History of Bethlehem

Discover the Rich History of Bethlehem, NH

Welcome to the History page of the Bethlehem Historical Society, where we invite you to journey back in time and explore the captivating story of Bethlehem, New Hampshire. From its humble beginnings as a way station for stagecoaches in the early 1800s to its emergence as a popular mountain resort in the late 19th century, Bethlehem’s history is a testament to resilience, innovation, and the enduring allure of the White Mountains region.

Early Settlement and Growth

In the early 1800s, Bethlehem served as a vital waypoint for stagecoaches traveling to Crawford Notch and Portland, Maine. Taverns and blacksmith shops lined Main Street, catering to the steady stream of travelers passing through. However, as the natural beauty of Bethlehem became increasingly apparent, more settlers chose to make it their home. Farm incomes were supplemented by taking in summer boarders, and soon, tourist houses began to spring up to accommodate the influx of visitors drawn to Bethlehem’s scenic landscapes and pollen-free air.

The Golden Era of Tourism

After the Civil War, Bethlehem blossomed into a bustling mountain resort, attracting city dwellers seeking relief from hay fever and oppressive summer heat. Over 30 luxurious hotels, along with palatial private cottages, dotted the hillsides, catering to the needs of summer guests who flocked to Bethlehem for extended stays. The streets buzzed with activity, as vacationers promenaded along wooden sidewalks, tantalized by the aromas wafting from hotel kitchens and serenaded by the strains of dance bands.

Notable Residents and Visitors

Throughout its history, Bethlehem has welcomed notable residents and visitors who contributed to its cultural richness. Renowned poet Robert Frost spent several summers here in the early 1900s, drawing inspiration from Bethlehem’s natural beauty. Other notable figures, including Henry David Thoreau, Will Carleton, and Helen Hunt Jackson, also spent time in town, adding to Bethlehem’s literary legacy and cultural significance.

Transformation and Renewal

As the 20th century progressed, changes in travel preferences and advancements in technology reshaped Bethlehem’s identity. The advent of the automobile, antihistamines, and air conditioning led to a decline in the town’s popularity as a summer retreat. By the early 1970s, many of Bethlehem’s grand hotels and cottages stood empty or had vanished altogether.

Today, Bethlehem has undergone a transformation into a vibrant and diverse cultural community. Residents and visitors alike are drawn to the area’s thriving arts scene, eclectic shopping destinations, and culinary delights, all set against the backdrop of the breathtaking White Mountains.

Join Us in Preserving Bethlehem’s History

At the Bethlehem Historical Society, we are dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Through exhibits, educational programs, and community outreach efforts, we strive to ensure that Bethlehem’s storied past continues to inspire and educate future generations. Explore our collections, attend our events, and become a part of Bethlehem’s ongoing legacy.

Bethlehem Timeline

The following is a timeline of important moments in the history of Bethlehem, NH

Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) and The Nutshell Studies

Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) and The Nutshell Studies The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death Bethlehem’s Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962), A Pioneer of Modern Criminology “Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” It was back in the 1880s that murder and medicine first came to…Read More

CCC Camp #2118 at Pierce Bridge

History of CCC Camp #2118 at Pierce Bridge 153rd Company Organization of the 133rd Company, Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), took place at Fort Williams, Maine, on May 3, 1933, under the command of C.O. Ashton, 5th Infantry. On May 19, 1933, the company was moved by rail to the Gale…Read More

Tea Houses

Tea House Houses in Bethlehem The latest word in Tea Rooms as of July 24th, 1920, is found in the Virginia Tea House, which just opened east of town near Bethlehem Junction by way of Twin Mountain. The building is Colonial in style, with a broad veranda running around three…Read More

Boston Post Cane Tradition

Origins of the Boston Post Cane Tradition On August 2, 1909, under the savvy ownership of Mr. Edwin A. Grozier, the Boston Post engaged in its most famous publicity stunt. The newspaper forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 700 towns* (no cities included, although some current-day cities were towns…Read More

