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Area History

Bethel was founded in 1774 and was home to approximately ten families during this time. The town’s growth was slowed measurably by the American Revolution and it was not until the war was over that more settlers decided to give life a try in this idyllic spot. The little mountain village expanded quickly after this point and was officially incorporated in 1796. The town’s citizens settled on the official name of Bethel for the town. This name has its origins in Hebrew, and means "House of God." This choice reflects the strong faith of the town’s forefathers and their indomitable spirit.

Although there were many influential citizens, Dr. Moses Mason stands out as one of the most active. His house is still standing in the town and is a frequent stop for tourists as the oldest structure in the Historical District. Dr. Mason was renowned outside of the area as well, serving two terms in Congress.

After the incorporation, Bethel continued to blossom and was home to primarily agricultural workers. It’s situation on the Androscoggin River made it the perfect location for farmland, but it was also apt to flood on numerous occasions. In fact, in 1785, there was a remarkable flood that forced many to abandon the low ground and move their farms to a higher elevation.

 Bethel is home to the Gould Academy, which was founded with assistance from another prominent citizen, William Bingham II. This educational center was founded in 1836 and marked the transition for the town towards becoming a center for advanced studies. This tradition continued and Bethel is home to Dr. John Gerhing’s famous clinic. It was at this site that numerous advances in the treatment of mental and nervous disorders were discovered. Bethel is also the site of the National Training Laboratory and numerous medical seminars are held here to this day.

In 1851, the arrival of the railroad cemented Bethel as an enduring town. The Atlantic and St. Louis Railroad first connected Bethel to Portland and then shortly after, Montreal. As with many towns, the railroad meant increased tourism and commerce and visitors soon began appreciating this quiet mountain village. This also helped increase the number of residents in the town, since they now had easy access to several large cities. If they could not find employment at home, they could now easily commute and then return to the peace of Bethel in the evenings.

However, Bethel is much more than a bedroom community and it is home to numerous festivals and events all year round. In fact, Bethel became the home of the world’s tallest snowwoman, measuring in at more than 122-feet tall and using more than 13 million pounds of snow. She was built with the assistance of the entire town and although she is one of Bethel’s least enduring monuments, she does illustrate the fun nature of this town and their commitment to community effort. Bethel is a true example of American living at its finest.