The autumn landscape of Bethel.

Bethel, Maine

Bethel, Maine, is a charming former logging town known as a tourist destination for outdoor and nature lovers. It is part of Oxford County, Maine, United States of America, and has a population of roughly 2,600 people. It is popular for its local ski resort and impressive scenic views.

Geography Of Bethel

A bridge in Bethel
A bridge in Bethel, Maine.

Bethel sits within the western portion of the Oxford Hills, on the southern rim of the Mahoosuc Range, themselves a subrange of the White Mountains. Together, these are all part of the vast Appalachian Mountains, covering much of eastern Canada and The United States.The area is a hilly and pond-filled region. Songo Pond falls within the borders of Bethel, while South, North, and Bryant Pond lie just outside it. The town of Bethel drains via the Androscoggin River and smaller tributaries such as Pleasant, Sunday, and Alder River. The approximate area of the town is 171 square kilometers.

History Of Bethel

The first known people in the area were the Abenaki people, who had a settlement just north of the Androscoggin River. However, by the time of English settlement, there was no one living in the region. A township was granted in 1769 as Sudbury-Canada. Josiah Richardson and his heirs were given the rights as a reward for their efforts during the 1690 Battle of Quebec. However, many who were granted land here were unable to claim it right away due to the Revolutionary War. Hence, very few residents actually lived on the land when it was attacked in August 1781, during a native attack on Maine. Both Nathaniel Segar and Benjamin Clark, early settlers, were held in Quebec until the war’s end. 

Civil War Monument in Bethel
Civil War Monument in Bethel, Maine. Image credit: Swliv via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1796 the area formerly known as the Sudbury-Canada Plantation was incorporated and renamed Bethel. The township continued to grow from there, and a trade road was established in 1802, which connected the area to Portland, Maine, and Errol, New Hampshire.The land in the area was very fertile, and farms and crops flourished. The town became known for its hay and potato crops, among others. Because crops were seasonal, winter business became logging and steam power generation.In 1833, the Bethel House was built, and in 1851, the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad reached Bethel, bringing freight and passengers. Bethel became a popular summer destination for many years, especially between the Civil War and World War I. Therefore, several prominent hotels were created during this period, including the Prospect Hotel, constructed in 1863. Visitors flocked to the area to enjoy the wilderness and mountainscapes, and tally-ho coaches offered tours around town. Tourism continued to grow in the area, and the invention of the automobile meant visitors could explore larger areas of the region. This was both a plus and a problem. It meant people were not restricted to the hotels along the train lines, and many of these eventually declined and were removed. 

Attractions And Things To Do

Bethel historic farmhouse
Exterior of Steam Mill Antiques historic farmhouse in the White Mountains of Maine. Editorial credit: jenlo8 /

The Sunday river resort is probably the best-known ski resort near Bethel. It offers excellent ski runs, and conditions fit for a range of skiers, from expert to novice. In the summer, ski slopes are converted to hiking trails, and the resorts are a great place to enjoy the natural landscape and nature of the area.Similarly, the Mount Abram Ski Area and Bike Park offer ski and snowboard activities through the winter and various mountain biking trails for the warmer months. The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum is located right in Bethel and includes many interesting rocks and minerals and offers a general history (or geological history) of the area. History buffs can also enjoy the Museums of the Bethel Historical Society and the Bethel Hill Common.Most notable for its stunning views and impressive landscapes, the town is a wonderful place to take in the beautiful nature of Maine. Bethel mixes these impressive natural sights with quaint small town charm for a getaway destination that is sure to please. 

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