The neighborhood of Belltown, through which Bell Street runs, corresponds geographically to the donation land claim of William Nathanial Bell. Bell arrived in 1851 as a member of the Denny Party and his land claim was one of the original six Seattle claims. Bell didn’t stay too long; he left Seattle for California in 1856 after the Battle of Seattle, during which white pioneers were beset by Native Americans and the Bell family’s cabin was burned. He returned to Seattle in 1870 and remained until his death in 1887.
Much of Bell’s claim was taken up by Denny Hill, and the “Belltown” designation originally referred only to the blocks west of Second. When the hill was sluiced into Elliott Bay at the turn of the century, the entire neighborhood became more commonly known as Denny Regrade. In 1937, Sophie Frye Bass writes: “If you ever hear anyone speak of ‘Belltown’ you may know he is a real old timer.”
Bell named several streets after family members: Olive and Virgina are named for Bell’s daughters, and Stewart Street is named for his son-in-law Joseph H. Stewart. The Austin A. Bell Building on 1st Ave between Bell and Battery is named for his son.