Banks, Banking and Bankers in Bethel

Banking and real estate investment by Bethel businessmen may have arrived hand in hand

Right: Bethel’s first bank—Bethel Savings Bank and two of the movers responsible for its incorporation— Enoch Foster, Jr., left, and Samuel Philbrook, right.  The first bank building was Enoch Foster’s law office on Main Street.  He housed the bank “offices” until 1891, when it moved to the Cole Block.

What took so long for Bethel to bring its bank into being?  Early development seemed to have relied on subscription, taxes and outside investments—such as the Bethel Steam Mill and the Skillings family. Moses Mason brought 1,000 silver dollars in his saddle bags to pay for his farm.  Eleazer Twitchell’s mill operations in Brunswick were financed largely by stumpage sales in Bethel. But with the Civil War over newer, younger men wanted to improve Bethel’s employment attractiveness and that meant more houses as a starter and a bank for loans.

The Bethel Savings Bank was founded in 1872 with Oliver H. Mason as president and Enoch Foster, Jr., as Secretary and Treasurer.  Mason was a merchant, 42 years old, and Foster, a lawyer, was 33.  The seven helmsmen, the trustees, were: Samuel, 34,  and John Philbrook, 32, livestock dealers and developers (built or acquired houses to be rented); Timothy Walker is an unaccounted for name (no record in Lapham’s Bethel history; William Goddard’s mention is as a school district agent; Samuel B. Twitchell, 33, a farmer but one of the three toll bridge building committee members, was a solid thoughtful member of an important family and one who would be allied with the town’s best interests throughout his life; Ceylon Rowe, 33, a well  known merchant and trader, completed the roll of trustees. Once organized the group probably relied on Enoch Foster to kept the bank running on a daily basis; CEO of the banking operation.

In 1881 Enoch Foster moved from Main Street to Broad Street. His office building was moved by a team of oxen to the lawyer’s new office location; later it become an addition for the Bethel Library.

In 1884 Foster was appointed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and his law partner Addison Herrick took over as bank Treasurer.

Enoch Foster’s office/Bethel Savings Bank building after its move to Broad St.

In 1886: The Savings Bank has recently put in a new safe manufactured by the Damon Safe and Iron Works Company. The safe weighs six tons and was hauled from the depot and landed on the foundation in the building by Jason S. Bartlett. It cost about $1,000. The vault is locked by one of Sargent and Greenleaf’s time locks. This makes it double secure. The vault is made of ten alternate layers of iron and steel and it is impossible to drill through. It has a thickness of a little over four inches. The vault weighs 2,800 pounds. The depositors of the bank can feel secure about the safety of the bank safe.

February 1891 -. Oliver H. Mason a respected and prominent citizen of the village died Friday morning at nine o’clock; he was 60 years old. He was for many years president of the Bethel Savings Bank and has filled the office of town treasurer for a long time.

June 1891 the annual meeting of the Bethel Savings Bank was held this week. Samuel D. Philbrook: president; A.E. Herrick: treasurer. The board of trustees was re-elected. The bank has about $190,000 on deposit.

As the Cole building was going up during the summer of 1891 it was announced that The lower floors are to accommodate the Bethel Savings Bank and a jewelry shop for themselves (the Coles) with the upper floor for offices.

In December 1891, 19 years after incorporation, the bank office had moved from  Enoch Foster’s office to the Cole building. Judge Foster had followed up on the bank’s departure by thoroughly renovating his offices.

July 28, 1893 Bethel: Cole Bros. block containing Bethel Savings Bank and Odeon Hall will be sold at auction in Bethel, Tuesday August 1. (The Cole brothers say) that the have a nice jewelry business in Washington and it needs all their attention. J.T. Small of Lewiston will be the auctioneer.

In December 1893 ownership of the Cole building was transferred to Bethel Savings Bank.



