C. Rowe & Son  - Bethel Traders of Note

Lasting 62 years and two generations—the Rowe store succumbed to changes in Bethel’s market, automobiles, electricity, telephones, movies, Rumford, Berlin, South Paris and customer preferences.

Ceylon Rowe 1838-1922

Herbert C. Rowe 1877-1939

Ernest Bisbee

Tom Brown

C. Rowe & Son 1931

Ceylon Rowe became his own  merchant and trading boss in 1878 when he was 40 years old.  For the next 62 years his retailing modus operandi were one of the most effective and durable for Bethel residents.  His success came from his ability to learn the trade, prior experience, cash buying and honest bookkeeping.

Ceylon Rowe was born at the old Rowe homestead near Woodlawn cemetery on April 1, 1838. He was the son of Caleb and Abigail Plummer Rowe. He was the youngest of a family of eleven children.

After graduating from Gould Academy, he began his career as clerk in the store of Abner Davis in 1859. Two years later, 1861, he became an agent for the Bethel Steam Mill Company. 1864 he married Mary Grover of Bethel.

In 1866 when he was 28, he entered a partnership named Rowe, Grover & Co. where Ceylon Rowe was the senior partner. (This was about the same time that John D. Rockefeller was getting his feet wet in Cleveland partnerships.)

In 1873 for the next five years Ceylon and his older brother Edwin  formed a trading partnership which lasted for five years.  In 1878 they dissolved the partnership and Ceylon Rowe operated his own store as sole proprietor in the Kimball Block.

 One of Bethel’s most distinguished merchants, Ceylon Rowe followed by three generations of his descendants lived in Kimball Park from 1864 to 1978, 114 years. The house was built in 1861 following development of the Park. In 1864, Ceylon Rowe married Mary Grover of Bethel. Ceylon had been employed for three years as an agent for the new Bethel Steam Mill Co, thus being able to pay for a new house for his bride. Besides a good income, Ceylon very likely also benefitted from an apprenticeship in solid business basics through his agent’s job with an out-of-state firm, the Skillings family.

By the time Ceylon owned his own store business, he had 12 years of store operating experience behind him.

The store was one in a block of stores named the Kimball Block (Ira C. Kimball built in 1865), across the road around the Bethel Common, on what is now fire station property. His learning the trade showed through the remainder of his career in his shrewdness, energy and business skills which set him ahead of some of his Main Street peers For example, his buying trips to Boston and New York where he always paid cash enabled him to buy goods at cash discount prices and then offer first class clothing styles and materials in Bethel at much lower prices than one would expect.

He would make the trip and arrange for his purchases to be shipped back to Bethel by train. Of all the merchants in town he was the only one reported in the news as making this effort for his rural customers.

His customers would also send in mail orders asking him to fill them when they lived too far to travel to his store. Main Street Bethel had become saturated with general stores and Ceylon Rowe’s marketing initiative is what kept him ahead of the pack. Ceylon Rowe’s custom made safe is still in use at Brook Bros. store.

Besides his business, Mr. Rowe was a long time Gould Academy trustee, a 61 year Master Mason and a member of the Bethel Village Corporation volunteers plus a corporator of the Bethel Water Company. 

Ceylon Rowe’s  grandmother was a daughter of Eleazer Twitchell, Sudbury Canada plantation's first and only general manager, and through family connections he was related to many of the early settling families.  Mr. Rowe had the reputation of being well versed in Bethel history.

At one time, the Rowe brothers, Ceylon, Edwin and Almon, owned three of Bethel’s most familiarly known town residences, besides that of Ceylon, Edwin owned the Broad Street home where Dick and Sally Taylor live (2012), and Almon owned the home known as the “Upson Home” also on Broad Street.

The second Rowe generation began when Ceylon and Mary's only child Herbert Ceylon was born in 1877.  Although considered an excellent scholar who planned to enter MIT after graduating from Gould Academy in 1894, he returned to Bethel after attending the Chauncey School in Boston to join his father in running their Bethel store.  Herbert C. was born, lived, married and died in the Rowe home on Park Street.

 In July 1907, Herbert C. Rowe married Miss Alice Russell. They had three children: Herbert R., Marjorie and Rosalind. Marjorie died in infancy. Ceylon Rowe had purchased the house on the corner of Park Street behind the Universalist Church as a rental property. In 1897 a Bethel news item noted that S. N. Buck had rented the house. After Herbert and Alice were married they lived at 2 Park Street until Ceylon Rowe’s death in 1922.  The 1911 Bethel map shows the house as the H. Rowe property. After Ceylon died in 1922, the Rowe home was completely renovated and then occupied by the Herbert C. Rowe family.

Employees:  Two well known Bethel names—Ernest Bisbee and Tom Brown—were C. Rowe & Son store clerks. Ernest Bisbee who had graduated from Bowdoin College worked for Ceylon Rowe until the outbreak of World War I when he left to join the Army.


The other familiar name to clerk at Rowe’s, Tom Brown, worked at Rowe’s during the years 1921-1929.  The Browns were living in what was known as the M. L. Thurston place (in 2012 The Philbrook Place

Herbert C. Rowe was considered one of Bethel’s successful  business men; he was active in Bethel’s development and civic affairs.  He joined his father in his trading business in 1896. As a member and leader of the Bethel Bicycle Club, “Bertie” Rowe added a sporting goods, bikes and equipment to the line of goods handled by Ceylon Rowe and Sons. His career as a merchant in Bethel lasted 42 years; his business management was highly regarded by the community.  Mr. Rowe was a member of the school board. He belonged to Bethel Grange, Sudbury Lodge, No. 22, K of P and Bethel Lodge, No. 97, F & AM. He was allied with Kora Temple and Strathglass Commandery.

The Rowe’s had a summer camp on South Pond at Locke Mills and a hunting lodge in Grafton Notch. After the death of his father the Herbert Rowes moved into the Rowe family home in Kimball Park.

1877 Advertisement for the Ceylon and Edwin Rowe store which was printed in the 1877 Gould Academy Herald.  Bethel Historical Society

Bethel Journals Page 1