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Bell's Drive-In Corner of Trenholm & Forest: late 1960s   33 comments

Posted at 2:41 am in historic,restaurants

Bell's was approximately in the location occupied by the Rite-Aid drugstore more or less on the corner of Forest Drive and Trenholm Road. I recall it as being more beind the Gulf station (now a Union 76 mini-mart). Certainly it didn't occupy the whole property now siting Rite-Aid.

Until McDonalds came to town (the Garner's Ferry location was the first), Bell's was the only option in the area for white-bag take out burgers. Both Ligett Rexall in Trenholm Plaza and Campbell's Drugs across the street had lunch counters, but not really take out operations. As I remember, Bell's had no dining area, though there may have been a couple of picnic tables outside. I don't recall the burgers much at all, but I really enjoyed the french-fries. I remember one time thinking that they were so good that I kept taking them into the bathroom to share with my father who was in the shower. He must have thought I was crazy, but he just kept saying thanks.

For some reason, I can't recall specifically noting that Bell's had closed or that the building had been torn down. I think it had happened by the time I started First Grade. Since McDonald's was running a promotion (which it did for years) to the effect that it would give a free burger to any kid with only As & Bs on his report card, McDonalds quickly became the focus of all my burger attention, and I had a kid's indifference to Bell's fate.

UPDATE 22 May 2011: Added a couple of pictures up top to reflect more or less where I recall Bell's as being, off to the side and sort of behind the Gulf.

Written by ted on January 2nd, 2008

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33 Responses to 'Bell's Drive-In Corner of Trenholm & Forest: late 1960s'

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  1. I ate at Bell's many times as a child. Cheeseburgers were 12 cents.

    There WAS another good place for to-go burgers at the time -- Burger Chef on Two Notch at the end of Covenant Road.

    FirstDennis

    20 Aug 08 at 2:03 pm

  2. I played Dixie Youth little league baseball at Creighton Jr. High, and when we would win a game, Coach Cooper (I played for Civitans) would take the whole team to Bell's after the game for ice cream.

    Bobby

    17 Sep 08 at 2:09 pm

  3. Ah Bells! When I was 15 (I think)I worked there that summer. I can't remember the prices of the burgers but as I recall they were smaller burgers comparable to a regular hamburger or regular cheeseburger like you'd get today from McDonalds. My buddy and I would get off work around 1:00 AM and the manager would drive us home. We lived on the same street. We'd go into our homes for a few minutes and then sneak back out and go hang out at the Direct Gas Station across from Bell's. Remember it? Then, later in high school, we'd all go hang out at Bell's after school. What great times those were!

    Roy

    25 Sep 08 at 4:13 pm

  4. Hmm. I don't remember the "Direct" at all. I know that what is now the Union 76 was a "Gulf", and I assume that Forest Lake Exxon was probably an "Esso" at the time. Campbell's Drugs was on one corner, so the Direct would have to have been where the "Shell" is now?

    ted

    25 Sep 08 at 4:29 pm

  5. No, the Direct Station was where the carwash is now I believe.

    Roy

    26 Sep 08 at 12:00 am

  6. I remember Bell's Hamburgers in the late 1960's. I played in a flag football league over at Cardinal Newman's football field. We
    would go over there after the games and get 15 cent hamburgers. Great place to go. In the 1970's when Bell's had closed, I think they turned it into a Majik Market convienent store. It sat where the Rite-Aid is today. Wish someone had some old pictures of these places in Forest Acres. Great memories!

    Tommy

    27 Sep 08 at 12:23 pm

  7. BELLS! I remember sitting behind Bells on our cars just haning out...I think we were in 9th grade at Crayton. I do remember the Direct Station because that is when about 5 girls bought our first pack of cigarettes for $.29 and smoked them under the bridge on Shady Lane and were sick for about a month.

    Beth

    24 Nov 08 at 1:26 am

  8. Sounds like a fun time. Wish I had a picture of the place!

    ted

    24 Nov 08 at 2:03 am

  9. ...there was also a Bell's drive-in in West Columbia; it was on Meeting Street, a few blocks down from What-A-Burger (amazingly still there!), I think on the east side of the t-bone of Lexington Avenue and Meeting Street... just before the intersection with 12th. There was a Spur gas station, kind of across the street (Lexington Ave), but on the same side of Meeting Street.

