BETHLEHEM VILLAGE DISTRICT 1893-1974
By DORIS STEVENSON, CLERK FROM 1943 to 1972
For many years before the precinct applied for and received its charter in 1893, efforts were made to raise money for sprinkling streets, which at that time were unsurfaced, and for other purposes to improve conditions within the precinct. The requests were repeatedly turned down at town meetings due to the fact that the voters outside the precinct far outnumbered those inside. However, after three fires within three weeks, the precinct residents formed a fire precinct. The first firefighting equipment, dated 1863, is on display at our fire station. For some time the precinct had purchased water from the Crystal Springs Water Company, a privately owned concern formed in 1878 of which John G. Sinclair acted as agent. This company owned a waterline from Gale River as well as numerous springs on Mt.Agassiz and Lewis Hill, including the Great Blandin Spring which is one of the most productive in the area.
In 1893, a committee was elected to investigate the possibility of additional water supply if necessary because of the increases in population and the number of summer guests. A reservoir was constructed on Strawberry Hill, and the Crystal Springs Company insta11ed a pumping station on what is now the Robert Strauss property on Prospect Street for the purpose of pumping water from a pond to the reservoir to be gravity-fed back to the village during the summer months. In 1895, an agreement was made with the company to receive more water for sprinkling the streets at a cost of $300 a year for five years.
In 1903, the precinct purchased a11 water property from the Crystal Springs Company for the sum of $49,500. In 1916, a new reservoir was constructed and is still in use. Construction of the eight-inch Zealand Line was completed in the early 1930’s. A chlorinating system was installed in 1949.
In 1954, there was heavy storm damage to the Gale River intake. When the repairs were made the intake was considerably enlarged, providing for a greater reserve of water. There was also extensive damage to this line in 1973.
In 1906, the precinct entered into a 99-year contract with Charles Atto and Albanus Thompson in which the precinct would furnish water for an ice pond (now Churchill Lake ). The ice was to be sold only to residents of the precinct “at a cost of 2 1/2 cents for a cake 17 by 17 inches square and of such thickness as the weather allowed.”
In 1893, it was voted to establish a drainage and sewerage system to take care of the needs of the precinct. In 1899, it was voted to lay a main service line to the Ammonoosuc River. A study of sewerage treatment to conform with Federal and State laws was approved by the voters at the 1960 annual meeting.
In 1895, a committee of three was elected to look into the cost of building an electric power plant to furnish electricity for street and house lighting. A thorough study was made, and in 1899, the precinct contracted with the town to buy electricity to light the streets from the Bethlehem Electric Light Company for a period of five years.
In 1905, the precinct received permission from the State Legislature to elect three water commissioners, aside from the three precinct commissioners. Previous to 1893 the precinct covered a very small area in the center of town. Those living outside its boundary (upper Congress Avenue, for example) paid a sewerage tax of $4.70 per thousand valuation for the privilege of joining onto the precinct sewer. It is interesting to note that the valuation of a typical family home was $1000 to $1500. In 1893, the size of the precinct was substantially enlarged, as it was later in 1911 and again in 1924.
The precinct was reorganized in 1925 under a new charter and became the Bethlehem Village District, which gave the commissioners the powers within the district that selectmen have in town affairs. The Bethlehem Village District regulates the use of water, sidewalks, sewerage system, Fire Department, shade trees, and highways within the district and has played an important role in the development of the town over the years.