Fresh from Capestrano, Italy, in the early 1900s, Bernadino and Carmella Fontecchio considered their new home in the United States a wonderful place, despite the fact that times were hard.
Settling in Hurley, the young couple lived above a tavern on Fifth Avenue, owned by Serafino Castagna. Like most other places of business in those days, it catered to the area’s miners and lumberjacks. Things were not always well, especially for the lumberjacks whose riotous behavior sometimes led to their going without food or lodging at the end of their foray into town.
The Fontecchios had a soft spot for these unruly woodsmen, and though Bernadino was fully employed as a miner, he and his wife often prepared and distributed free Italian food to them, cooking in the old bocce ball court next to the tavern.
The jacks and miners remembered them with rings and watches, in lieu of cash, which the couple kept in a cigar box. Most often, these objects were returned. Cooking for others had already become a way of life when they took over the tavern and converted it to a restaurant-bar in 1923, keeping the name “The Liberty Bell.”
The menu broadened to include all types of Italian food, as well as an Americanized selection, and became an immediate success. The pizza, in particular, became an area favorite and would one day become famous throughout the United States as the clientele widened to include more and more skiers and tourists.
The Fontecchio family had also broadened to include three children — Fred, Betty, and Pat — who helped their parents along the way. In 1961-62, the three took over as owner-operators, and the name expanded to “The Liberty Bell Chalet” in deference to the skiers.
In 1962, the premises were enlarged to include the bocce ball courtyard. Most of the lumber, especially the random running cedar in the dining room, was cut locally. Contractor Gus Giancola also used beams cut from those in the dismantled Ashland ore docks to reinforce the ceilings and walls in the new dining and bar areas.
Copper for the bar and fireplace was made from ore mined at White Pine. The decor was rustic after the manner of a ski lodge, which provided a distinctive, softly lit, intimate atmosphere, which was to prove significant for “The Bell.”
The menu and specialties of the house were enhanced by the introduction of the Bell’s Caesar salad and “Betty’s Dressing,” the latter protected through legal registration of its recipe, the exact ingredients of which are still known only to select family members. The Bell’s pizza continued its phenomenal growth in popularity, even being mailed as far away as Arizona and Texas, frozen and next-day express delivery. The Bell also features a fully stocked Italian Market.