BETHEL – The Bethel Historical Society’s Program Committee met recently to finalize plans for the year.

One of the themes will be observing the bicentenary of Oxford County, which was incorporated on March 4, 1805, as the seventh county in the state.

Fryeburg was the first town settled in what is today Oxford County (1762) and incorporated in 1777. By the time of Maine’s statehood in 1820, most Oxford County towns had gained enough population to be incorporated.

The town of Paris, settled in 1779 and incorporated in 1793, became the shire town in 1805 when the county came into being. Comprising an area of 1,980 square miles today, Oxford County was once considerably larger in area.

A major portion of present-day Franklin County was taken from Oxford in 1838 to form that county and in 1854 two other towns were transferred from Oxford and given to another new county, Androscoggin, in 1854.

Geographically, Oxford County is a region of contrasts, ranging from broad intervales in the southern portion to mountains and lakes in the north. Among the major lakes are those of the Rangeley Lakes chain (Mooselookmeguntic, Parmachenee, Azicoos, the Richardsons and Umbagog).

Significant rivers flowing through at least a portion of the county include the Saco, Androscoggin, Swift, Little Androscoggin, and Nezinscot.

The Rumford-Mexico area is the largest industrial, commercial and service trade center in the county followed by Norway-Paris. In addition to business and industry, farming, logging and tourism are among the major bulwarks of the county’s economy.

To promote the history of Oxford County in its bicentennial year, the society will sponsor two lectures. The first will be held on May 12 in the Dr. Moses Mason House Meeting Room and feature a presentation by Jean Hankins, Ph.D., of the Otisfield Historical Society on “Settling Oxford County.” Oxford County Bicentennial Chairman Larry Glatz will follow with a lecture on June 9 on “The Oxford Bears.”

On June 11, representatives of historical organizations in the county (including the Bethel Historical Society) will gather at Paris Hill for a day of celebration, with an encampment, exhibits, lectures and tours. A copy of the 1805 charter will also arrive by horse and rider at that time as well.

Prior to that date, the charter will pass via horse and rider through many Oxford County towns on its way to Paris. Riders are expected to be in Bethel on May 18.

The Oxford County bicentennial quilt is also expected to be displayed in Bethel during the summer heritage festival, Sudbury Canada Days, Aug. 12 to 14. Visitors to the society’s O’Neil Robinson House may also view Oxford County minerals and gems from the collection of the late Stuart F. Martin, weekdays Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

More information about the society and its activities may be obtained by calling 824-2908, 1-800-824-2910 or e-mailing [email protected] The Web address is www.bethelhistorical.org.


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