Bethlehem, New Hampshire

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Bethlehem is a hillside town in Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 2,199 at the 2000 census. The 2009 population was estimated to be 2,473.[1] Bethlehem includes the villages of Maplewood and Pierce Bridge. It is home to Cushman and Strawberry Hill state forests. The eastern half of the town is within the White Mountain National Forest. The Appalachian Trail crosses in the south.

Contents

History

Granted as Lloyd's Hills in 1774 by Colonial Governor John Wentworth, the town was named for James Lloyd of Boston. It would be the last of the provincial grants in New Hampshire. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the original grant could not be found. Lack of documentation would deter settlement until 1787, when the first permanent houses where built. Dropping its homage to Lloyd, a Loyalist, the town would be incorporated as Bethlehem on December 27, 1799, the name selected on the last Christmas Day of the century. There were just 33 families, with agriculture the only industry.

By 1850, however, the population had grown to 950, and the town contained a gristmill, 5 large sawmills and 2 starch factories. Then, in 1867, the railroad came to Bethlehem Junction. With it traveled tourists from Boston, New York and elsewhere, many to avoid respiratory ailments in the low pollen count environment of "the highest town in New Hampshire" (as claimed on a present-day sign in the village, although several other towns in the state are higher). Others were attracted by the paintings of the White Mountain artists. Conveniently located near Mount Washington and other attractions of the White Mountains, Bethlehem developed into a Gilded Age resort for the rich and famous.

In 1873, at the beginning of a building boom, Governor Henry Howard of Rhode Island built Howard House. Eventually, over 30 hotels would line Bethlehem's streets. Seven trains arrived daily, some direct from Grand Central Station, stopping at Bethlehem's five depots. Patrons included Presidents Grant, Hayes, Roosevelt, Taft and Harding, as well as author Thornton Burgess and poet Robert Frost. Entertainments included strolling Main Street on a two and a half mile raised boardwalk, carriage rides in the countryside, croquet games or simply lounging about the hotels' sweeping piazzas.

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