WATAUGA, Ky. (Aug. 12, 2022) – A popular landmark on the shoreline of Lake Cumberland will forever be known as “Sid Bell Falls,” the namesake of its landowner when the Corps of Engineers purchased it during construction of Wolf Creek Dam in 1943.
Corps officials posted a “Sid Bell Falls” sign June 13 near where Handcock Creek empties into Lake Cumberland in the upper reaches of Otter Creek to draw attention to its new name.
The area where the waterfall is located is known by many names, such as Little Falls, Family Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Handcock Falls, Small Falls, and Bell’s Mill Falls. Having so many names unfortunately causes confusion, most notable for emergency responders.
Jonathan Friedman, Lake Cumberland resource manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, said renaming the waterfall honors Sid Bell, and the name change on official maps and GPS locators could also be a life saver for visitors.
“Since Lake Cumberland is the eighth largest reservoir in the United States, with approximately 1,255 miles of shoreline, naming conventions of various areas are extremely important to first responders,” Friedman explained. “Boaters sometimes get lost and knowing where they are on the reservoir of this size contributes to valuable seconds when responding to medical emergencies.”
The Corps of Engineers purchased lands from O.L. Bell and Sid Bell, which were conveyed by Clara Bell Franklin and Robert Bell under deed dated July 6, 1938. Inheritors of the lands from A.S. Bell (Sid Bell) included Velma Bell, Lorena Bell Pierson, Earl Bell, Irvin Bell, Ina Bell, Edward Bell, Allena Bell, Burl Bell, Jesse Bell, David Bell and Dale Bell, according to Corps’ documentation from the 1940s.
“In an effort to seek a naming convention that would be recognizable by all, and with a nod to the rich history of the area, including the old mill, I decided the best course of action to support a common name for this location would be to erect a sign and officially refer to the falls, area, and cove as Sid Bell Falls,” Friedman said.
Since the posting of the new sign, descendants of Sid Bell have been posting positive reactions on social media and through correspondence with the Corps of Engineers.
Stacy Bell-Flowers, employee at Marina@Rowena and granddaughter of Sid Bell, sent a note to Friedman reporting how ecstatic her father and family are about the renaming of the falls, and to thank the Corps of Engineers.
“I know my grandfather and grandmother and all of my aunts and uncles are beaming with pride from heaven above,” she wrote. “I cried like a babe when my general manager, Dave Dyson, and my sweet boss, Tom Allen, presented me with a picture (of the new sign),” she said.
Bell-Flowers added during a visit to the newly named Sid Bell Falls that all of her cousins are beyond proud to be a “Bell.” She said she remembers hearing stories about the history of the land during family picnics at the falls as a child when the family would visit on boats.
“My grandpa had a gristmill here and that is how he helped raise his children, all 13 of them,” Bell-Flowers said. “My dad Burl is the last living child of Sidney and Velma Bell.”
Burl Bell, 81, has been undergoing medical treatments. He spoke over the phone about the honor bestowed upon his father, and the pride the entire family is feeling now that the Corps of Engineers has planted a new “Sid Bell Falls” sign in the immediate area of the falls.
“I sure liked that,” he said about the official naming of the falls after his father. “I can’t wait to get home to get back on the lake to go see it (the sign).”
Burl also noted that as a youngster a house fire spread through a covered breezeway and burned down the gristmill not long before the sale of the property to the Corps of Engineers.
“That’s how Dad had income from grinding cornmeal. I think I was about 4 years old when the mill burnt,” Burl recalled. “I remember losing that and the family on the hillside crying.”
The namesake of the falls, Sid Bell, has too many grandchildren and great grandchildren to mention. His children were in birth order: Lorena Ayers, Earl Bell, Ina Bagley, Ed Bell, Evelena Pettenger, Allena Lewis, Burl Bell, Jessie Bell, David Bell, Dale Bell, Darrell Bell and Kathy Bell.
David Dyson, general manager at nearby Marina at Rowena, said the historic recognition of the families who lived in this area before the lake was created, and the appreciation that they feel, is outstanding.
“History not shared dies,” Dyson added about the importance of capturing the past related to Lake Cumberland and Sid Bell Falls.
Friedman noted that the cove at Sid Bell Falls is a great landmark to visit and is particularly family friendly, and can only be accessed by water.
“For those interested in exploring Sid Bell Falls, wait for the reservoir to come down after the annual spring filling. Late summer is a perfect time to hang out with friends and family,” Friedman said.
For more information about the US Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, visit the district’s website at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow Lake Cumberland on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lakecumberland.