Addison E. Herrick was born in Greenwood in 1847, the son of Benjamin and Maria (Garland) Herrick. He attended Gould Academy and Hebron Academy and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1873.  He studied law with Enoch Foster – 1877 admitted to Oxford County bar – then law partner with Foster.

. Since 1884 he has been treasurer of Bethel Savings Bank and was treasurer of the Bethel Water Company for many years. His law office is next to the bank office in the Cole building.

For 16 years he was president of the Board of Trustees of Gould Academy and is a member of the Board of Examiners and a trustee of Bowdoin College.


 Dr. I. (Isaac) H. Wight was born in Milan, N.H., March 28, 1875, the son of I.C. and Philantha (Howard) Wight. He obtained his education in the public schools of Milan, Berlin High School and Kent's Hill Seminary. Attended the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn., and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1901.

In 1931 Dr. Wight holds many positions of trust in his adopted town. He is President of the Bethel Savings Bank and trustee of Gould Academy. He has served on the school board.

He married Miss Angie L. Paine of Milan, N.H., and they have one daughter, Vivian A. Dr. Wight began the practice of medicine in East Corinth, Vt., and after one year there came to Bethel in 1902, where he purchased the Wormell house on the corner of Main and Spring Streets.

Ellery C. Park was born in Mexico, Maine January 7, 1864. He was educated in the public schools, Farmington Normal School, Dixfield and Hebron Academies. Mr. Park came to Bethel in 1887 and has been active in public interests since. He was admitted to the Oxford County Bar in 1890 and the same year married Miss Mary Stearns of Paris. They have one daughter, Mrs. Harry Mason of Boston.

Forty-one years ago Mr. Park became associated with Judge Herrick of this town and with his partner has been in the practice of law continuously and with no small measure of success since that time. This is the oldest legal firm in Oxford County.

Mr. Park has served two terms as county attorney. In 1931, he has been cashier of the Bethel National Bank since 1905 when it was organized and sound financial judgment has done much to give this institution its present high rating.


Some of the bankers

Ernest M. Walker was born in Lovell, Maine April 24, 1865, the son of the late Seth Walker and Mary Ellen (Mason) Walker. In his early boyhood his parents came to Bethel here his father engaged in the hardware and lumbering business.

Mr. Walker was educated in the Bethel schools, graduated from Gould Academy, and took a course at Gray’s Business College. Following school he became connected with his father’s business. When the hardware branch of the business was sold to N.F. Brown, he continued with his father in the lumbering interests and still has timber tracts in various parts of Oxford County.

He is president of the Bethel National Bank (1931) and secretary of the Board of Trustees of Gould Academy. He is a Shriner, a 32d degree Mason and has advanced through the York and Scottish rites of that order.

citrus trees.



Fred B. Merrill, Jr., and Emma (Bean) Merrill, started life in the same house in which he is now living. (In 2007, a Bethel Inn building- the Maples.)

He attended the common schools of the town, graduating from Gould Academy in 1896; Bowdoin College in 1900 and Harvard Law School in 1905.  During the years 1905 to 1912 he was associated with Herrick & Park in the practice of law and the management of the Bethel Savings Bank and Bethel National Bank, leaving in 1913 to manage and edit the Oxford County Citizen.

After seven years in the newspaper business he returned to the Bethel National Bank as Assistant Cashier, the position he now (1931) holds. He is also a Director of the Bank, a Trustee of Gould Academy and Bethel Library Association, Secretary of the Bethel Lions Club and a member of the various Masonic fraternities including the Shrine.



On Banking & Finance

Bob Hastings - April 1990

When I first became interested in the Bethel Savings Bank, for every dollar of deposits the bank had 20 cents in reserve. At our convention meetings other banks sort of made fun of us for being "the bank with bonds." They were careful not to give us any publicity as being the bank that paid depositors a half percent more than any of them did, however. The reason we were able to pay more interest on deposits was we had income from our 20 percent reserve on which we didn't have to pay interest.. .and Fred and Harriet Merrill were our only employees.

