1884 – A company of investors (J.B. Chapman, H.C. Andrews and Elmer Young), referred to locally as the syndicate, built the Rialto Skating Rink on Main Street.
Its dimensions were 84 feet long by 50 feet wide with its floor laid of the very best lumber. The Gorham (N.H.) Band provided music for its opening.
May 1886, the full band of the Locke’s Mills band went to Bethel to play for the spring opening of the Rialto skating rink.
The July 3, 1886 special town meeting wherein the voters approved the town’s raising money to build a factory for the manufacture of chairs was held at the Rialto Hall.
A special town meeting was scheduled for September 13, 1886 in Rialto Hall to hold elections for the following: governor, representative to Congress, Senators, representative to the Maine Legislature, county treasurer, two county commissioners, county attorney, clerk of courts, Registrar of Deeds and sheriff.
In October 1886: The young ladies at Gould Academy gave a Friday evening sociable at Rialto Hall; it was a thoroughly enjoyable occasion. Games were played, refreshments served, and when the time for going home came, all voted that the girls knew how to manage an affair of that kind as well if not better than the young gentlemen.
There was a public installation of officers of Bethel Lodge No. 97 Free and Accepted Masons at Rialto Hall on December 7th. After the ceremony an oyster supper was served.
Real Estate: John B. Chapman bought Rialto Hall (skating rink) on Main Street and soon converted the main floor into an area for entertainment and town purposes. The 1887 annual town meeting was held there in March. In November Oxford County’s Musical Convention met in the hall and Bethel citizens held temperance meetings there.
The Paris Hill Dramatic Club presented the drama “Comrades” at Rialto Hall for the benefit of the relief fund of Brown Post G.A.R.
Brown Post G. A. R. of Bethel held a mammoth campfire at Rialto Hall, December 20, 1887 - “Beans on the trencher from 6 to 9.”
The Rialto saw a number of different assemblies held at the hall in ‘88:
The Rialto Hall was largely crowded due to I.O.O.F (Odd Fellows) installation. At the close of exercises, one hundred were on hand to enjoy dancing.
The March Bethel town meeting was held in the Rialto Hall again.
In late March, the Bethel Dramatic Club presented “Our Folks” in Rialto Hall.
In April, the Congregational Church Sewing Circle had “an old fashioned school” at Rialto Hall.
May: Gould Academy closed a successful session with exhibitions. There was a prize debate on the topic of organized labor and strikes. A prize of $10. was put up by A. E. Herrick, Esq.. A Mr. Elliott of Rumford won the prize. An enjoyable reunion was held at Rialto Hall.
September 1888, Friday evening the citizens of Bethel Hill, Mayville, and Steam Mill Village assembled at Rialto Hall and took steps towards supplying these villages with pure water. A committee of three composed of W. E. Skillings, G. A. Hastings and S. D. Philbrook were chosen to make preliminary surveys, estimate of costs and report to a future meeting. The citizens are in earnest in this matter and before the expiration of another year hope to have a full supply of pure water for all purposes.
Also in September ‘88, The Republicans had the largest rally ever at Rialto Hall. Hon. Nelson Dingley spoke to 1,500 people in the hall with another overflow crowd of 500 outside – eager crowds from Norway and Paris attended – two bands and marches of up to 400 paraded through the principal streets.
In February ‘89, the Bethel Chair Factory hired the Rialto Hall and was having it remodeled for use as a store and sales rooms. The second floor was to be used for finishing furniture and the third floor for storage. Use of the building by the Bethel Chair Company continued on through 1890.
In 1894, a report indicated that the Bethel Water Company was installing water piping into the chair factory’s finishing building, the former Rialto Hall.
February1896, the Bethel Chair Company vacated the “rink” and moved into the new Odd Fellows block. (The Odd Fellows were going to build an extension to their building to accommodate the chair company.)
As soon as the chair company had move out, the Rialto opened on Friday night for roller skating and it was announced that the rink would be open for bicycle riding with good music furnished.
In 1897, a news report read that the Bethel Chair Factory had leased the large building (on Main Street) known as the rink for a term of five years and have moved their stock into it. (Apparently the Odd Fellows hall did not work out.) The ground floor will be used for the office, general store and show room and the upper floor for upholstery and finishing departments.
Blaze at Bethel— July 15, 1898
The rink on Main Street, Bethel, occupied by the Bethel Chair Co. as the finishing and upholstery department of their business, was burned to the ground, just before midnight, Friday, July 15, 1898. The Chair Company’s stock in the building, valued at $8,000, was nearly a total loss, insured for $2000. The loss to the company will be $5,000, above the insurance and what was saved.
The building was owned by John B. Chapman and was insured. Located as it was in the thickly settled part of the village, had there been any wind, a large part of that section would have been swept away.
The Bethel fire company did excellent work. The store of H. M. Farwell, situated about 15 feet from the rink took fire, several times. The saving of the adjoining buildings was almost a miracle and shows the efficiency of the fire system.
It is not decided what action will be taken relative to continuing the business. The company’s mill is located near the Grand Trunk railway station in another part of the village. The fire will not affect that part of the business, the loss to the company being wholly in stock.
Our correspondent (for the Advertiser) gives further particulars of the Rink fire, Friday night, than that published on Page 3. A portion of the finished stock on ground floor was removed but the other two floors packed full of unfinished stock could not be reached. The alarm was given at 10 minutes before 12 o’clock, the fire then breaking out on the second floor from that point occupied by the painters.
The fire companies were promptly on duty but the fire was under such headway and everything so dry that was impossible to think of saving the building. The only thing to fight for was to keep the fire confined to the one building, which the fire department did in a creditable manner, with a two story building standing only fourteen feet away. This building was on fire many times but was often subdued. Never could a department do better under the circumstances.
The building was insured for $1,500.
The heroine of this fire was Ada, the 13 years old daughter of Powley Lowe, living just across the street from the Rink. At the first cry of fire she sprang from her bed and ran to Hose No. 1 building near by and rang the fire bell vigorously until the firemen began to collect and relieved her of her responsibility. The next day she received a purse of $2.50 from the firemen.
Source for report of the fire is the Oxford County Advertiser, Bethel Historical Society collections.
The Bethel Journals
PO Box 763
Bethel, Maine 04217
Donald G Bennett, Editor
Life and Times of Bethel’s Rialto Hall
The Skating Rink
Bethel Maine History—The Bethel Journals—The Rialto
Rialto lion as
As seen from the intersection of Main and High Streets in Bethel. In 2010 Ruthies and Village Motel occupy about the same spot.