25, No. 4 (2001)
Twenty-five Years of the Courier: A Personal Memoir
Stanley Russell Howe
from an issue of Bethel's first newspaper, The Bethel Courier
When I became Director of the Bethel
Historical Society in 1974, there was almost immediately a
discussion of the fact that the Society did not have a
Every so often from then on, the topic of a regular publication came
up, but so much time was being spent in acquiring a collection,
preserving old newspapers, and generally setting up operations for the
museum, gathering materials for the research library and developing
exhibits, that nothing appeared
of this nature until late in 1976. At that time, it was decided
proceed with something that contained local history articles, program
information, news of the Society and a membership application.
publication of the first issue, called The Bethel Courier after the
town's first newspaper (1858-1861), attracted more than a hundred new
members. This initial issue contained a brief history of the
an editor's column which indicated that this new venture would be
semi-annual, and that response would dictate whether or not it would be
issued quarterly. A list of officers and committees was also
along with a schedule of programs, news of a restoration project,
the Broad Street Historic District, greetings from the Society
president, genealogical notes, a review of Francis Parkman's Gould
Academy Story, details of the sealing of the bicentennial
bibliography of recent Bethel area publications, and, finally, an
on Chester Harding, who executed the portraits of Doctor and Mrs.
First class postage (thirteen cents) was used to mail the approximately
100 issues, all hand-addressed, to members and friends.
For the next few years, succeeding issues generally followed the format
established in the first issue. Feature articles ranged from
of Broad Street" and "Bethel During the First World War" to "Dr.
Golden Wedding Anniversary" and a history of Main Street. There
was also an extended discussion of area ferries on the Androscoggin and
a history of the Bethel Library for its centenary.
In June 1980, the decision was made to go quarterly, which has been the
pattern to the present time. Generally, The Courier contained eight
pages until the 1990s when it moved to twelve. As one looks at
twenty-five years of issues, one is struck with what a resource these
pages are for learning about the issues facing the organization at
any given time, from the early days of fund raising to the present
capital campaign. Here one learns of donations of artifacts,
numbers, annual giving levels, special events, lecture series, and
other special times.
To give some of the flavor of The
Courier throughout the years it
appropriate to quote from some of the issues. From Margaret
memories of Broad Street comes the following: "I knew Mr. Bingham well;
I used to love to
waltz with him. You see, until it appeared in the Boston papers
was the richest man in Maine, he lived like everyone else. Then when
the big headline came out, "Unknown Is Maine's Richest," with an
about Mr. Bingham, everyone started deluging him with begging letters
and he could no longer live his own life. He went into a
shell. He was
a wonderful man; he used to do a hesitation waltz, and I used to like
to do it with him. He went to all the dances, and also played the
violin beautifully. He was a delightful, genuine aristocrat."
1, Number 2).
In Volume 5, Number 1, we find Margaret Joy Tibbetts discussing the
Irish Neighborhood: "I can remember going with my father when he
paid calls in the Irish Neighborhood, probably in the late 1920s.
road was steep, narrow and hard for the old Ford. The Irish
Neighborhood families were favorites of my father, Dr. Raymond R.
Tibbetts, who was proud of the touch of Irish in his own
was particularly fond of the Harringtons, but he had good friends all
over the Neighborhood. He relished their wit and much enjoyed it
Bernard Harrington teased him about being a Republican. (No one was
ever a stronger Republican than the Doctor; the Irish Neighborhood, on
the other hand, had many good Democrats.) But best of all, the
appreciated the loyalty and tenacity of the Irish in the
They stuck with their friends and were proud of their heritage."
In the June 1981 issue of The Courier,
the Society's most ambitious
publication project of that era was announced. This was the
reprinting of Dr. William B. Lapham's
History of Bethel:
1768-1890 with new subject and name indexes, as well as an
interpretive essay which contained information on Lapham and his work
as a local historian, in addition to a brief history of the town since
his era. Since that time, publication projects have been
featured in The Courier,
providing potential customers with
information and incentives to purchase the book at a discount.
A special edition of The Courier
also appeared in 1981 in observance of
the Indian Raid bicentenary. It was a sponsored issue with over
individuals and businesses making it possible. This issue
contained an introduction, schedule of events, Nathaniel Segar's
Narrative, information on the 1881 observance, Margaret Tibbetts'
recollections of the 1931 sesquicentennial activities, biographies of
well-known Indians of the region, plus numerous photos. It sold
and helped defray the expenses of this three day event.
The organization's emerging regional focus began to appear in a feature
article focusing on Emeline Heath's memories of the neighboring town of
Gilead in the December 1981 issue. Since that time, there have
articles on all kinds of regional topics by authors who are
primarily associated with other local historical societies or
Memories of specific events or subjects increasingly became regular
fare of The Courier beginning
with Barbara Brown's "I Remember the
Snowboat" and becoming more ambitious with Leslie Davis' memoirs and in
recent years the diary of William S. Hastings. All of these
first-hand accounts of significant developments and changes.
One of the most annoying moments for me in the publication of The
Courier was in the Spring 1983 issue where, through a printing
error, a photo of Bethel Grange #56 and one of the Kimball family
neighborhood in East Bethel were interchanged. Not wanting to
reject the whole issue
due to publication pressures, we enclosed a slip of paper in each issue
pointing out the mistake so confusion would be kept to a minimum.
