Hours & Facilities

O’Neil Robinson House, 1821

Exhibit Galleries • Museum Shop • Research Library & Archives • Collections Storage • Administrative Offices

Exhibit Galleries & Museum Shop: Memorial Day to 3rd Friday in October, Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, also Saturdays 1:00 to 4:00 pm during July & August. Admission: members, Free; non-members, donation; 207-824-2908; info@bethelhistorical.org

Research Library & Archives: Year-round by appointment (library@bethelhistorical.org)

Administrative Offices: Year-round by appointment (info@bethelhistorical.org)

Located adjacent to the Dr. Moses Mason House, the 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 1874, he had enlarged and redesigned the structure into the impressive Italianate residence we see today.  In the 1880s, the house became 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.

In 1903, William O. and Agnes Hastings Straw purchased the 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 the removal of the attached barn and reconfiguration of the main house and ell into 18 guest rooms, the building served as an annex to the main Inn—first being called the “Straw House” and, eventually, “The Elms,” after the impressive rows of trees that once lined both sides of Broad Street.

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, exhibit galleries, research library, collections storage, and Museum Shop are located here.

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Dr. Moses Mason House, 1813

Period Rooms • Howe Exhibit Hall

bhs3acpPeriod Room Tours: July & August, Thursday through Saturday, 1:00 to 4:00 PM; other times by appointment (207-824-2908)
Admission: Adults, $5.00; Children 6-12, $3.00 (under 6 free); Family special, $10.00; Members, Free

Howe Exhibit Hall: See online exhibits schedule

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.

DCP00208rNine rooms in the Mason House have been arranged to depict the residence as it appeared from 1813 to 1869 during the occupancy of Dr. Moses Mason (1789-1866) and his wife, Agnes M. Straw (1793-1869). On view are a wide variety of eighteenth and nineteenth century examples of the decorative arts—many original to the house and all part of the permanent collection.

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 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.

DCP00203rDr. 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.

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 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 — the Stanley R. Howe Exhibit Hall — now serves both as a lecture venue and exhibition space for both in-house and traveling displays.

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Twitchell Education Center

Constructed in 2018-19 as a replica of Dr. Moses Mason’s circa 1837 private library that was located next to his residence until the late 19th century, this 16-by-20-foot building features a traditional post-and-beam timber frame generously donated by J. Scott Campbell of Maine Mountain Post & Beam in Fryeburg in honor of Tineke Ouwinga, an outstanding Society volunteer, trustee, and local educator. Funds to complete the exterior of the structure were generously provided by the family of the late Roxanne Twitchell Sly, a longtime Society member and supporter.

With its intricate interior framing left exposed as a teaching tool, the Twitchell Education Center— named for a prominent Bethel family who relocated to the Androscoggin valley from Sherborn, Massachusetts, and Dublin, New Hampshire, in the 1770s — serves as a unique campus venue for demonstrations, children’s programs, lectures, and community events.

Group Tours

We welcome groups to our three museum facilities at Bethel Hill village: the 1821 Robinson House, 1813 Dr. Moses Mason House, and the Twitchell Education Center — a timber-framed replica of Dr. Mason’s circa 1837 private library. Our most popular group visit includes a 20-minute orientation program, a guided tour of nine period rooms in the Mason house, a visit to the Twitchell Education Center with its exposed 19th century-style timber frame, and self-guided access to the exhibits and Museum Shop at Robinson House. Our standard walking tour requires a minimum of at least 10 people per tour group and takes in that portion of the National Register Historic District on Broad Street and around the village common. We can also accommodate as many as 30 people in the standard walking tour. Please contact us for more information (including fees) and to reserve a date and time for your group tour. (207-824-2908 or info@bethelhistorical.org)  We look forward to your visit!

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Rent our historic property for your event!

wedding at Mason HouseThe 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) and the Twitchell Education Center 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.