    I was a little kid, but I do remember I liked Bell's hamburgers *better* than McDonald's. Really surprised to learn (this year!) that it became... !Taco Bell. !? The corp. history I've read indicates they had tacos, even in the late 50's, but maybe that was just out west, or only in California? I don't think they had tacos at the Bell's in W.Cola. and I still think of it as "Bell's Hamburgers." I remember the giant lighted bell sign, and in thinking of it... it was somewhat similar of the modern Taco Bell, but Bell's was written in cursive. I was hoping to see a pic of that old sign, but oh well. Eventually, I'm sure it'll pop-up somewhere! :)

    Jenny

    10 Jun 10 at 2:39 am

  10. I'd love to have a picture of Bell's, but... too late

    The What-A-Burger building is new, the classic one was torn down years ago.

    ted

    10 Jun 10 at 2:45 am

  11. !SOC station! not Spur... what was I thinking? It was a SOC gas station... near the Bell's in W.C.

    and yeah, I know the old aluminum-lined shack that was W-A-B got torn down (quite overdue when it did; it didn't look very hygenic even in the late 60's). I still remember the tiny order window, and waiting and watching from the car for the order to come up at W-A-B, and the strong aroma of onion. I hated *those* burgers back then, but all the adults seemed to love them. I like them OK now (tho' w/o onions for me, thanks!).

    There was another burger drive-up on that same stretch--appeared very locally-owned--between Bell's and W-A-B, but was on the opposite side of Meeting street, and I suppose it was about 10' x 20', I think brick... I recall it as having longer, slender, light-colored (tan/beige) bricks, not the standard red type one thinks of as brick... I think it sat between two large shade trees... or maybe there was only one. We never stopped there, I don't know why, and I can *not* remember the name *at*all*. I would be pleasantly surprised were it still in operation, because it is/was so clearly a locally constructed/owned/operated business.

    Jenny

    10 Jun 10 at 3:53 am

  12. Here's a link to a blog that has a story about a former Bell's Hamburgers in Charlotte NC that is still a hamburger joint, only with a different name. If you look at the photographs, you'll get a very good idea of how the distinctive angled order windows looked because they have been left the same, the only difference being that now they are enclosed. This building looks very similar to the one I remember on Forest Drive, especially with the concrete benches and tables out front, and I would even venture that the sign pole is the same pole used throughout the Bell's Hamburgers chain minus the bell part on top. Bell's didn't have the red and white striped awnings, nor the yellow sign across the top of the building, but it did have the same type of angled shed roof. The last photo in the lot is a Bell's Hamburgers ad from 1963, and shows the logo with the cursive letters that Jenny is talking about. It also gives you an idea of the menu with those famous 15¢ hamburgers. Be sure to read the bit at the very bottom to get a smidgen of the history.

    Without any photographs of the old restaurant on Forest Drive, I think these are about as close as we're going to get.

    Michael Taylor

    10 Jun 10 at 4:29 am

  13. Sometimes I post a comment before I've fully researched a subject; I get trigger happy with the "Submit Comment" button you could say. Here's a postcard of a Bell's Hamburgers that is much closer to how the Forest Drive store looked, however it doesn't have the concrete benches and tables out front, and the sign looks more complicated than I remember (doesn't look at all like the Charlotte store sign pole, so much for that memory). I don't remember the colors being the same, but it does show the shed roof quite clearly, and gives an idea of the overall size and shape of the store. At any rate, somewhere between the photographs from the previous comment and this postcard, those of us familiar with Bell's Hamburgers on Forest Drive should have our memories joggled enough to say we've seen it again, I hope.

    Michael Taylor

    10 Jun 10 at 5:50 am

  14. I think the one on the other side of the road from WAB in West Columbia was "Ed's Drive In".

    ted

    10 Jun 10 at 9:50 am

  15. Neat Michael!

    ted

    10 Jun 10 at 10:09 am

  16. @Michael, judging from the tall trees in the background, that Bell's may be the Forest Drive location. It is certainly the way I remember it.

    Tom

    10 Jun 10 at 10:13 am

  17. That was Ed's Drive In on Meeting street. Always had great hotdogs and milkshakes.

    Sammy

    10 Jun 10 at 11:36 am

  18. I agree ted, that postcard of Bell's looks exactly like my memory of the Forest Drive one.

    Dennis

    10 Jun 10 at 1:35 pm

  19. So, if we enlarge the bell from the postcard, maybe make it a little rounder at the top? not too sure about that... but make it a separate detachable piece, keep the cursive letters, and attach the whole thing to the pole of the Zack's sign from Charlotte, *that*'s how I remember the West Columbia Bell's sign. And yep, sho' nuff, if we imagine the inside of Zack's as still being outside... ya know I could actually *smell* the burgers looking at those pics, and my brain almost instantly reaffirmed the quality of Bell's over McDonald's.

    Ed's! I remember always seeing the "MILKSHAKES" part of their banner-style signage as we drove past and wondering what they were like. What happened to Ed's? Is the building still there?

    Thanks so much, Michael, Sammy, and Ted! Awesome flashbacks!

