The Bethel Journals

The Cole Brothers, The Cole Block and Odeon Hall


The Cole Block


In April 1890, Bethel’s postmaster, George H. Brown, died; Brown owned a vacant lot on the upper end of Main Street’s south side.

  At the beginning of 1891, two young men who grew up in East Bethel but had entered the jewelry business in Washington, D.C., Elmer, 29, and Frederick, 26, Cole, launched their plan to become commercial real estate developers in Bethel.  They would construct the largest, most modern business building yet seen in Bethel Hill village—maybe even the best commercial building in Oxford County. 

 The Cole brothers had married Holt girls, Gertrude and Millie.  The Coles apparently owned their own jewelry business in Washington D.C. It would seem, but we don’t know definitely, that the four Coles visited the Cole and Holt families in Bethel at least annually.  What or who motivated the Coles to invest in such a large venture in a small town is unknown.  Yet the Bethel Savings Bank was amenable to financing their project. More about the Coles written by Eva Bean

 First, what role did the Bethel Savings Bank trustees play in the development of the Cole brothers’ plans? Since its 1872 establishment and up to 1891, the Bethel Savings Bank used Judge Enoch Foster’s law office as its home office and banking room.  Savings bank officers and trustees included the core of Bethel’s respected business men.

Second, Bethel had a plethora of “halls”.  Ideal Hall overlooked the Common; Pattee’s Hall was on Spring Street.  The Rialto was on Main Street.  Ever since the town government had moved its “flagpole” from Middle Interval to Bethel Hill, voters had refused to raise money for a town hall.  The Rialto, Pattee’s Hall and the Edwin Rowe/Ideal Hall buildings at least appeared successful. Town meetings had been successfully held in all three buildings. In 1890, the Odd Fellows built a new hall with the ground floor intended as an income source from business rentals.

 The Rialto Hall skating rink had had its ups and downs since its completion in 1884; but then in February, 1889, the new, expanding and prosperous Bethel Chair Company leased the “skating rink” as a finishing shop, display area, sales room and office.  In other words, Rialto Hall became a good example of profitable real estate for the building’s owner.  Did the Coles see these 1884 and 1890 “blocks” as models that could be repeated? On the one hand, Bethel’s boom times seemed ready to continue; and quite certainly no one in Bethel foresaw the Panic of 1893.


1891-1893: The Rise and Fall of the Cole Brothers



This is how the Cole Brothers and Cole Block story unfolded over the next three years. News about the Cole building began coming out in the week newspapers in July, 1891.  The Cole Brothers of Washington D.C. contemplate erecting a three story building 100 by 80 feet (actually 60 feet) on the lot on Main Street, near Broad, that they bought of the George H. Brown estate last spring. The lower floors are to accommodate the Bethel Savings Bank and a jewelry shop for themselves, the upper floor for offices. (Note: Compare these dimensions with the 120 feet long and 38 feet wide dimensions of the chair factory building. The proposed new building would cover 1,440 square feet more than the chair factory building.) The Ladies Circle met July 16th with Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Holt who have come to Bethel from Washington, DC. Supper and ice cream were served. A large number played Croquet. Cole Bros and wives of Washington, DC, were present. Mr. Cole invited Mr. York our photographer to take a view of guests and house. July 28:  The Cole Bros are breaking ground for their new Main St. building.  East Bethel news: Mr. and Mrs. Fred Cole and Mrs. Elmer Cole return to their home in Washington D.C.

September:  Cole Brothers have contracted with a Mr. Cole of Berlin, N.H. to erect and finish their block of stores and office on Main Street. They will have the largest hall in Oxford County and the building will be an ornament to Bethel village. The foundation will be ready for the superstructure September 5th. Cole Brothers have sills in place for their new “Block” building. The Cole Brothers new block is progressing nicely. It will cost eight to ten thousand dollars; the foundation has already cost $1,000. Cole Brothers have their building up and covered in.

 October: Fifteen men are now employed on the new (Cole) building on Main Street. Cole Brothers will heat their block with steam. The Cole Building on Main Street is about completed on the outside and the inside is ready for the masons.