Beginning with the Indian Raid issue in 1981, we began to produce a
sketch of some local history buildings to use as a special "logo"
beside the address label. Through the years, this has varied from
East Bethel Church, to the Bethel Grand Trunk Station, to the Summer
House, to the Middle Intervale Meetinghouse, to a Civil War
In more recent years, a sketch showing the Society's two buildings—our
Regional History Center—has been used.
Perhaps no article attracted more favorable comment than the memories
recorded by Marjorie Farwell Cummings on her childhood growing up on a
"mountain" farm. They were published in several installments
in the summer of 1983 when she was in her mid-eighties. In one
installment, she wrote, "For a few year in the early 1900s, my father
and his brother, Porter Farwell of East Bethel, hayed their father's
farm after all the families had moved away. Some years, part of
family would move there for a week or so while they were haying.
would take one of our cows along to have for milk. Wallace would
the shortcut across our place in later afternoon to help with the
chores at home, and return when he had finished with the chores in the
morning. It was interesting roaming about the old house. I
seeing a cord bed. I had never seen one before; it had a big rope
strung back and forth through holes in the side pieces, and was topped
with a corn husk mattress. There were several beds and pieces of
furniture around, and in the kitchen an old table and chairs and a
so Mama could cook the meals. The water came from a spring above
the house and piped down to a tub outside the shed. Close to the
of the house stood a row of red cherry trees that still bore fruit, and
nearby an apple orchard; on a small knoll was a cranberry patch, and
there were a lot of blueberry bushes around. I liked to watch the
unload a load of hay with the big hayfork, that was attached to big
ropes and pulleys. Grace says she remembers she didn't like being
called from picking blueberries to ride the horse outside as he pulled
the big rope out that carried the hay to the scaffolds."
From time to time, The Courier
has included enclosures
highlighting some special exhibit or a forthcoming publication.
the first exhibits that gained attention by this means was the one on
the Twitchell portraits in 1984. We also had others, including
on the William Rogers Chapman exhibit and the publication of a second
edition of Eva Bean's East Bethel
Road, and the program for the
conference on "Rural Reform and Improvement."
Although earlier issues had focused on officer and trustee profiles, in
1984 a regular feature was instituted with what was titled "Member
Profiles." Longtime volunteer extrodinaire Barbara Herrick Brown
was featured as the first of this genre. Since that time over
seventy profiles of outstanding volunteers or people significant to the
Society for one reason or another have been included.
One of the unusual authors for a Courier
article was Yvonne Nowlin, who
as part of SAD # 44 Adult Education's External Credit Option
program, then supervised by our Curator of Collections, Randall
Bennett, researched and wrote about the Bethel Agricultural Fair
and Riverside Park. It was a popular topic and attracted broad
Significant developments in the Society's history have also been noted
in The Courier. When
photographs of the Mason portraits were included
in the National Portrait Gallery catalog for its Chester Harding
exhibit, this news was carried on the front page of a 1985 issue.
ranging from the receipt of major grants, announcements of bequests,
policy and dues changes, annual financial report, and fund-raising
success have all received space in The
When the focus turned to assembling the histories of Bethel streets and
neighborhoods in the 1980s, space was provided for these
good deal of the history of various house sites is now included here,
which frequently is consulted when anyone wants to know about his or
her property. Because questions were asked while people were
remembered, we have saved considerable oral history that might
otherwise have the gone the way of the grave.
Another novel experience was the publication in 1990-91 of Joyce
Wanger's article on 19th century medicine. A graduate student in
history at West Virginia University, she worked under my supervision to
complete her M.A. degree. One of her projects was to research and
a history of 19th century medicine in Bethel. Since her husband
emergency medical doctor at the Rumford Hospital, this topic had real
significance for her. For many, this article was one of the best
ever published in The Courier.
One of the most unusual stories, in my opinion, was the memoir written
by my grandmother, Edith Kimball Howe, a Charter member and close
friend of Society founder Eva Bean, that I found after her death in
1975. It was not purely historical, but dealt with her friendship
a woodchuck she called "Mrs. Chuck." Woodchucks on farms
are generally considered the enemy, but to my grandmother this female
woodchuck became a pet that visited her daily looking for a handout and
in doing so engaged the whole neighborhood. It amused and
her. Her memoir was published in the Spring 1996 issue of The Courier
and brought a variety of responses, most of them positive.
In the final issue for 1996, there appeared news of a grant from Exxon
courtesy of Walter Hatch, then Society president. This would
be one of the "watershed" periods of Society history, for it meant the
advent of the computer era at Bethel Historical. The following
nearly all functions of the organization were either computerized or in
the process of being so. By 1998, the progress of the Society's
recently launched capital
campaign began to be regularly reported. As the contributors
this space has gradually expanded until at present it takes up nearly
two full pages. When the mortgage on the Robinson House was paid off,
the official document to that effect was published so that everyone
responsible for this good news (as well as the entire membership) could
share the moment.
As I look back on the past quarter century, The Courier has served in
so many capacities. It has announced Society activities and
It has included historical articles and photographs. It has
all kinds of information to many members and friends scattered
around the nation and world who in some cases have never set
foot in Bethel, but wish to maintain a connection. This is a bit
what this publication has meant to many over the years. Future
will come in time. The evolution from the early issues to the
one has been dramatic as the graphics have become bolder and more
numerous. Photographs in the early days were more limited due to
considerations, but today are found on nearly every page, sometimes
spreading over entire pages. No one can tell just what The Courier will
look like in another twenty-five years, but it is hoped that it will be
enjoyed by even more readers in the future.