Hattie Whitcomb’s Reflections of Life in Bethlehem

Hattie Whitcomb’s Reflections of Life in Bethlehem Childhood Memories by Hattie Whitcomb Taylor Although I was born way back in 1898, my childhood memories are very clear and dear to me. I was the seventh child of five girls and two boys. My oldest sister was married and had her…Read More

Early Recreation

RECREATIONS A hotel by the name of “Bellevue House” was built in 1875 on the site of the present Country Club House. This hotel was opened by Mr. David Phillips and burned in 1900. The new Club House was built on this site in 1912. Up until this time, the…Read More

Bethlehem Village District

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.…Read More

Schools

THE SCHOOLS In 1885, Bethlehem had nine school districts, eleven common schools, and one graded school. There were 329 children attending school, thirty of whom were pursuing higher grades and were taught during the year by four male and fifteen female teachers. The graded school at the east end of…Read More

Mount Agassiz

MT. AGASSIZ AND ROUND MOUNTAIN In the 1880’s Mt. Agassiz was under the control of Milo J. Corliss who constructed a carriage road to its summit on which he erected an observatory. This mountain was formerly known as Peaked Hill but was later named Mt. Agassiz in honor of Prof.…Read More

Hebrew Hayfever Association

Hebrew Hayfever Association They Came to Breathe By Ruth Pactor Comments by Paul Pactor It was August of 1915 in Accord, New York, when hay fever and asthma struck my mother, Sarah Herskowitz, in full force. She was confined to her bed from August to November. After seeing many doctors…Read More

Jewish Community

Bethlehem’s Jewish Community The Jewish community in Bethlehem is presently a year-round community. It becomes larger in the summer, from June to September when the Hassidic community comes to visit. Jews began arriving in Bethlehem in the early 1900s. People came from New York, Boston, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other…Read More

Cottage Colony, Past and Present

COTTAGE COLONY Bethlehem Village owes its development to its tourist business. Situated on a high plateau, its invigorating mountain air, pure water, and agreeable summer temperature made it an ideal vacation land. The first to take note of this was Governor Henry Howard of Rhode Island. The cottage colony first…Read More

Hotel Era

Hotel Era The Sinclair When the Bethlehem boys in blue returned from the savage Civil War, they found the town much as they had left it. However, one thing happened during the war that was to have a drastic effect on the town’s development. This event ultimately transformed our village.…Read More

Railroads

RAILROADS During the earliest years of Bethlehem settlement, the steam cars came no nearer than Concord. Four-horse and six-horse coaches made daily trips during the summer between Crawford and Plymouth. In 1867, the Bethlehem Junction and Fabyans railroad was built, and in 1879, the Bethlehem and Franconia Notch railroad from…Read More

Early Fire and Police Departments

BETHLEHEM FIRE DEPARTMENT Bethlehem, like all other towns, has had its share of fires. Some of the old landmarks that have been destroyed were the Will Noyes farm buildings on Austin Road in June 1911, the Fitzgerald cottage on the South Road burned in January 1914, the Frank Atwood house…Read More

Stagecoach Days

STAGECOACH DAYS The long summer days were broken by exciting rides through the countryside. These stagecoach rides were probably the highlight of any visit to the White Mountains. They would leave the hotels in Bethlehem, drastically overcrowded by present standards, and lead merry chases to the popular sights. Some of…Read More

Churches

Churches Early history indicates that a Baptist Church was formed in 1800, a Congregational Church in 1802, and a Free Will Baptist Church in 1813. The Free Will Baptist Church was located at the corner of Cherry Valley and Rt. 302. The first edifice devoted to religious purposes in Bethlehem…Read More

Mills and Factories

MILLS AND FACTORIES The first grist mill in Bethlehem was located at McGregory Hollow, now known as Bethlehem Hollow, with Stephen Houghton as proprietor. In 1868-69, the Waumbec steam saw-mill was erected on the Ammonoosuc River at Pierce Bridge by the Waumbec Lumber Co., which operated until 1877. In 1880,…Read More