November: From Locke Mills - The Cole Brothers are pushing their new building, which can be seen, from most any part of town.

December:  The Cole Block is to be heated by steam. The boiler and pipes are being set.  The Bethel Savings Bank has moved into their new Cole Block office. Judge Foster has thoroughly renovated his offices since the Bethel Savings Bank has moved out.



The Cole Block – 2007




 1892 began with a warm, rainy January; the new Cole building was being painted by Chaney & Sawyers, Painters, and sidewalk observers considered that the new “block” was nearly finished.  In the second week of January only one or two carpenters were on the job finishing up the final touches. At the end of the month Elmer Cole returned to Bethel from Washington to inspect the work on his new building. The income producing sections were just about complete.  Elmer Cole was in town again in March to see to the furnishing of the hall and to take care of the final work of the brothers’ new building.

March 1st: The Democrat reported - The screen for the top of the counter in the Bethel Savings Bank is in place. It is a handsome quartered oak frame set with plate glass and runs the entire length of the banking room.   Bethel’s annual town meeting convened in Ideal Hall (Opera House Condos in 2007). March 31, 1892: Bethel selectmen placed an article into the warrant for a special town meeting that sought approval for them to rent an office in the Cole building. Terms of the proposed rental included a lease for 10 years at an annual rate of no more than $5 per annum.  Voters chose to pass over this article—no office for selectmen in the Cole Block.* (See Notes)

April 1892 began:  This was the rental situation for the Cole brothers:   Elmer Cole planned to use a portion of the first floor. The Cole Brothers would put in a full line of carpets and furniture and occupy the large store in the rear of the block. They would also use the room in back of the Bethel Savings Bank office for a jewelry shop. Miss E.E. Burnham had rented two rooms for a stock of millinery goods and store. (She had recently left her store in the Kimball Block.)  Huse Bros. from Lewiston would occupy one side of the front of the block and they were putting in furnishings. They had “landed” a large stock of goods and advertised a full line of dry goods. One member of the firm had rented the J.F. Rich house on Main Street and would live there.   Elmer D. Cole of the Cole’s firm would remain in Bethel and attend to the Bethel business, while his brother, Fred, continued to run the business in Washington.

 A platform was placed in front and along the sides of the new Cole Block which in the public’s opinion “added much to the looks and convenience of the building”.  Three other events that occurred in April were: The Cole Bros. had filled their store with a large line of furniture and carpets, rugs, baby and doll carriages, etc.

April 19, 1892, despite the March 31st vote passing over an article for an office for the selectmen, “the selectmen have rented as an office one of the front corner rooms on the second floor in Cole Block and are now occupying it.”  For a long time the selectmen had wanted money to buy a safe for town records. Voters had not approved a safe either. The town did pay Mrs. Olive Mason $10 for an office desk and $7 was paid to the Bethel Chair Factory for office chairs.

May 1892: The Huse Bros. have opened a new Bethel dry goods (clothing, etc.) store in the front room of the Cole Block’s first floor.   

The Coles’ main job during the first part of May was to finish the interior of the second floor hall, lay the flooring and furnish it with new settees.


New Hall Dedicated May 18, 1892.  Cole Bros. Hall, Bethel, was dedicated on Wednesday and the people of Bethel and vicinity were given a rare musical treat.  Judge Woodbury delivered the dedication address. Concert performances included Shaw’s Male Quartet of Portland, Ladies Cecillan Quartet of Portland, Prof. J. Haliet Gilbert of Boston, pianist and tenor soloist and the Callahan Orchestra of Lewiston provided music for dancing.  The hall was officially open for use. In June, The U.O.G.C. commemorated the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill at the new Cole’s Hall. The program consisted of music, recitations and a chance supper.

 When the 1892 property tax assessments were published, the Cole Bros 1892 real estate tax was $85.  For comparison:  Ceylon Rowe’s tax was $175 and Calvin Bisbee’s tax was $128.)

