Found in the heart of Oxford county, Maine's breadbasket of gemstones, Bethel lies amidst many of Maine's mountainous splendors. Home to the Sunday River ski area and but a hop, skip, and jump from Grafton Notch State Park, this town is a perfect place from which to launch an afternoon of fun. A four season destination, in the warmer months, Bethel has everything from hiking, swimming, and even llama trekking opportunities to fine dining, golfing, and a movie theater to offer. When the snow flies...whether your plans for a great winter vacation include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, instruction, snowmobiling, enjoying spectacular mountain views, or just snuggling up in front of a fire, the Bethel area has something for you. Originally named Sudbury of Canada, Bethel was renamed and incorporated just over two hundred years ago and thus has a long and deep historic background.Bethel, Maine: A quick history through today:
The town of Bethel, originally an Abenaki Indian village, became an English settlement in 1774. The township had been granted as Sudbury-Canada by the Massachusetts General Court in 1769 to the original grantees from Sudbury, Massachusetts, for services at the Battle of Quebec in 1690.
Settlement of Sudbury-Canada was delayed by the Revolutionary War. It was plundered in 1781, during the last Indian attack in Maine.
Following the Revolutionary War’s conclusion, the community of Sudbury-Canada grew rapidly. On June 10, 1790, it was incorporated as Bethel, the name taken from the Book of Genesis, meaning “House of God”.
Farming was the principle occupation of the earliest settlers. Crops were planted on fertile meadows long past cultivated by the Indians. Bethel became one of the best farming towns in the State.
In 1802, a road (now known as Route 26) passing through Bethel was completed, bringing more settlers, businesses, and manufacturers.
Bethel has been a significant educational center, being home to Gould Academy, founded in 1836, due to the generosity of William Bingham II.
In 1851, the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad opened to Bethel, carrying freight and tourists eager to escape city life.
Beginning in 1863, several hotels were built, the largest being the Prospect Hotel. Tours were provided through wilderness landscapes, including the White Mountains. Between the Civil War and World War I, Bethel was a fashionable summer resort. In 1873, the beautiful Sudbury Inn opened it’s doors.
In 1897, William Rogers Chapman, conductor, organist, and composer, founded Maine Music Festivals, bringing to Bethel some of the nation’s greatest musicians and performers. They were entertained at his residences currently known as the Norseman Inn and the Chapman Inn.
With the advent of the automobile, tourists were no longer restricted to train service. Many big hotels built near the train tracks lost patrons, declined, and eventually were torn down.
Bethel is popular with tourists for it’s beautiful natural setting and historic charm. The “Regional History Center” provides visitors with a doorway to northern New England’s colorful past. Deertrees Theatre, patterned in many aspects after the Metropolitan Opera House, features performances from mid-June until early September.
Bethel region includes thirty dining options, with restaurants offering meals for all tastes and budgets. Many pubs and taverns offer a variety of evening entertainment.
In Winter, Bethel residents invite you to “come play in the snow ”. As well as being home to three cross-country ski centers, Bethel is in close proximity to Sunday River ski resort. Whether your plans for a great winter vacation include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, instruction, snowmobiling, enjoying spectacular mountain views, or just snuggling up in front of a fire, the Bethel area has something for you.