The township of Bethlehem lies in the northern part of Grafton County, bounded on the north and east by Whitefield, south by Lisbon, Franconia and Livermore, and on the west by Littleton.
The township includes, besides Bethlehem, the small settlements of Alderbrook and Cherry Valley, both on the northwest of Bethlehem; Maplewood and Bethlehem Junction on the east, and Wing Road which is north of Bethlehem. Each of these settlements, except Cherry Valley, at one time had a post office and a railroad depot.
Benjamin Brown and Jonas Warren
Two of the town’s first settlers of Bethlehem were Benjamin Brown and Jonas Warren who came from Massachusetts in 1787 and 1788. Mr. Warren, who had a family of four children, located upon the farm which was owned by Charles Blandin until his death, situated near the main road to Littleton a little below the Alpine Hotel.It is now the site of the Valley View Cottage. Mr. Brown, who had a family of eleven children, located upon what has been known as the James Dean place on the South Road, now known as Bingham Hollow.
In the spring of 1789, James Turner came to Bethlehem and began to clear land for a farm and home. He was the third settler. He built a log cabin along with barns and worked his land during the summer months. He returned to Massachusetts for the winter. Two years later he married a Mrs. Parker of Hanover, N. H., and came to Bethlehem to live permanently. He built his first frame house on the site of the well known Turner’s Tavern. A license as a tavern keeper was granted to James Turner on February 19, 1807. There being no practicing physician in town, Mrs. Turner acted as both nurse and doctor for a number of years.
In March, 1794, Lot Woodbury came from Royalton , Mass., bringing his family and household goods on an ox sled. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Woodbury, a pair of twins, and a six weeks’ old baby. They located on the west end of town at the intersection of South Road and Lewis Hill Road. This house is still standing today and is the oldest house in town and is known as the Will Green house. He also ran a tavern for a good many years. This tavern stood at the west end of Bethlehem Street near where the Alpine Hotel now stands and was called “Woodbury Inn.”The first tavern keeper’s license was granted to Capt.Lot Woodbury in 1800. Mr. Woodbury took an active part in town affairs, represented the town, served as Selectman and as Justice of the Peace.
A little later, Mr. Woodbury built another house nearer Main street and owned for many years by L. M. Knight. Lot Woodbury’s daughter married a Mr. Wilder and was the mother of Horace Wilder who built the Centennial House, as of late, Arlington Hotel in 1876. His daughter was Mrs. Helen Knight, wife of L. M. Knight. The late L. M. Knight was moderator, selectman, and State Representative of the town for many years. He had the interest of the town and its people at heart and was always active in furthering the advancement of the town.
Others came to join the little settlement, but the increase in population was not confined to imigration alone as children were born, bringing joy and happiness to these lonely cabins. By the petition for an act of incorporation, in 1798, it will be seen that the town then had forty settlers, while the census reports of 1800 give the entire population as 171 souls. In 1880, Bethlehem had a population of 1,400 souls.
These early pioneers shared the lot of all first settlers. They were forced to remove the timber, erect log cabins and prepare the soil for planting. The sufferings and hardships were numerous and had they not been hardy, persevering men and women, they could not have borne up against them. Hunger was no stranger to these people and often their only nourishment was procured from green chocolate roots and other plants. Most of the inhabitants made a living by farming. Hop raising was quite profitable.
Up until the first grist-mill was built at McGregory Hollow, now Bethlehem Hollow, the nearest place where grain could be ground into meal was in the town of Bath, a distance of about twenty-five miles from Bethlehem street. The trips to Bath were made either on foot or by oxen team.
First Child Born in Bethlehem
The first child born in Bethlehem was Abigail, daughter of Mr.and Mrs.Benjamin Brown, while the first male child born in town was Otis, son of Jonas Warren.
First Deaths in Bethlehem
The first deaths and the first to be buried in the old burying ground were: Mrs. Lydia Whipple on May 17, 1795, at the age of thirty-nine years and Mrs.Elizabeth Warren on March 6, 1797, at the age of thirty-three years.
Other Early Settlers
A few of the other early settlers who lived here permanently and reared large families were Nathaniel Snow, a land surveyor, Simeon Burt, Isaac Bachellor, James Crane, John Giles and Peter Shattuck. Willis Wilder came to Bethlehem from Templeton, Mass., in 1796. He cleared a farm and settled where the Maplewood Hotel now stands. He took an active part in town affairs and held most of the town offices. His son, Horace W. was proprietor of the Centennial House for many years. He served as town representative in 1865-66 and was town clerk for twenty-four years.