Odeon Hall in 2004 The interior of the auditorium and its settees are approximately the same as when used for town meetings in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Offices for the selectmen and town clerk were located in the front of the building or to the rear of the hall.

 August 2:  “W. S. Parker has rented the store in the Cole Block formerly occupied by the Cole Bros.   Parker has bought the furniture business from the Coles and has rented two additional rooms (on the first floor) adjacent to the store for finishing and a carpet warehouse”. August 9: W.S. Parker has added to his stock of furniture and carpets in his store within the Cole Block that he recently took over from the Coles.  He will also do upholstering and repairs.

 August 30, 1892, Hon. Nelson Dingley, Republican, addressed a good audience at Odeon Hall; he spoke on a number of political issues of the day. (But where did the name Odeon Hall come from?) September 13: The Ladies Arion Quartette gave a pleasing concert at Odeon Hall. And in November another Huse Bros. news item indicated that the Huse Bros. remodeled their dry goods store by removing a partition so the store gained the appearance of being much larger


This photo of Odeon Hall was taken in 2004.  For over two decades it has not been used for public gatherings due to lack of accessibility.  Its appearance has not changed much over the years.  As an Eighth Grade student at Bethel Grammar School in 1948, our class was ushered into the hall to observe the annual town meeting that year.  As you read about its variety of uses in the following paragraphs, one can realize how important it was to social, political and entertainment life in Bethel.

1893-the year of nationwide financial panic

January 3: There was entertainment and an exhibition at Odeon Hall to benefit the Bethel Library.  January 13, The Colby University Glee, Banjo and Guitar Clubs gave a concert at Odeon Hall in Bethel.  This concert was arranged by Gould Academy as part of the academy’s lecture series.

 February 21, at Middle Interval, Mr. and Mrs. Fred C. Cole have been the guests of Joseph Holt and his wife. Mr. Cole has returned (from Washington, DC,) sooner than he expected. The ladies will be entertained Thursday morning, Feb 22nd, by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Holt, and their daughter, Mrs. Fred Cole.

 A grand ball at Odeon Hall and the popular drama, “Millie, the Quadroon” scheduled for the Opera House on that week were postponed due to the snow storm.

 March 6, The annual town meeting was held in Odeon Hall. Voted Enoch Foster to be moderator, L.T. Barker was elected Clerk; Selectmen were: Henry Farwell, Horatio N. Upton and John B. Chapman; Treasurer, J.U. Purington; (town) Agent A.E. Herrick; Supervisor of Schools, N. F. Brown; Tax Collector, S. B. Twitchell and Road Commissioner, I.G. Kimball.  Ladies of the Library Association furnished dinner at Odeon Hall for the town meeting on Monday night with proceeds from the dinner going to benefit the library.

 March 7: The (postponed) ball given last Thursday evening at Odeon Hall was a success. Music was furnished by Norseworthy and Stearns of Norway. Refreshments were served by ladies of the Universalist society.  April 21: We understand W.S. Parker (located in the new Cole Block) is closing out his entire stock of furniture and carpets at a bargain.  April 28, Miss E. E. Burnham will exhibit her spring stock of millinery goods in Odeon Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday. Miss Boothby has been to Portland, Boston and New York and made critical selections from the best styles of spring wear. Her exhibit will be in the large Hall of the Cole Block.

 May 2, Elmer H. Cole wishes to sell his property known as the Cole Block together with the adjoining house. Reason given is that business calls Mr. Cole out of state.  May 5: The millinery opening at Odeon Hall Tuesday and Wednesday was a success in spite of the dubious weather that has prevailed the last few days.  May 9, Huse Bros. (Cole Block tenant)  is going out of business and their whole stock of dry goods will be sold at once regardless of cost. (Also, the Cabinet shop of Sylvester Robertson on Main Street will be sold at public auction May 16 – all tools and a large stock of furniture.) May 22: At Odeon Hall, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will be played. William Fairbanks and May Standish are in a clever company of players. You may reserve seats at W.S. Parker’s furniture rooms.

