New Town Picture Gallery 49: Bethel, Vermont

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VT Bethel Main Street 12

Beautiful Store Front on Main Street in Bethel, Vermont.

It has been a bit more quiet here than we had hoped in the past few months. We learned that we have a new addition to the family on the way and, needless to say, has been quite a distraction.

At the same time, we’ve developed a bit of cabin fever with all the snow we’ve been getting. This has allowed us time to format and upload some of the pictures we took over the summer. It’s also nice to remind ourselves that there really is a summer 🙂

This post also marks a significant milestone here at Northern New England Villages–our 50th town featured  in our town picture gallery!

Today’s featured town, Bethel, Vermont, was not even on our itinerary for the day. Somehow we got off of the route we were following and suddenly found ourselves in this picturesque town. So we jumped out of the car and took some pictures.

Picture of VT Bethel Bridge View 01

View of Bethel Mills Hydroelectric facility on the White River in Bethel, Vermont

We were particularly struck by how much of the village is built on a bluff overlooking the White River. Of course, the old mill building, called Bethel Mills, practically sits in the river and, amazingly, still produces electricity to this day. Here is a historical clip of their electricity producing past and future from their website:

Hydroelectric Since 1941

When Colonel Joel Marsh established Bethel Mills in 1781, he built his mill next to the waterfalls of the third branch of the White River, taking advantage of the water’s energy by building a log dam to power his saw and grist mills. Though the water offered its power freely, it occasionally wreaked havoc on the very mills that relied on it, and more than one owner was forced to rebuild after the destruction caused by flood waters. The most notorious washout of the mills was created by the Great Flood of 1927, when the saw mill and grist mill were destroyed along with the dam. Consequently, the river was both appreciated for its abundant gift of power and feared for its destructive potential.

Almost 160 years after Colonel Marsh first built his log dam, Raymond Durfee, a minority owner of Bethel Mills, had a new vision for harnessing the power of the river to supply electricity to the sawmill. His efforts began with a simple disagreement over the price that Central Vermont Public Service Company (CVPS) charged Bethel Mills for its electricity. CVPS was apparently unwilling to offer Ray the same electric rates it extended to other local saw mills, so Raymond decided to create electricity off the power grid and consequently built a small hydroelectric plant at his mill site in Bethel.

Raymond read manuals and books on the subject and engineered the plant using his own ingenuity and employees to build a concrete dam and powerhouse. Because the company could not afford new equipment, Raymond searched all over the northeast for used equipment to complete the project. The only affordable generator he could find was a General Electric unit built in 1888, which he bought for less than $500. The unit was affordable, but had a horizontal connection instead of the desired vertical shaft connection. Because of this constraint, he needed to engineer a system of belts and pulleys to make the system work. Raymond persevered despite the challenges, and by January of 1941 he was producing electricity at the mill. He produced so much electricity, in fact, that CVPS approached him with hat in hand to see if he would sell them his excess generation (an arrangement that still continues today).

In the mid-60s, Raymond’s son John took over the stewardship of the hydroelectric facilities. He was in the process of growing both the grain operation and the lumber and building material business and, over the next 30 years, upgraded the facilities as finances allowed. John replaced the old leaking wood penstock in the early 80s with a steel one, and added a second turbine in the late 80s to increase production and allow for more efficient use of the plant during times when the river was low. He added a mechanical rake to remove river debris for more consistent operation and updated the electrical equipment to comply with changing regulations.

In 1996, John’s son Lang took over the day to day operations of Bethel Mills, and like his father and grandfather before him, is committed to responsible stewardship of the facility. This commitment was tested early in his ownership of the mill, when an electrical short in the old 1888 General Electric generator caused a devastating fire in the powerhouse that destroyed much of the facility and equipment. Faced with a decision to scrap, repair, or replace the hydroelectric facility, Lang and his father made the financially and emotionally difficult decision to modernize the antiquated, but very ingenious, system Ray had pieced together.
Within a year of the fire, a new generator was installed, the powerhouse was completely renovated, and new computerized equipment was integrated to help manage the facility.

Starting in the summer of 2010, an ambitious 3-year upgrade plan was set in motion, which included a fish passage system, a more efficient turbine, new dam gates, intake racks, a flashboard system, and new operating software. When the project is complete, Bethel Mills will have substantially increased its ability to produce local, green, renewable energy.