Joel Winch came here about 1808. He spent the remainder of his life here, dying at the age of ninety-six years. He was an honest, hard working farmer and a leader in the early Free Will Baptist Church. He kept a store where the settlers procured molasses, sugar and calico in exchange for men ‘s socks, then called feetings, which the farmers’ wives knitted from the yarn which they spun in their homes. Of his seven sons and one daughter, only two, Franklin and Sewell, remained in town. A son, Dr. Albert was a physician in Whitefield.
Joseph Barrett came to Bethlehem from Winchendon, Mass., about 1798, and cleared a farm. His son, Joseph K., built the Strawberry Hill Hotel in 1874. His son, Henry, carried on the boarding business in this same hotel until his death in 1938.
Noah Swett came to Bethlehem from Gilmanton, N.H., when there were only nine families in the town. He settled near where the Maplewood Hotel was located. He was a shoemaker and farmer. His son, Elisha, held every office in town except that of town representative.
Samuel Morrison and Dudley F. Ladd
Samuel Morrison and Dudley F. Ladd both came from Gilmanton, N.H., and both settled on Gilmanton Hill. Morrison came here about 1800 and Ladd about 1840. Lindsey Whitcomb came to Bethlehem, from Easton, about 1831. He was a farmer and a lumberman.
Reuben Baker was born in Franconia in 1797 and came to Bethlehem when he was eighteen years of age. He was the first mail carrier in town. Allen Thompson was born in Woodstock, Vt., and came to Bethlehem to live in 1835. He studied surveying and surveyed much of the town, in the employ of individual owners. He was a great hunter and for many years acted as a guide to sportsmen in the White Mountains and among the lakes of Maine and Canada.
James M. Kidder
James M. Kidder came to Bethlehem in 1845 from Weathersfield, Vt., and purchased and cleared wild land. In 1867, he engaged in the manufacture of lumber, in company with W. A. McGregory, and also the manufacture of potato starch at Dalton and East Concord, Vt. These two men built up most of the present Congress street in Bethlehem. Mr. Kidder held various town offices, including selectman in 1871-72, and representative in 1872-73.
Doctor, Blacksmith, Shoemaker
Moses Eastman was the first shoemaker in town.
The first physician was Dr. Peter Shattuck, though the first to practice his profession here was a Dr. Rawson.
The first blacksmith was Abel Hale, whose shop occupied the present site of the Sinclair House.
Isaac S. Cruft
Isaac S. Cruft did much for the growth and prosperity of Bethlehem. Some years after Governor Howard purchased land here, Mr. Cruft, a wealthy citizen of Boston, secured the Maplewood and became equally interested in property at the eastern end of the village. Bethlehem owes much to these two gentlemen. By personal application and pecuniary expenditure they raised the little hamlet to a noble summer resort; the exertions of the one leading to boarding house after boarding house being erected on or near the “Street,” while those of the other tended to the erection of one of the greatest and best of mountain hostelries. The street now known as Maple Street was first called Cruft Avenue, named for Isaac S. Cruft, who came to Bethlehem in 1871. General George T. Cruft, nephew of Isaac Cruft, came to Bethlehem in 1873. He was at one time, postmaster at the Maplewood.
Cyrus E. Bunker
Cyrus E. Bunker came to Bethlehem from Barnstead, N. H.in 1853. He was the first citizen to erect a house exclusively for the accommodation of summer boarders. For some years after coming to Bethlehem, Mr. Bunker carried on his business of blacksmithing, later building the Mt. Agassiz House. This house was the first one built in Bethlehem exclusively for summer boarders, the Sinclair then being a hotel for transient guests. He built the Mt.Agassiz House in 1870 and in 1875, exchanged it for property outside the village. Later he returned and bought the site of the Howard House that was destroyed by fire in 1874, and erected the second Howard House in 1878. In 1887, he sold it to F. E. Derbyshire.
A serious runaway stage coach accident did much to change Bethlehem. The Hon. Henry Howard of Rhode Island and his family were visiting in 1863. The stage accident compelled the family to stay in Bethlehem for a longer time than expected. They stayed at the Sinclair how, then a small but well kept stage tavern with a few rooms for boarders. Governor howard was so pleased witht e climate and scenery that surrounded the little town that he returned season after season and soon bought a large farm on Main St. know as the Carlton Farm. It was one the north side of the street and extending a half a mile to the north. On this property, was built the first Howard House, named for Gov. Howard. He also bought the Brook’s or Strawberry Hill Farm lying opposite the hotel site. On this property, he built a summer cottage in 1873 that was his summer home for many years. He called this cottage the “Buckeye” Cottage.
