly, it would make a nice, warm, comfortable place for people to visit and stay.”
Bolin put a great deal of love and time into restoring and refurbishing the historic home. “I refurbished the third floor, added three bathrooms, added a guest bedroom and a library and repaired the two widow walk balconies,” Bolin said.
Today guests can relax in one of the four queen size bedrooms, the gathering room or the library. Or they can sit outside on the porch overlooking the five-mile wide Potomac River, recline in a hammock or walk along the beach. Wine and cheese and hors d’oeuvres are served from 5 to 6 p.m. each day. And, Bolin’s hearty breakfasts have become legendary.
“We get guests from everywhere,” Bolin said. “Germany, Japan, South America, Australia and New Zealand. We just had a couple who were sailing their new sailboat from South America, 3,500 miles to Nova Scotia.”
“I get many of the same guests, year after year. They love Colonial Beach; it is a lovely little town. This year we are hosting the First Annual Alexander Graham Bell Croquet Tournament on Sept. 21 with the proceeds going to the Colonial Beach Volunteer Fire Department,” Bolin said.