Will Chapman, standing at center, executive director of the Bethel Historical Society assists Telstar high schoolers who visited on Jan. 11. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

BETHEL —  In the unheated Moses Mason House, sunlight streamed through a small leaded glass window onto a red tablecloth and a fire burned in the cozy, tiny winter kitchen. Tour guide Rosemary Laban asked the six Telstar students gathered around, “What did all good English people drink?”

“Tea,” a student responded. Laban, standing at the table, took a tea cup and ‘poured’ from it into a saucer, then ‘drank’ from the saucer. “It’s kind of like having a bumper sticker on your car, it tells the political stance that you had…if you walked into someone’s house and their cup had an ear on it. Ok they’re probably loyalists. They are probably with the British,” she said. The colonists who opposed the British would likely have owned the French coffee cups and saucers she had demonstrated.

Four juniors and two seniors in Dee Johannesen ‘s US History 1 class at Telstar visited Bethel Historical Society’s Mason House (a period home) and The Robinson House (the historical society museum) on Wednesday, January 11. The buildings are side by side on Broad Street.

Johannesen said the first semester of her class starts in the Meso-American time period ending at the Declaration of Independence.  Second semester starts in the post Revolutionary war era.  Said Johannesen before the visit, “I am excited to get the kids in the mindset of the eras, to see what Bethel was like during these time frames, and to help them get interested in history in general.”

Telstar high school junior Scarlett Quick, looks at two of the costumes on display at the Bethel Historical Society’s museum on Broad Street in Bethel on Jan. 11. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

Laban coordinated the visit and gave the tour with help from Charlie Raymond, retired Telstar teacher; Melinda Remington, John Walker, Donna Gillis, Jean Benedict, all historical society trustees; and Will Chapman, executive director and curator of the museums. Laban based the tour on Mornings at the Museum, a summer program that runs every Thursday in July for younger children.

“What we’d like you to understand is what life was like during those years. (The Mason House) was the first house in Bethel that was painted white. Apparently pure white was hard to get. It was lead. It was the first house to be built on a foundation…It was also the first house to have shutters…they had the shutters you could close to keep out the heat, let the air go through, but hopefully not as many insects or black flies,” said Laban


Johannesen’s students saw a pictorial bookcase and maps made by Dr. Mason. “Dr. Mason was a doctor, postmaster, a justice of the peace, surveyor, served in congress under president Andrew Jackson. No wonder he didn’t have kids, he was never here,” said Laban.

In the foyer of Mason’s house they admired the Rufus Porter mural that covered the walls. Porter supported his extensive hobbies by painting murals in houses. “Wallpaper wasn’t invented yet…We are one of the few people that have this in the house…people come from all over to see this mural…the other thing that’s interesting is that they ran all the way upstairs. People didn’t decorate their upstairs. If you lived in an old house, the upstairs is plain. The money went down here. It was rude to go in somebody’s upstairs. People went upstairs to have a baby or die.”

They visited the artifacts in the archives – “The warehouse of old stuff of Bethel,” said Raymond. From an exhibit in the hallway of the Robinson Museum they learned about the Gehring Mansion – “MollyOckett and the Native Americans thought that Bethel was a spiritually healthy place to be. Dr. Gehring continued that. With people (vacationing) from  New York City came high anxiety. ‘Oh let’s go to Bethel.’ Their therapy was sometimes  ‘chop my wood, stack my wood,” said Raymond.

Above a large room filled with one hundred or more signs from various town buildings, was a small cupola. Students toured the cupola, three at a time, to get a glimpse of Mount Washington through the snowy crystals on the glass that encircled the tiny room.

Senior Levi Cole-Mcdonnell climbs down from the cupola. He and his Telstar high school classmates visited the Bethel Historical Society properties on Broad Street in Bethel on Jan. 11. Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen

They viewed MollyOckett’s “invaluable” medicine box, made in the 1700’s, now displayed in a glass case. They saw the Zircon bottle room. In the research library with it’s microfilm reader, and the vaults inside ‘the post office,’ Chapman talked about his Bethel roots – his ancestor, Ebenezer Twitchell,  having built the first saw mill at the foot of Mill Hill in 1774.

The architecture and living spaces piqued junior Ezriah Honesto’s interest. They had learned about hygiene in history class, that lesson was reinforced at the museums.

Senior Levi Cole-McDonnell said his best subjects are science and math but appreciated learning history at the museums, “I think this is pretty cool. Looking through the history of where I’ve grown up has been pretty amazing to me. Looking through the old newspapers. Looking at the ski history. I find it pretty cool.”

His classmate, junior Tony Conant found the swords and other weaponry most interesting. Scarlett Quick was enthralled by the paintings because of their little discoveries about the past. “The murals and paintings brought the museum to life,” said Nick Splitstone, a junior.

While chatting with a student, Remington said, “A lot of times when we find out about our history, where we came from, we understand ourselves better.”

Rosemary Laban, on the stairs, a trustee of the Bethel Historical Society tours Telstar high schoolers through the Mason House where they viewed a rare Rufus Porter mural in the foyer. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

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