James A. Bell was born in 1851, in the township of Lobo, county of Middlesex. He received his early education in public and private county schools, during which time he showed interest in maps and planning. In 1875, he graduated as an Ontario Land Surveyor. The following year, Bell came to St. Thomas to permanently reside where he co-established the surveying firm of Ware & Bell.
The Canada Southern Railway hired him to survey various routes after his reputation in the community grew. Bell was appointed assistant engineer of the Niagara Cantilever Bridge, and had involvement in the operation of the St. Thomas Street Railway following municipal acquisition in 1902.
Bell married Kate Darrach of St. Thomas in 1882, and their family eventually grew to include five sons. Bell passed away in 1929 at age 78.