Bethlehem’s Official Incorporation

Bethlehem’s Official Incorporation as a Town In November of 1798, a formal act for the incorporation of Bethlehem was drawn up which read: To the Honourable Senate & House of Representatives to be Convened at Concord on the third Wednesday of November A.D. 1798. The Petition of the Inhabitants of…Read More

Early Settlers

EARLIEST SETTLERS 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…Read More

Early Settlement of Lloyd Hills

Early Settlement of Lloyd Hills From 1623 to 1641, the towns in New Hampshire operated without any provincial government, but from 1641 to 1679, they were united with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The original practice of self-government appealed to residents of the New Hampshire towns, and thus, in 1679, they…Read More

Native Americans in Bethlehem

THE INDIANS OF BETHLEHEM The three major Indian nations in north­ eastern America were divided into three groups: the Algonquin, the Iroquoian, and the Siouan. The Siouan lived in the region of Lake Winnebago and Wisconsin, the Iroquois peoples lived to the west of the Algonquins and east of the…Read More

Read the Full Stories Here

Frances Glessner Lee (1878 to 1962) and The Nutshell Studies

Frances Glessner Lee (1878 to 1962) and The Nutshell Studies

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death Bethlehem’s Frances Glessner Lee-(1878-1962), A Pioneer of Modern Criminology “Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” It was back in the 1880’s that murder and medicine first came to thrill...

read more
CCC Camp #2118 at Pierce Bridge

CCC Camp #2118 at Pierce Bridge

History of the CCC Camp, Pierce Bridge, 153rd Company Organization of the 133rd Company, Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), took place at Fort Williams, Maine, May 3, 1933, under the command of C.O. Ashton, 5th Infantry. On May 19, 1933 the company was moved by rail to...

read more
Tea Houses

Tea Houses

Tea House Houses in Bethlehem The latest word in Tea Rooms as of July 24th, 1920 is found in the Virginia Tea House which just opened east of town near Bethlehem Junction by way of Twin Mountain. The building is Colonial in style, with a broad veranda running around...

read more
Boston Post Cane Tradition

Boston Post Cane Tradition

Origins of the Boston Post Cane Tradition On August 2, 1909, under the savvy ownership of Mr. Edwin A. Grozier, the Boston Post engaged in its most famous publicity stunt. The newspaper forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 700 towns* (no cities included, although...

read more
Hattie Whitcomb’s Reflections of Life in Bethlehem

Hattie Whitcomb’s Reflections of Life in Bethlehem

Childhood Memories by Hattie Whitcomb Taylor Although I was born way back in 1898, my childhood memories are very clear and dear to me. I was the seventh child of five girls and two boys. My oldest sister was married and had her own family before I came along. She...

read more
Early Recreations

Early Recreations

RECREATIONS A hotel by the name of "Bellevue House" was built in 1875 on the site of the present Country Club House. This hotel was opened by Mr. David Phillips and burned in 1900. The new Club House was built on this site in 1912. Up until this time, the clubhouse...

read more
Bethlehem Village District

Bethlehem Village District

BETHLEHEM VILLAGE PRECINCT 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...

read more
Schools

Schools

THE SCHOOLS In 1885, Bethlehem had nine school districts, eleven common schools, and one graded school. There were 329 children attending school, thirty of whom were pursuing the higher grades and were taught during the year by four male and fifteen female teachers....

read more
Mount Agassiz

Mount Agassiz

MT. AGASSIZ AND ROUND MOUNTAIN In the 1880's Mt. Agassiz was under the control of Milo J. Corliss who constructed a carriage road to its summit on which he erected an observatory. This mountain was formerly known as Peaked Hill, but was later named Mt. Agassiz in...