 May 26, Elmer Cole and Emma Parker were married last week at the house of J.G. Rich on Spring Street. (This was Elmer Cole’s second marriage—Gertrude Holt, his first wife had died.) They immediately took the 3.37 train for Boston and from there they will go to the Fair at Chicago. 

 July 14, W.S. Parker has engaged with the So. Waterford chair factory at a salary of $880. a year. He will close out his furniture stock in the Cole Block with a special sale.

 July 28, 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.

 Grand Musicale will be held at Odeon Hall for the benefit of the Universalist Society.

 August 11, Elmer D. Cole who has been in Bethel more or less the last week or two will return to Washington this week. He did not succeed in selling Cole Block. August 18, Elmer D. Cole and wife will come from Washington to Bethel to live next week and have engaged the upstairs rent in the Frank Rich house on Broad Street.

 Fund raising for the Soldiers Monument— concert and entertainment at Odeon Hall. Admission 20 cents  - “A handsome sum is already in the bank.”

 September 1, Miss E.E. Burnham has moved her millinery store in the Cole Block from the second floor down into the room recently occupied by the Huse Bros.

 October 13, Elmer D. Cole and wife will go to Washington this week to live. Some of their household goods will be moved to Portland for further shipment by boat.  He has received a good offer to engage in the jewelry business there. His business reverses make it necessary for him to make this move, which he regrets.  He and his brother Fred have dissolved their partnership.

 December 15, Huse Bros. have moved their families and goods from Bethel (after departing from the Cole Block) to Kingfield


December 22, Eastern (Oxford County) Land Conveyances:  E.D. Cole (owner of the Cole Block building and the Odeon Hall), et al, to Bethel Savings Bank, $1

 The Bethel Savings Bank assumed ownership and management of the “Cole Block” including Odeon Hall.




The Coles were not the only Bethel businessmen and working families facing hard times in the last half of 1893 and the beginning of 1894.  In January 1894, Bethel’s correspondent to the Democrat made this statement:  “ It has been found necessary due to the strained condition of business to cut down wages some ten percent (at the chair factory), yet men feel themselves fortunate to get employment even at reduced wages, so many mills are shut down and the employees thrown out of work entirely.”


The Cole Block after 1893

In the next few years, the temperance people and their supporters made use of the savings bank building’s empty rooms.  E. E. Burnham moved her millinery shop from the second to the first floor; in 1895, the law partnership of Herrick and Park had their offices in the Cole.  Also in 1895, the Bethel News arrived and stayed. 

Telephones: One of the interesting aspects of the Herrick and Park Law Office was that their advertisement listed a telephone number: 5-2 (line 5, ring 2).  The lawyers’ telephone in 1896 was a New England Telephone Co. installation.  (A few others in Bethel had the NE connections. G. A. Plaisted, Livery and Feed Stable, opposite the Odd Fellows Block on Chapman Street, also listed telephone service. Mr. Plaisted offered “hacking to and from the Depot”.)

Cole building circa 1920.JPGEarly in 1894 supporters of the temperance movement met to see what could be done to open a gymnasium and reading room as healthy alternatives to drinking.  The group included Mr. Merriman, Gould Academy principal, Dr. Gehring, Rev. Mr. Beem, Addison Herrick, Rev. Mr. Fickett and an audience of supporters.  The meeting was held in Odeon Hall.  Several committees were chosen to take care of the matter. Mr. Merriman on behalf of the athletic association of the academy proposed to fit up the gymnasium if the people would give them a little help. By the end of February 1894 the gym equipment was almost all in place “so the young fellows are enjoying the healthy exercise of the bar and chest weights”.