Perhaps one of the reasons we didn't have more mortgages was that we were the kind of folks who liked to have money in our pocket to pay cash for what we needed rather than what we wanted. There is a difference.

But times have changed! In those days folks took what they had and then worked hard to get money enough so they could buy some of the things they wanted and finally, little by little, they saved enough so they were able to get most of the things they needed...and they were paid for.

Our first car, a model T, cost $500 and was paid for with money we had in the bank at 3 1/2 percent interest. We saved so that we could get a better car later. I finally got so I was trading every two or three years for a car with low mileage which someone was trading after two years for a new car. My finance charge was 3 1/2 percent from the time of withdrawal until I could save an equal amount and get it back in the bank. I was also saving money on the excise tax. The new car buyer was probably financing his car at 9 percent over the three years and was paying excise tax on a new car.

During the time I am writing about and up until after World War II,  houses in this area, and sometimes farms, could be purchased for $3,000.00. The Bethel Savings Bank was writing 15 year mortgages with a down payment of 35 percent. The interest rate was 7 or 8 percent on mortgages. Then in order to meet competition from other banks we had to go as high as 30 year mortgages and with smaller down payments.

In the 1970s Money Market Funds were yielding more than banks were allowed to pay in interest. People were drawing money out of banks and investing in Money Market Funds. There was strong pressure on Congress to withdraw restrictions on the amount of interest banks could pay. Congress succumbed. Congress should have raised the rates that banks could pay in interest. Instead they took the lid off entirely. Then banks began urging depositors to bring in $500 and we would give them an electric blanket or radio, etc. Every small town had 4 or 5 banks all bidding for deposits. Interest rates increased. Money sought different homes: 14%-16%-18%-20% interest! After paying high rates of interest, banks had to invest this money in shady loans at high rates to emerging countries like Brazil and Mexico. It was considered better to accept money at high interest rates.

Some of the small savings banks that had been serving local communities were having a difficult time. Their deposits may have been depleted by withdrawal to the Money Market Funds. Their income to pay overhead costs was from 7 percent, 30 year loans. Some of them were forced to join some larger chains, thus losing local control.

It was a wonderful opportunity for people with courage. (Those who remembered the depression of the 1930s had less courage.)  One had only to put down 10 percent on a property, the banks were anxious to furnish the other 90 percent, hold it for 30 months, sell and divide the profit with the Government.  It was easy money to make and easy to cars, motor boats, lakeside cottages, yachts, airplanes, travel and see the world, etc.  If you had equity in your home, borrow money on that and have a good time. Many people carried a deck of credit cards, no need for money, it only cost 18 percent for overdue delinquents!

How far we have come since our great-great-grandparents went back into the wilderness, cleared the forest, built the stone walls and eked out a bare existence, the women spinning the wool and weaving the cloth with which to clothe the large families.


Mr. D. Grover Brooks was born in Upton, April 9, 1892, the son of the late Aldana and Mary (King) Brooks. His education was acquired in the Upton schools, Gould Academy and Burdett Business College in Boston, Mass.

During the 1940’s D. Grover Brooks was at different times president and treasurer of Bethel Savings Bank.

 He married Miss Alice Joy in 1919 and they have two sons, Dana G. and Donald E. Mr. Brooks saw service during the World War at St. Milhiel, France as a member of the machine gun company in the 109th Infantry.

He has been in business for himself since 1917, when he purchased the hardware business and buildings of the late N.F. Brown on Main Street.


More to be added later:  Other Bethel Savings Bank principals were Kimball Ames and Edmond J. Vachon with Raymond Moran following as treasurer and president.

The Bethel Journals

PO Box 763

Bethel, Maine 04217

The Cole building had been home for Bethel Savings Bank nearly 80 years.  It filled the right front corner of the building.

Above: First Bethel Savings Bank location lower Main Street —building at the right was Enoch Foster’s office and savings bank—building later moved to Broad Street