At the current selling rate of approximately three cents per kilowatt hour, the Bethel Mills site does not generate significant revenues from sales of its electricity, but it is a real testament of Yankee ingenuity, hard work, perseverance, and a genuine respect of Bethel Mills history.

Do explore their website more thoroughly as it weaves a fascinating tale of the local families and businesses that have made Vermont and all of Northern New England the special place that is today. Here is an article detailing the modernization improvements being made to the dam.

The New England Central Railroad also runs through the town. Amtrack’s Vermonter services runs on this line between St. Albans, New York City, and Washington, D.C., but does not stop in Bethel.

We hope you enjoy virtually exploring Bethel, Vermont and also hope that you will visit in person soon.

Picture of Vermont Town Map Bethel

Bethel, Vermont

History Saved 7: Aldworth Manor in Harrisville, New Hampshire

Picture of Aldworth Manor in Harrisville, New Hampshire

Aldworth Manor in Harrisville, New Hampshire

Great news! Aldworth Manor has been saved!

Our recent Demolition Alert on Aldworth Manor noted that while demolition did not seem imminent, the real estate listing strongly hinted that any potential buyer would want to tear down the historic manor.

Fortunately, brothers Shane and Jordan Long have bought Aldworth Manor and plan to restore it to its former glory. They plan to chronicle their restoration journey on their new website:

We recently had a chance to chat with Shane Long about their future plans for Aldworth Manor:

1) How did you discover Aldworth Manor? He had been looking for quite some time for a farm and thought he had found one in Maine. However, once he saw the listing for Aldworth Manor, he shifted his focus and made an offer over the summer.

2) What feature really sold you on buying Aldworth Manor? He said the moment where you crest the hill on the drive up and suddenly the Manor pops into view–an Italian villa is not something you see everyday in New Hampshire. He also said the house was just “asking to be saved” and he felt he had to answer the call.

3) What do you see as the biggest challenge to restoring Aldworth Manor? Fixing the roof and repairing the extensive water damage. In particular, there is a 1960’s era addition to the Manor whose roof has become a sieve. During the recent heavy rains, he said they were filling many big black trash cans with the water that had come in. They plan to remove this addition in the very near future.

4) Do you have any experience restoring a home of this size? He said this will be his first restoration project. However, his father is a contractor so they have plenty of resources to draw on. Also, many family members and friends will be involved in the restoration process.

5) There are many outbuildings with this property, will they also be restored? Yes, especially the carriage house which will be his temporary home until the Manor is restored. The carriage house itself is a small mansion with 8 bedrooms and even features a car turnstile in the garage. It is currently split into 4 apartments. There is also an old warehouse which they may use to produce green energy, such as solar or wind, to power Aldworth Manor.

6) After restoration, how do you plan to use Aldworth Manor? Shane has an extensive musical background. In fact, he has a Masters in Conducting. He plans to host many events centered on the arts and music and the occasional wedding. The Manor will contain up to 4 suites that people will be able to rent, but it will not become a typical B&B. His original plan was to buy a working farm, so he will likely build a barn at some point and bring his horses to the property. There are also over 1,000 maple trees and sugar shack on the property and that could also become a future business venture.

7) Other thoughts? He says he wants people to get involved in the restoration of Aldworth Manor. He wants it to again become a thriving focus of Harrisville and the surrounding region. If you want to get involved, please drop him a note via the “contact us” widget on their webpage.

We would also like to note that Shane said that he did see our Demolition Alert on Aldworth Manor during his initial research on the property and it further solidified his resolve to save it. This is our goal for doing those types of posts and we are proud to have at least played a small role in helping to save Aldworth Manor.

Below is the excellent video produced by Jordan and Shane Long that explores the splendor and potential of Aldworth Manor.

New Town Picture Gallery 48: Goshen, New Hampshire

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Picture of Grange Hall on Main St in Goshen, New Hampshire

Grange Hall on Main St. in Goshen, New Hampshire

With summer in the rear-view mirror, our picture taking days are dwindling. Despite a job transition, we managed to visit quite a few towns this summer and, if the weather holds, still have a few weeks left to hit a few more. As such, we will begin adding these towns to our town picture gallery over the coming dark months of winter.

First up is the tiny town of Goshen, New Hampshire–population 799. We hope you enjoy these pictures as much as we enjoyed bringing them to you 🙂 There are now 49 cities, towns, and villages in our town picture gallery.

Picture of New Hampshire Town Map Goshen