    Jenny

    10 Jun 10 at 2:16 pm

  20. Ed's was open into the 1980s at least, when it was featured in a story in The State about the best hamburgers in Columbia. I had the story in my glove-box and was trying each one out from time to time, but never got around to Ed's before it closed. Actually I think most of the places on that list are gone.

    ted

    10 Jun 10 at 2:19 pm

  21. Dennis -- whish the Flikr guy had done the back of the card too..

    ted

    10 Jun 10 at 2:20 pm

  22. Glad to see that the postcard resonated with you guys, it certainly did with me. Yes indeed Tom, when I saw those tall pine trees, my first thought was that this certainly had to be the Forest Acres store. You can even see what looks like house roofs in the background, which would have been from the houses on Winthrop Avenue, the street that is roughly parallel to Forest Drive one block behind.

    The only thing that keeps me from fully accepting this as the Forest Acres store is that there are no concrete picnic tables out front. I distinctly remember eating many a 15¢ hamburger on those tables because there was no inside seating. In this regard, the burger joint in Charlotte looks more like the front of Bell's Hamburgers as I remember it. On the other hand, it could very well be that if this is indeed the Forest Drive Bell's, the tables were added after the photograph was taken.

    Another thing I seem to remember - but can't prove - is that this place was open into the early-70's.

    In lieu of someone with an ancient photo caché, wouldn't it be sweet if we could find a postcard for all the other places we wish we had photographs for?

    Michael Taylor

    10 Jun 10 at 8:57 pm

  23. Coming back from Myrtle Beach to Charlotte Passing Monroe and Hwy 51 , Bell's was on right on Hwy 74 Before Idewilde Road . There were little signs one after the other saying we were almost there. I HAVE TO KNOW...HAVE PICTURES IF ANYONE HAS THEM! One of the fond memeries of vacation with Dad and the family. PLEASE HELP! Thanx.

    Doug Schenck

    21 May 11 at 11:49 pm

  24. I see this is at the intersection of Trenholm and Forest but what corner is it on in relation to what's there now??

    Andrew

    22 May 11 at 12:32 am

  25. The first entry says it was where the Rite-Aid is now--the 2nd lot from the southwest corner.

    Mike

    22 May 11 at 9:30 am

  26. Man, this post is so old that I wasn't even putting pictures on all of them back then!

    My memory is that it wasn't exactly where the Rite Aid is, but kind of between the Gulf Station and the RIte Aid lot.

    Like the one on Meeting Street, it was a small place with no indoor seating -- just a couple of concrete picnic tables outside.

    ted

    22 May 11 at 12:02 pm

  27. OK, I put in a couple of pictures..

    ted

    22 May 11 at 12:30 pm

  28. As I remember, Bells was located next door to the Gulf Gas station that was on the southwest corner to it's right and the Western Auto that was to it's left. Across the street was the Esso station and right next door to it was the Direct station. You could also enter Bells from Trenholm using the side street that ran behind the gas station.

    Does anyone remember the trampoline park that was in this location before Bells?

    William

    19 Oct 11 at 10:13 pm

  29. In taking pictures of the Circle K demolition, I noticed that there is a curb-cut in-between Rite Aid and the Circle-K/Gulf lot, and that there is a vacant grassy strip there. I believe that was the Bell's lot, and that it is not big enough to do anything else with. (As I recall, the parking lot was kind of shared with Gulf) which I represented in these pictures. I'll try to the other up at some point.

    ted

    19 Oct 11 at 10:27 pm

  30. ed's Drivin on meeting street had my favorite hamburger, it was called the "ranch burger".
    back in the 70's while riding and partying with the boys we would argue over which was best, what a burger or ranch burger.
    Back in the 60's our little league team would go to bells for hamburgers after the game because they were cheaper.
    They have recently cleaned up the lot around the old bells hamburger building and it really brings back memories.

    darrell

    29 Nov 12 at 9:07 pm

  31. Ed's Drive Inn on Meeting St in West Columbia had the best ranch burgers and chili-cheese hot dogs ever!!! When they closed, people lined up the night before in order to get the last burgers and shakes. The last ranch burger was bought by someone and he had the burger laminated. The last I heard of this was a newspaper article in The State Newspaper stating that the guy still had that last laminated ranch burger. Ed's was an institution!!!! I can still remember the taste of those ranch burgers, hot dogs, and milk shakes. ( The shakes were very thick and were called Be-Bops. You had to eat them with a spoon or draw a blood blister through a straw.)

    wyman

    13 Oct 13 at 8:47 pm

  32. @wyman - I went there during it's last week of operation for one last chance to have one of the ranch burgers. They were awesome! Even though they are generally out of my way, I will go to Zesto's in Triangle City or Whataburger once in a while. They have some good burgers but they don't hold a candle to Ed's. I also try to go by Edna's once every couple of months for one of their juicy, succulent gut bombs!!!!

    Homer

    13 Oct 13 at 11:21 pm

  33. Steve's on Platt Springs has burgers that put Zestos and What-a-Burger to shame. It's more than just a sub sammich shop.

    tonkatoy

    14 Oct 13 at 6:57 am

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