The Bethel Reading Room and Athletic Association - after much delay and many committee meetings, much planning and considerable labor, this organization invites the people to come to the rooms in the Cole Block on March 12.  The gymnasium committee will be in attendance to sign all applications for membership. The instructor, Mr. Merriman will be on hand to form classes and assign times for each. Young ladies as well as gentlemen can enter these classes and reap benefit from these drills. Expense for these classes is $1.50 a year. The reading room is free to everyone wishing to read the leading newspapers and magazines – political news for the elderly, illustrated and story papers for the young and scientific and literary magazines for the students. The ladies will serve hot coffee and sandwiches on Monday evening and the rooms will be open every afternoon and evening thereafter. Someone will be in attendance to preserve order.

The photo above was copied from a post card of the 1910-1930’s era. Note the awnings.  The awning nearest the viewer was over the Bethel Savings Bank front window. The selectmen’s office was directly over the bank rooms - bay window facing Main Street.

In October 1894, the savings bank had the original steam heating system replaced.  Four large hot air furnaces, Portland portable furnaces, were installed in the basement in the Cole Block. Mr. L.F. Grover did the job of putting the furnaces together and installing the piping.

In the spring of 1895 A.D. Ellingwood opened a small printing office in the Cole building. Its main equipment was a single printing press and a few fonts of type. But on Wednesday, June 5, 1895, the talk of the town was a new weekly newspaper published by Ellingwood and named The Bethel News. It was a four page newspaper. 

 In June of 1897, an event which must have drawn a good crowd of spectators was the hauling of a very heavy safe up the stairs to the selectmen’s second floor office. The Advertiser reported – “The town’s municipal officers have purchased a new Mosler safe weighing 4,500 pounds to safeguard town records and papers. The purchase was approved by the voters. It has been put into their second floor office in the Cole Block. (And as of 2009, it is still there.) It was moved into the selectmen’s office by using a stone drag connected to a fall and blocks then drawn up the stairs to the second floor by a span of horses.”

Later developments and tenant history:

In 1997 Rosalind R. Chapman completed a survey of Main Street: Bethel’s Main Street Through History: A Historical Survey which was published by the Bethel Historical Society in its quarterly publication, The Bethel Courier.  Her survey brought Cole Block history up to date as of 1997. 

From 1894 to 1946, the first floor, the main retail floor, saw these tenants arrive in addition to the Bethel Savings Bank that owned the building: E.E. Burnham, Herrick and Park Attorneys, Edward King and Edward Lyon, jewelers, The Bethel News printing, S.N. Buck hardware merchant, Bethel National Bank then Casco Bank and Trust Company.

 Edward King ran a jewelry, optometry and bicycle business on the first floor.  In 1907, a fire in the rear of the building destroyed the Bethel News office and King’s store. Obviously the fire damage was repaired and business in the rear area of the building resumed. Edward P. Lyon also opened a jewelry and gift shop next to King. In 1915 Lyon purchased King’s jewelry and photo departments, combining them with his own business. After twenty years in the Cole Block, King sold his business to Lyon and left for Florida.  In 1905 the Bethel National Bank was incorporated; its office was opposite the Bethel Savings Bank. In 1945 the Casco Bank and Trust Company bought the Bethel National Bank.  In 1946, Casco Bank moved to the front of the building when Edward Lyon moved to the building next door (the former Hastings Bros. store). Casco Bank remained in the Cole until 1968.  When Casco Bank and Trust built its new bank building at the corner of Main and Mechanic Streets, the town manager and selectmen moved their offices downstairs to the vacated bank office.  From 1895 to the present day, Bethel’s weekly newspaper has operated from the rear ground floor area of the Cole.  The space once occupied by Herrick and Park (1895 to about 1945) is now used by the town office for selectmen’s meetings, planning board meetings, code enforcement officer office and working area for the town’s planning assistant.

July 97 Edward King adv.JPG

Cole Block business tenant, Edward King’s advertisement in the 1897 Bethel News tells his story.   King advertised his business as offering eye examinations, fitting glasses, latest styles in gold and silver jewelry, watches, clocks, and repairing and cleaning watches and jewelry.  He was also a bicycle sales agent.

