Bethel Town Meeting – The Empire had the votes
This year 79 voters attended the town meeting June 13 at Crescent Park School. Speechifying was focused mostly on four articles: (1) a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would establish that money is not speech and corporations are not persons. (Corporations are persons ― for 1st and 14th Amendment protection purposes ― was first ruled by the Supremes in 1886.) The article passed. (2) Voters defeated an article to reduce the planning board membership from seven to five. (3) An article to eliminate Noise from the Entertainment Ordinance due to noise being an unenforceable condition brought many speakers to their feet. It passed on a close 34-33 vote. (4) Article 12 about raising $10,000 for a sign consultant and organizing a new sign committee also got many voter comments before the article passed.
In the case of the sign ordinance reform article which called for authorization to spend ten grand on an unidentified consultant but with no further plan, the article passed ― with an implied “Trust Me” clause. The Empire was backed by a group of Planning Board members both past and present and their wives plus selectmen who had participated in formulating the current sign ordinance.
Someone commented later that now we will have to find someone with a PhD in Signs.
Those opposed to the sign article missed the point I believe, that for a town meeting victory you have to be well organized. You have to get voters to attend town meetings. Names on a petition are only a first step. It takes work to win at town meetings ― cases in point: Pine Tree trash contract, ambulance appropriation and repeal of zoning.
Peter Southam was elected to the Bethel Board of Seletmen.
Trek Across Maine
Although not well advertised in Bethel, the Trek Across Maine attracted over 2,000 bikers according to Sun Journal news of the event.
At Bethel Bicycle, Peter Southam estimated at least 20 from Bethel were in this year’s trek ― teams from Gould, Telstar/SAD 44 and Bethel Bicycle participated. Maggie Loré who works at Bethel Bicycle rounded up friends and people she knew to make up the shop’s team.
According to Mr. Southam the store gets some business from trekkers primarily in sales of accessories such as gloves and helmets. Participants have to pass a Trek Test and come to Bethel Bicycle for the tests which also bring potential business into the shop. And this year the store sold one new bike.
From an Old Leather Trunk - The OLD FOLKS From America
Tuesday we were visited by a musician who has taken up researching 19th Century American old folk’s music. Timothy Eriksen from Hadley, Mass., drove here to examine journals, notebooks and photographs stored in our old leather trunk. He had found us through Ruth Crosby’s 1974 book “From An Old Leather Trunk” and the Bethel Journals website.
Mr. Eriksen’s main interest was to see the original handwritten journals and read the detailed notes that my great-grandparents, Benjamin and Clara Newhall Conant, kept during their concert tours here and during their trip to England with Father Kemp’s Old Folks touring company. More about Tim Eriksen—http://timeriksenmusic.com/about.html
He is working on a PhD dissertation about old folks music. First white male born in Sudbury Canada (Bethel); his discovery of the Conant’s journals turned out to be an important discovery for him because of the almost day-to-day story of the Conant’s trip experiences.
Mr. Eriksen said that he had found other references, stories about people who had been concert members, but it seems only the Conant’s journals contained the amount of detail he was hoping to find.
Benjamin and Clara Conant were still newlyweds in January 1861 when with about 25 others in the Old Folks group they sailed from Boston on the steamer “Canada” ― first stop, Halifax ― from there to Liverpool and eventually by rail to London.
The troupe was invited to perform in London’s Crystal Palace (which resembled our large shopping malls) and then traveled to 17 other towns besides London. They also wrote many comments about their accommodations ― ranging from small and dirty to very comfortable and enjoyable.
With Bethel’s roadside sign debates going on you may wonder how the concert tour attracted audiences without signs. They had special hand bills printed for each location where they were to perform ― printings were from 3,000 to 10,000, which were distributed to shoppers and pedestrians.
When not singing, the Conant’s did plenty of sightseeing including the room where Shakespeare was born, Warwick Castle, Madame Tussaud’s “statuary,” attended a reading by Charles Dickens and heard a performance by the Christy Minstrels.
