Bethany Historical Society
The Bethany Historical Society (BHS) works to preserve artifacts of local history and to educate the public about the history of Bethany from its agricultural beginnings to its present status as a semi-rural suburb of the cities of Watertown and New Haven. (See the Timeline). The BHS has held over 40 talks on a wide range of topics, such as Bethany’s roads, cemeteries, and dairy farms. These well-attended slide lectures were videotaped and are available at the Bethany Library. Please see BHS talks for a complete list of available videos.
The Society has received hundreds of individual donations of local history items over the years which comprise its holdings. These include, but are not limited to, photographs, letters, maps, farm tools, household items, clothing, and books.
The Society is headquartered at the former Bethany Town Hall, located at 512 Amity Road. It was built in 1914 and except for a small addition constructed in 1952, the building was little changed through the years. In 1977 a portion of the elemetery school on Peck Road was renovated for use as a new town hall and the old building was renamed the Stanley Downs Memorial Building to commemorate former First Selectman Stanley H. Downs (1906-1963). Mr. Downs served Bethany in numerous capacities, including as Health Officer, Registrar of Voters, Bethany’s Representative in the Connecticut General Assembly, and ten years as First Selectman (1953-1963). The Bethany Episcopal Church bought the property from the town in 1980. In 1994, the church gave the building and land to the newly formed Bethany Historical Society, which was incorporated on August 2, 1993. Because it had been in disuse for many years, the SDMB needed extensive repairs and renovations. The Society conducted a successful fund-raising drive to restore it and work began in the fall of 1995 and was completed by the end of 1996. Since then a series of fund-raisers have been held to pay for upgrades to and maintenance of the building.
Ten years after the Stanley Downs Memorial Building was acquired, another opportunity arose to preserve an important piece of Bethany history. Ernie and Mary Russell approached the Society about donating the Russell Homestead on Round Hill Road. Ernie, one of 12 children born and raised at the Homestead, inherited the property after the death of his elder sister Henrietta in 2004. "Etta" was the last family member to live in the Homestead, which had been occupied by members of the Russell family for 200 years. The Russells donated the house, barns and the contents to the Society, along with over 3 acres of land. Shortly after the transfer took place, volunteers set to work on both the house and barns, cleaning out, fixing roofs, replacing timbers, painting siding, etc. Much work has been done, but 10 years later, a faithful group of volunteers continues to work at the farm. In good weather, you will find them there every Saturday morning. Volunteers are always needed and appreciated for a wide variety of projects for all interests and skill levels. If unable to volunteer time, donations are very helpful too, enabling the purchase of needed supplies.
As a non-profit organization, the Society relies solely on the generous support of its members. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership, please print out and mail in a membership form.