Bethel

by Susan Abbott
"Diversity" has been Vermont's watchword, and it has saved the state from the worst of the depressions which more intensified industry has known. We have made almost everything in Vermont, from counterfeit money to clothes-pins and coffins...Charles Edward Crane


I've been driving past Bethel for years, turning left at this corner on my way from Interstate 89 to Rutland and points south. I always look up and appreciate this grain elevator planted so comfortably in the backyard of the town's main residential street--the scene reminds me of the WPA-style motifs of my father's paintings from his days as an artist and labor organizer during the Depression. Happily, rather than being an empty 1930's relic, this structure now houses the organic livestock grain supplier Green Mountain Feeds.


Last time I drove into Bethel, rather than take my usual turn south on Route 107 I headed up narrow Main Street to see what the town had to offer a visitor, especially in the way of food. The "Cockadoodle Pizza Cafe" beckoned me inside and didn't disappoint, offering a very respectable Greek slice (feta and spinach) served in an idiosyncratically pleasant interior, complete with wifi access and an interesting painting display on cheerful yellow walls (so much better than the depressing yellow arches I would have found in Rutland!)


Refreshed, I continued up Main Street in search of Bethel Mills Lumber, a very successful local enterprise with an interesting history. Founded during the Revolutionary War, Bethel Mills ground corn and sawed timber morning and night to meet the demands of new settlers. The business was operated by the same family for the next 100 years, then wiped out by the great flood of 1927, and rebuilt from the ground up as soon as the waters receded.

When the Great Depression hit, Bethel Mills struggled to keep its doors open. And then a twist of fate: a man with family in tow shows up looking for a job and is hired as a salesman; a week later the boss dies of a heart attack, and the new guy convinces the boss's widow to give him a chance managing the company rather than shut it down. She did, and together they rebuilt the business. And here's a typical Vermont happy ending to this entrepreneurial fairy tale: the new owner, unable to reach an agreement with the local power company over rates, decides to build his own hydroelectric plant on the river next to the mill. Though ridiculed by both his fellow townspeople and the utility, he perseveres and a few years later figures out how to produce enough electricity to both run the mill and sell back the extra juice to the power company--a satisfying arrangement that continues to this day.

Bethel facts and figures