C. G. White
C. G. White had a store in his home located on Main street between Isaac S. Cruft’s cottage and Alden Huntoon’s during the 1860’s and 1870’s. This was Mrs. Turner’s home as a little girl. When the Cruft Block was built in 1880, Mr. White and his son, Fred White, moved their store into the new block and opened it under the name of C. G. White and Son. In 1884, Mr. White bought the Plummer house across the street from the Cruft Block . Mr. Fred White and Mrs. White made this their home for many years and called it the “Fairlawns” and it was on the corner of Agassiz St. and Main St. Mr.and Mrs. Fred White were both very active in the Methodist Church and two memorial windows were installed in the church in memory of Fred White and his daughter, Gertrude.
Other Early Stores
Some of the other early stores in Bethlehem were: Huntoon’s store opposite the Howard House; Joel Winch; Farrington’s; Burt Terrian, a little east of the Plummer House; Herbert Knowles, Cruft Block; Walter Clark, Main street; Mrs.Helen Fletcher, same location as Clark; C. S. Boston’s Candy Store, Lewis Block; Howard Lightfoot, Main street, east of the Eaton Block; John McDonell at Pierce Bridge; and E. L. Merrow’s Studio and Harry Howe’s Souvenir and Watch Repair Shop on Main street.
The first drug store was built in 1877 and opened for business in 1878 by Dr. H. A. Hildreth. It was situated in the building where Goodale’s Studio was for several years, just east of the Sunset House and next door to Dr. Hildreth’s home. The building where the drug store was located and Dr. Hildreth’s house were later owned by Mr. and Mrs. Dunham. During the year 1880, the drug store was situated in the Gilmore House, west of Dr. Hildreth’s. In 1881, the drug store was again moved, this time to Cruft Block and known as Abbott’s Drug Store.
A few years later it was sold to George Hildreth and moved next door to the new post-office on the west side of the Sinclair House Park on Main street. It has remained in this location ever since, being owned and operated for many years by Henry Smith and Walter Clark, until it was sold to C. Everett Parker Co.of Littleton,in 1922. It was later owned and operated by Mr. Allison Meserve of Gilman, Vt., who purchased it in 1958, and was known as Bethlehem Spa. “Jack” Campbell was employed at the drug store for at least thirty-five years.
Up until 1896, Bethlehem streets were lighted by kerosene street lamps. There were about sixty lamps that had to be lighted individually each night during the summer season. Old records show that during the years from 1890 to 1893, James Eudy was lamp lighter, while in 1894, Allie Varney held this job. They were paid from $18.00 to $25.00 a month for their services.
In 1895, five men from Berlin and Gorham formed the Bethlehem Electric Light Co. and hired George H. Turner as manager. They built a wooden penstock from a mill dam and put in the first generator. The houses were wired and the charge was $3.00 per year per light and folks could burn all the electricity they liked. The current was on from dusk to midnight. Later, many improvements were made with the building of a new penstock and power house, and in 1896, street lights were added to take the place of the old kerosene lamps and all night service of lighting began. Meters were installed in the houses and in 1908, James Turner was hired to read the meters. About 1916, one of the owners and owner of most of the stock in the Electric Co., died. A man from Newton, Mass., bought out his interest and took over the operation of the Company. He ran it into bankruptcy and through the efforts of Mr. Turner, Mr. Glessner became interested and was appointed Receiver by the Court to run the business.
Mr. Glessner invested a lot of money in the company and gained the majority of stock. He had plans of forming a new company but died before this was accomplished. The Public Service Co. then bought out the old company and paid up all the minor stockholders and the Glessner Estate all the money Mr. Glessner had invested.
The latest type of fluorescent lights were installed the entire length of Bethlehem’s Main street and in front of the Maplewood Hotel in 1957. The job was done by the Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, and the new lights provide four times the illumination of the former system.
The water supply for the town came from several springs owned by the town, several of which were on Lewis Hill. The Crystal Springs Water Company was organized in 1878. In 1879, water mains were laid for extending the area of the supply of water. In 1895, a pond near the Prospect House was secured and water was pumped from this pond up to a reservoir on Strawberry Hill. Today there is a much larger reservoir and the town is supplied with plenty of water from two intakes; one at Gale River and one at Zealand. It was due to the advantages of this pure water, the magnificent scenery, and the invigorating air that drew thousands here annually. Bethlehem was made the headquarters of the United States Hay Fever Association because of the pollen free air and annual meetings were held in the village.