History helps us understand why we are what we are. Local history plays a big part in this. Women, men, and children, farmers and lumberjacks, factory hands and homemakers, doctors, ministers and lawyers, merchants, hotel-keepers, hunting and fishing guides and lots of tourists have shaped Bethel, and how we live here. So have mill streams and railroads, the river, intervale and hills, church, school, and local government.

The Bethel Historical Society explores and preserves the history of Bethel, and the surrounding region. It collects books, archival papers, images and objects, protects them (in climate-controlled conditions when necessary) catalogs and increasingly digitizes them, and makes them available to the public.

The Society’s museums display exhibits and are themselves historic landmarks: the Moses Mason House, carefully restored, presents a picture of 19th Century life. Lectures and seminars, house tours and walking tours reach out to the public: locals, tourists, scholars. Well-established special events, like the Fourth of July concert and the Christmas festivities, draw crowds and repeat visits. Summer programs, like Mornings at the Museum, entertain and inform the very young: local history via activities, crafts, and games.

We’re developing and road-testing two Mason House programs for school age students. Fifth graders need to know what it was like to be at home 200 years ago. No electricity: heating, cooking, and lighting all meant open flames. No running water: no bathrooms or flush toilets, much less washing machines and dishwashers. Refrigeration: only in winter. Transport: horses needed stabling, hay, carriages, wagons, sleighs. Home entertainment had to be home-made.

Tenth graders: who were Dr and Mrs Mason? Why were they representative and important? A doctor when medicine was of doubtful use: Native American remedies might work better. A postmaster when the mail was a brand-newly efficient means of communication. Local leaders when politics was personal; a temperance campaigner; a United States Congressman when Washington was a long, slow way away. A real estate developer, concerned with property values and improved transport.

A brief tour (socially distanced for now) isn’t enough. There’ll be worksheets with space for notes and sketches; thoughtful commentary by docents. And a chance for students to follow up by writing about their experience and ideas.

David R Jones is a life member and former intern of the Bethel Historical Society.

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