read more
Hebrew Hayfever Association

Hebrew Hayfever Association

They Came to Breathe By Ruth Pactor Comments by Paul Pactor It was August of 1915 in Accord, New York when hay fever and asthma struck my mother, Sarah Herskowitz, full force. She was confined to her bed from August to November. After seeing many doctors and having...

read more
Jewish Community

Jewish Community

Bethlehem's Jewish Community The Jewish community in Bethlehem is presently a year-round community. It becomes larger in the summer, from June to September when the Hassidic community comes to visit. Jews began arriving in Bethlehem in the early 1900’s. People came...

read more
Cottage Colony, Past and Present

Cottage Colony, Past and Present

COTTAGE COLONY Bethlehem village owes its development to its tourist business. Situated on a high plateau its invigorating mountain air, pure water and agreeable summer temperature made it an ideal vacation land. The first to take note of this was Governor Henry...

read more
Hotel Era

Hotel Era

Hotel Era The Sinclair When the Bethlehem boys in blue returned from the savage Civil War they found the town much as they had left it. However, one thing had happened during the war that was to have a drastic effect on the town's development.This event ultimately...

read more
Railroads

Railroads

RAILROADS During the earliest years of Bethlehem settlement, the steam cars came no nearer than Concord. Four-and six-horse coaches made daily trips, during the summer, between Crawford and Plymouth. In 1867, the Bethlehem Junction and Fabyans railroad was built and...

read more
Early Fire and Police Departments

Early Fire and Police Departments

BETHLEHEM FIRE DEPARTMENT Bethlehem, like all other towns, has had its share of fires. Some of the old landmarks that have been destroyed were: the Will Noyes farm buildings on the Austin road in June, 1911; the Fitzgerald cottage on the South road burned in January,...

read more
Stage Coach Days

Stage Coach Days

STAGE COACH DAYS The long summer days were broken by exciting rides through the countryside. These stagecoach rides were probably the highlight of any visit to the White Mountains. They would leave the hotels in Bethlehem, drastically overcrowded by present standards,...

read more
Churches

Churches

Churches Early history indicates that a Baptist Church was formed in 1800, a Congregational Church in 1802 and a Free Will Baptist Church in 1813. The Free Will Baptist Church was located at the corner of Cherry Valley and Rt. 302. The first edifice devoted to...

read more
Mills and Factories

Mills and Factories

MILLS AND FACTORIES The first grist mill in Bethlehem was located at McGregory Hollow, now known as Bethlehem Hollow, with Stephen Houghton as proprietor. In 1868-69, the Waumbec steam saw-mill was erected on the Ammonoosuc River at Pierce Bridge, by the Waumbec...

read more
Bethlehem’s Official Incorporation

Bethlehem’s Official Incorporation

Bethlehem’s Official Incorporation as a Town In November of 1798 a formal act for the incorporation of Bethlehem was drawn up which read: To the Honourable Senate & House of Representatives to be Convened at Concord on the third Wednesday of November A.D. 1798....

read more
Early Settlers

Early Settlers

EARLIEST SETTLERS 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...

read more
Early Settlement of Lloyd Hills

Early Settlement of Lloyd Hills

Early Settlement of Lloyd Hills From 1623 to 1641 the towns in New Hampshire operated without any provincial government, but from 1641 to 1679 they were united with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The original practice of self government appealed to residents of the New...

read more
Native Americans in Bethlehem

Native Americans in Bethlehem

THE INDIANS OF BETHLEHEM The three major Indian nations in north­ eastern America were divided into three groups: the Algonquin, the Iroquoian and Siouan. The Siouan lived in the region of Lake Winnebago and Wisconsin, the Iroquois peoples lived to the west of the...

read more
Bethlehem Historical Society in Bethlehem, New Hampshire

Formed in 1997, the Society is located in the completely restored Ranlet Cafe that was moved to this location in 1895. With over 260 members, it is an ever-changing display of Bethlehem history.

ADDRESS

2182 Main Street
PO Box 148
Bethlehem, NH 03574

TELEPHONE

603-869-3330