Bethel, just over 1 hour north of Portland, 1.5 miles from the Inn at the Rostay and 5 miles from Maine’s most popular ski area, Sunday River, is a year round resort community nestled in Maine’s Western Lakes and Mountains Region.
Most rural villages are one-industry towns. Bethel is a rare blend of farming, forestry, woods product manufacturing, education, and tourism. In the past decade, the community has become home to active retirees, eschewing the world of Sun City and professionals who have chosen the small town lifestyle over that of the megalopolis.
Settled in 1774 by land grantees from Massachusetts who had fought in the campaign to conquer Canada in 1690, Bethel’s original name was Sudbury Canada. Farming was the mainstay of the region until 1851 when the country’s first international railroad connecting Portland, Maine to Montreal was built. The trains brought summer visitors from the cities to breathe the fresh air and partake of homegrown food. The railroad carried lumber and milled wood products back to the urban markets.
The town is a significant educational center thanks to the generosity of William Bingham II (a modern day patron saint) who endowed Gould Academy and whose foundation continues to provide funding for educational and social purposes in the community. In the early decades of the 20th century, Bethel was home to Dr. Gehring’s famous clinic for the treatment of nervous disorders.
In 1959 a group of local businessmen formed the Bethel Development Corporation. To develop four-season recreation, their first project, funded by local shareholders, was Sunday River Skiway. Over forty years later, Bethel is busier as a tourist destination in the winter, thanks to the success of Sunday River Ski Area, than the summer.
The townspeople continue to embrace innovation while maintaining their small town culture. Bethel was one of the first communities in Maine connected to the Internet. They built the World’s Tallest Snowman and continue to host the National Wife Carrying Championships. For more information, please visit the Bethel Chamber of Commerce.