In June 1861 the Conants returned to New York on the steamer “City of Baltimore.”
Open for Business – A Certified Business Friendly Community Program
At the May 14 Bethel selectmen’s meeting an invitation to apply for Certified Open for Business program was on the agenda. The Town Manager summarized the contents of an application which are: Customer Service/Product programs, Economic Priority such as Agriculture, Tourism, etc; Business/Local involvement; Notice for Public Comments; Licensing and Permitting, list of categories.
We have driven by numerous towns particularly in Virginia where Certified Open for Business signs are displayed on the Interstate. The signs communicate that a community has permitting, taxing, planning documents and ordinances as well as local chamber of commerce assistance lined up for a creating new business and the skids have been greased for a new business to get started.
At the selectmen’s meeting the Board signaled “no action” to follow up on Governor LePage’s invitation for communities or chambers to apply. In light of the Chamber’s planned Strategic Planning Task Force forum, scheduled for June 26, this is exactly the kind of program that Maine is emphasizing to pump up local business.
Bangor Daily News printed an article on June 6 which named nine communities that have made the “cut” in the program applications. The successful towns and cities were: Augusta (population 19,136 in the 2010 U.S. Census) for use of tax-increment financing; Bath (8,514) for publishing a “Guide to Business”; Saco (18,482) for streamlining its permitting process and exploring marketing with Biddeford; Biddeford (21,277) for use of TIFs and marketing with Saco; Lincoln (5,085) for a shop-local program, small-business Saturdays and low business fees; Brewer (9,482) for its “can-do” attitude and use of TIFs; Bucksport (4,924) for a forgivable loan program; Guilford (1,521), for rapid processing of permits; and Sanford (20,798) for a breakfast business club.
The History Club
Bethel and the War of 1812 – The Brunswick Connection
During the War of 1812, 200 years ago, Bethel was still a Massachusetts town. Difficult to visualize today maybe, the Bethel of 1800 depended on Brunswick as its principal market place: its biggest and only market for timber sales which in turn brought in cash and goods for the plantation’s early settlers.
Drawing from William Lapham’s History of Bethel, Maine, briefly the story is this: About 1779, Eleazer Twitchell came here as the on the ground agent for his father Joseph Twitchell who was president of the Sudbury Canada plantation. To clear land for farms and homes and to raise money, Eleazer Twitchell had crews cutting pine as fast as they could along the shorelines of the Androscoggin. Once the winter ice melted, the logs were rafted down river to Brunswick where they were sawed and mostly shipped to the West Indies.
Lumber dealers in Brunswick shipped their lumber to the West Indies and other foreign markets. The Twitchells were paid partly in cash and partly in West Indian goods ― rum, sugar and molasses. The Twitchells in turn paid off those who had consigned logs to them mostly in goods.
Eleazer and his brother Eli, who had settled on the North side of the river, were known to all in the plantation as the men to see for rum, etc. Lapham wrote “West Indian rum was a leading article in his (their) trade with the settlers and each family drank more or less of it.”
As Eleazer’s son Joseph grew up, he became his father’s able assistant. As soon as he was considered capable (he would have been 20 in 1802) Joseph was sent to Brunswick to take charge of the Twitchell enterprises there. And he operated Twitchell mills in Brunswick for some time. However, Lapham writes that once the war with Great Britain began and embargos placed on American shipping greatly damaged the Brunswick lumber interests young Joseph Twitchell returned to Bethel and took up farming.
As a side note to this story, the Reverend Eliphaz Chapman who had come up with the name “Bethel” for the town when it was incorporated in 1796 was one of the landowners who sold timber to the Twitchells.
Lapham quotes a Chapman son who claimed that “by cutting timber and selling it they were able to purchase a yoke of oxen and two cows from Brunswick.” There is no mention of how long the trip took from Brunswick to Bethel while driving two oxen and two cows.