July 2 through August 31, 2019; Thursday through Saturday, 1:00 to 4:00 PM; other times by appointment
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, a nephew of Rufus Porter. Depicting distant seascapes and colorful 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.
“The Mountain Troops and Mountain Culture in Postwar America,” a loan exhibit from the New England Ski Museum, is on view in the Valentine Gallery through 2019.
On November 15, 1941, a new kind of specialized U.S. Army unit, the 1st Battalion of the 87th Mountain Infantry, was activated at Fort Lewis, Washington. Within the next few years two more mountain infantry regiments would be combined into the legendary 10th Mountain Division. The War Department engaged the National Ski Patrol to fill the ranks of the new mountain troops, and this unique recruiting method brought together thousands of like-minded men oriented to a life in the outdoors. Three intensive winters of experimentation with military mountain doctrine and high altitude training, two of them at Camp Hale, Colorado, hardened 10th Mountain Division soldiers to an elite level of fitness and skill in mountain operations. When the 10th entered combat in the Apennine mountains of Italy in January 1945, they distinguished themselves in a series of brutal battles in the waning days of World War II.
After the war, many of its veterans drew upon the skills that had gotten them into the mountain unit, and turned them into modes of living, and of earning a living, in the mountain environment. Some of their efforts resulted in thriving educational and business in the outdoor recreation field that would boom in the 1950s and thereafter, and a selection of these veterans and their contributions are profiled in the exhibit. In 1958 the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mountain Leadership Committee organized outdoor leadership workshops leading to certificates for those who led summer camp and other groups in the White Mountains. This effort was seen as generally very successful, and disseminated mountain sense to a good number of youth leaders. In this way, lessons in mountain living learned in the harsh winters of 1943 and 1944 at Camp Hale were not forgotten, but passed on to future generations of highland travelers. Skiing and ski area development would also prove to be a fertile field for 10th veterans searching for a way to make a living in the mountains. Colorado was the first state to see the influence of returning 10th soldiers, not surprising given that thousands had been exposed to the alpine allure of the high Rocky Mountains at Camp Hale. Aspen, Arapahoe Basin, Vail, and Beaver Creek all had veterans among the founding fathers, as did Mount Bachelor in Oregon and Crystal Mountain, Washington. Former mountain troopers were important in hundreds more ski-based activities that were not in the limelight. For decades after their self-selected military service in the alpine world, veterans of the 10th shaped how America skied.
The Ski Museum of Maine’s inaugural exhibit in the “Western Mountains Gallery” traces the roots of alpine and Nordic skiing and ski manufacturing at sites located within or near the borders of Oxford County. Through images, artifacts, and vintage film, the Ski Museum of Maine presents the fascinating story of skiing history in the famed highlands of western Maine.
One of the largest rivers in New England and the third largest in Maine, the Androscoggin drains an area of over 3,400 square miles in Maine and New Hampshire. The 170-mile waterway begins its journey near Errol, New Hampshire, where the outlet to the Rangeley Lakes and the Magalloway River join, and—punctuated with numerous rapids and impressive waterfalls (including that at Rumford, shown at left)—eventually mingles with the waters of the Kennebec River in Merrymeeting Bay below Brunswick, Maine, before flowing into the Atlantic.
This exhibit tells the story of Molly Ockett, an Abenaki Indian of the Pigwacket tribe whose lifetime (ca. 1740-1816) spans an important and particularly tumultuous period in this region’s past. Born at Saco, Maine, Molly Ockett—baptized “Marie Agathe”—is one of the best-known individuals from the local past in the mind of the average resident of western Maine. As an itinerant healer and herbalist for both natives and newcomers, Molly Ockett established close relations with the early settlers in such communities as Andover, Fryeburg, Poland, Paris, and Bethel during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Such ties enabled her to gain an intimate view of white society as it spread throughout the vast wooded domain long occupied by her ancestors.
Situated in the fertile Androscoggin River valley surrounded by some of the highest mountains in Maine, the town of Bethel traces its origins to a 1768 grant made by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to men whose ancestors had fought in a campaign to conquer Canada in 1690. Originally named “Sudbury Canada,” in honor of these early grantees from the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts, and their campaign against Canada, Bethel was first settled by people of European descent in 1774.