Hours & Facilities
O’Neil Robinson House, 1821
Year-round: Tuesday through Friday, 10 AM – 4 PM; Saturday, 1 – 4 PM, during July & Aug.
Closed Sunday and Monday, and Nov. 1 through Thanksgiving Day
Located adjacent to the Dr. Moses Mason House, the Society’s Robinson House was begun in 1821 as the home of O’Neil W. Robinson (1797-1867) and his wife, Betsey H. Straw (1797-1878), the sister of Agnes Straw Mason, who lived next door. Born in Chatham, New Hampshire, O’Neil Robinson came to Bethel about 1820 and achieved success as a local businessman, operating a store just north of his home until 1835, when he and his family moved to Portland. A later resident of Waterford, Maine, Robinson served as a State Senator and Sheriff of Oxford County from 1842-1850. He also owned large tracts of timber land in the nearby New Hampshire communities of Gorham, Berlin, Milan, and Dummer.
In 1835 Robert A. Chapman, a prominent Bethel businessman and real estate developer, purchased the Robinson House; by 1881, the house had become the residence of Chapman’s daughter, Sarah Walker (Chapman) Foster, and her husband, Enoch Foster, Jr., the latter once a Judge of the Maine Supreme Court. The Fosters enlarged and redesigned the house into the Italianate residence we see today.
In 1903, William O. and Agnes Hastings Straw purchased property. Mrs. Straw, who outlived her husband, died in 1923, and her heirs immediately sold the property to William Bingham II, owner of the Bethel Inn. Following some modifications, the building was renamed “The Elms,” after the impressive rows of trees that once lined both sides of Broad Street. After serving for many years as guest facilities for the Inn, the Robinson House was purchased by the Bethel Historical Society in 1997 and opened two years later as a museum facility. The Society’s main office, several exhibit galleries, a large collections storage facility, and the Museum Shop are located in this imposing structure.
Dr. Moses Mason House, 1813
July & August, Thursday through Saturday, 1:00 – 4:00 PM and by appt. (closed Sunday through Wednesday)
September – June: by appointment (207-824-2908)
Admission: Adults, $3.00; Children 6-12, $1.50 (under 6, free); Family special, $9.00 / BHS Members, free
Year-round by appointment (207-824-2908 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Admission: BHS Members and high school/college students, free; Non-members, $5.00 per visit
Howe Exhibit Hall:
July & August, Thursday through Saturday, 1:00 – 4:00 PM
September – June, hours vary depending on exhibit scheduling
One of the finest Federal style residences in its region, the Dr. Moses Mason House was constructed in 1813 on a spacious lot facing onto the Common at Bethel Hill village. According to Dr. Nathaniel Tuckerman True, Bethel’s eminent nineteenth century historian, this house was the first on the Common to be painted white, the first on a high foundation of granite slabs, and the first to make use of exterior shutters. The house and grounds were renovated and restored in 1972-73 by the Bingham Trust, which presented the property to the Bethel Historical Society in memory of William Bingham 2nd, the town’s great twentieth century philanthropist.
Nine rooms in the front portion of the Mason House now appear much as they did during the occupancy of Dr. Moses Mason (1789-1866) and his wife Agnes M. Straw (1793-1869). These rooms contain a wide variety of eighteenth and nineteenth century examples of the decorative arts, many of which are original to the house. Other furnishings from the Society’s permanent collection are also on display throughout the various rooms. The most captivating feature of the Mason House is located in the front hallway, which contains Rufus Porter School wall murals—on the upper and lower floors—painted during the mid-1830s and attributed to Jonathan D. Poor, nephew of Rufus Porter. Depicting distant seascapes and engaging landscapes with lush foliage, these intriguing examples of American folk art have been painstakingly cleaned so that modern-day visitors can view them much as they looked during the Masons’ era.
Dr. Moses Mason, a physician and businessman, was one of Bethel’s most prominent citizens, serving in many offices of public trust, including two terms as United States Representative to Congress from Maine (1833-1837). His wife, Agnes Straw Mason, was, among other things, a leader in the temperance movement in Oxford County. Fine portraits of the Masons by Chester Harding grace the walls of their front parlor. Among the Masons’ personal effects in the Society’s collection are autograph books kept by the Doctor and his wife during their stay in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1830s. These contain the signatures of Presidents John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren, plus those of Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster.
The Mason House is one of the few period house museums in northern New England available to the public year-round (appointments necessary from September through June). One of the most popular annual events here is the Bethel Historical Society’s “Christmas at the Mason House,” which is usually held during the first week of December. For this special occasion, the Mason House period rooms are decorated as they might have been for a nineteenth century Christmas. The smells, tastes, and sounds of an old-fashioned holiday surround visitors, who may wander through the candle-lit rooms just as the Masons’ guests did a century and a half ago.
The Society’s Research Library is located on the second floor of this structure. Here one finds an extensive collection of photographs, manuscripts, books, and maps documenting western Maine and the White Mountain region of Maine and New Hampshire, in addition to other parts of northern New England.
The first floor of the Mason House barn was adapted in the early 1970s to provide a place for the monthly meetings of the Bethel Historical Society. However, as a result of changes in program scheduling, this large room now serves both as a lecture venue and exhibit hall for both in-house and traveling displays.
Rent our historic property for your event!
The spacious grounds of the historic Dr. Moses Mason House property can provide a perfect setting for your next event, be it a wedding, family reunion, or business meeting. At certain times during the year, the Mason House exhibit hall (with optional kitchen facilities) may also be reserved. We are located on the Bethel Hill Common within easy walking distance of stores and shops. For information about fees and scheduling, please call our main office at 207-824-2908.