After the Bethel Savings Bank left the Cole building for its own new building in 1974, Early Real Estate moved in to the front room. Early’s was followed by insurance company, A.D. Davis, and then W.J. Wheeler insurance.  Since 2000 the former savings bank office has been the Bethel Police Station. Darren Tripp was Chief of Bethel Police Department when the move occurred. Since 2000, the town offices, police department and the Bethel Citizen occupy the entire first floor; the second floor is used only for storage.

The second floor had two large front rooms with excellent lighting from bay windows and of course Odeon Hall.  At the very beginning, Elberta Burnham’s millinery shop was in a front room. She used its location to good advantage for special shows of new seasonal goods in connection with Odeon Hall as a exhibit hall. After she moved her store to the other first floor front room, opposite the savings bank, there was no retail tenant on the second floor.  After years of trying to get voters to approve an office, the board of selectmen slipped into the space across the hall from Ms. Burnham.  They stayed there until 1968 when Casco Bank moved to its new building on middle Main Street.  From about 1906 to 1921 the Van Telephone and Telegraph Company switchboard and office was in the other front room of the second floor.  When Bethel changed to a town manager form of government, the town manager took over the former telephone office which was across the hall from the town selectmen’s office. (At that time, the tax collector worked out of her home.)  After 1968 these two second floor front rooms have not been rented.  After the Town of Bethel acquired the building from Bethel Savings Bank, the former selectmen’s office has been used for storage by the Recreational Committee.



image349.jpgWithin the Cole/Savings Bank building, Odeon Hall has had the most illustrious history.  Yet, in spite of its very busy life, no mention of how it was managed, cleaned, maintained, or booked was written for the record.  Town meetings were held in the hall; Gould Academy graduation exercises and practically all road show entertainment was performed in the hall.  For example in 1897 these events were held there: the annual Bethel town meeting, a whist party, the Lillian Tucker Company entertainment show, Gould Academy graduation, a special showing of Edison’s invention, the projectoscope, the Grand Cattle Show Ball – part of the September Bethel Fair, and the annual supper of the Methodist Episcopal Society.  Mrs. Chapman’s article lists winter Chatauquas, concerts directed by William Rogers Chapman, movies, dramatic shows, minstrel shows, appearances made by famous people such as Geraldine Farrar, the opera star and Jane Addams of Hull House.  Until the Bethel Theater opened in 1940, Odeon Hall was the town’s movie theater; Harvey Bragdon was the movie man. In 1906, Charles Kellogg a famous naturalist known as the “birdman” lectured in the hall. The News claimed that nothing like it had been heard here before.  Kellogg built a “colony” of nature camps in North Newry along Wight’s Brook. 






*Eva Bean has this to say about Elmer and Fred Cole in “East Bethel Road” (page 236). 


Elmer Dennis Cole (1862—1929) was the eldest son of Dennis W. Cole of East Bethel. “At one time he had been a jeweler in Washington, D.C., and on returning to Maine lived in the J. Madison Bartlett house at Bean’s Corner until it was destroyed by fire in 1911. He was married three times, first to Gertrude Holt, daughter of Joseph of Holt Hill. She died. His second wife was Emma Parker, who also died and his third marriage was in 1909 to Edit Ann Seifer, who died in 1939. “

 Elmer had three children from his second marriage and three children by his third marriage.


Frederick Herman Cole (1865—1941) was the second son of Dennis W. Cole. He was a jeweler of Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg, Florida, where he died August 13, 1941. His first wife was Millie Holt of Bethel who later married Jacob Clark. His second wife was Marguerite Edes, who died in Washington.  His third marriage was to Mamie Terry of St. Petersburg, Florida. He had two children by his second marriage.


(Curiously, Eva Bean did not mention the brothers’ Cole Block development venture.)


* In 1892 the town report showed no office rental payment for the selectmen’s Cole Block office. In 1894, after the Bethel Savings Bank had taken over the building, the town paid $50 for office and (Odeon) hall rental.  Before 1892, the selectmen usually met in the small office building owned by Judge Enoch Foster—the same building housed the Bethel Savings Bank and the bank’s move to new space in the Cole Block may have informally opened the way for a selectmen’s office in the new building.