Last Thursday the Bethel Historical Society held a photo-op ground breaking ceremony to mark the beginning of a new Mary Valentine wing – to be constructed as a restored extension of the society’s O’Neil Robinson house. Those taking part in the tossing the first shovels of earth were Stanley Howe, retired society Executive Director Emeritus; Tineke Ouwinga, society Trustee; Randall Bennett, society Executive Director and Curator; and Danna Brown Nickerson, Administrative Assistant. Also on hand in the group of fifteen-plus trustees and members were Doug Wilson, D.A. Wilson Company, contractor for excavation and foundation for the new building and Dan Gibbs, general contractor and builder for the wing.
Following the death of Mary Valentine in 2012, the society learned that her will included a bequest of $200,000 to the society, largest gift ever received by the Bethel Historical Society. Randall Bennett explained that the new wing will be dedicated primarily to housing the museum’s extensive collections of historical materials. In appearance the new structure will resemble the original Robinson house built in 1821 after O’Neil Robinson had bought this property from Jacob Ellingwood who was an heir of Eleazer Twitchell the original owner.
Mary Valentine likely inherited her scholarliness and musical talent from her forebears. Mary’s great-grandfather, Alfred Valentine was born in Hopkinton, Mass.; after moving to Bethel he became a well-known progressive farmer (in Mayville), a leading member of the Bethel Grange and in 1887, as chairman of the Bethel School Committee inherited responsibility for converting Bethel’s 24 district schools to a town school organization. Mr. Valentine wrote in the 1887 school report:
“The town voted at its annual (1887) meeting to adopt the town system of school management, much to our surprise. A much larger amount of labor was thus thrown upon your committee. We accepted the burden and have endeavored to carry out the system. Our first effort was to secure good teachers.”
Unfortunately for the Valentine family he died a year later in June 1888 and his son Charles, Mary’s grandfather, took over the farm at the age of 23.
Charles Valentine more than upheld his family’s excellent reputation. At the time of the town vote on school reorganization he was a teacher in District 15 – that district’s school house is now the Pines of the Bethel Inn. The Valentine farm continued its ranking as one of Bethel’s best. In news from the Bethel Agricultural Fair, it was noted that the Valentine show cattle had the luxury of being driven home each evening rather than stay housed in the fair’s cattle barns.
In 1897, Charles (1865-1955) and his wife Bertha Grover Valentine (1867-1945) were members of the Bethel Chorus of the Maine Musical Festival. Charles and Bertha sang in the choir at the dedication of the West Bethel Church in October 1897.
As you can see Mary had lots of talent in earlier generations of her family.
Getting back to the O’Neil Robinson house – staying in Bethel for 14 years Robinson sold his property to Robert Chapman in 1835 and left Bethel for Portland. The Bethel Inn bought the house in 1923 for use as an Inn guest house which it remained for 75 years. The main inn never had the rooms needed to meet demand. Called the Straw House until renamed the Elms by Guy Butler in the 1950s, the four front rooms were larger than any of the main inn’s rooms except for the second floor Sun Room. Guests in these large rooms were well served. I remember often seeing a busboy walking briskly across the Common, covered tray on his shoulder, carrying breakfast to Straw House guests. During the 1980s when the Inn hosted fall Maine Meat Packer conventions, the Elms was taken over by attendees from Jordan’s Foods. Chet Jordan’s wife held court in Room 61, ground floor on the right. In the winter, the Elms would be taken over for long weekends by the Boston Ski Club. Hopefully, this part of the “Robinson” house’s history will not be overlooked in the years ahead.
New England Forest Rally
Friday morning I went to South Ridge at Sunday River to take in the activity in preparation for this year’s forest rally. The New England Forest Rally is one of six Rally America National Championship competitions held across the country from Seattle, Wash. to Newry. Rally America is based in Williston, Vt., near Burlington. After watching the activity at South Ridge for an hour, I left thinking that I had seen the most impressive organization I could imagine. Not only that the Rally America website was on top of events minute by minute.
Race team maintenance areas covered the upper parking lot at South Ridge. Competition cars from New England, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, California, Alabama, Quebec and more were being gone over and in some cases major work was still in progress. Most of the 50-plus teams there had tent-like covered park/work areas. Energy drinks like Monster and Rock Star had teams in expensive looking setups. Cars are small stock models that are heavily reinforced with inside “piping” so that while the outside looks normal except for stickers, the inside looks like a cage. A media team from Rally America was interviewing a Maine driver. The only person I recognized in the whole crowd was Bruce Pierce.
One of the questions I had been asked is where do the rallies take place? This forest rally ran in 13 stages. The shortest race was only .47 of a mile – that one started on the Barker Mountain Road and stayed within Sunday River. A number of the stages are on logging roads in the area of the Richardson Lakes, Umbagog, and just over the line into New Hampshire. One early stage named Concord Pond is on a road east of Milton and I believe partly within Woodstock – called by some “one of the most notorious stages in the entire Rally America Championship.” The longest stage (race) was just over 16 miles and in the Sturtevant Pond area west of Upper Richardson Lake.
This year’s forest rally was won by Ken Block who is a native of Park City, Utah and Alessandro Gelsomino from Los Angeles. This is the first time this team has won the N.E. Forest Rally. From web sources, the team runs a 2011 Ford Fiesta as an entry by Hoonigan Racing which is sponsored by Monster Energy.
For this week’s news photos see Bethel Journals at www.thebetheljournals.info.