Riverside Farms—a Bethel, Maine Family Enterprise
A Memoire by Donald G. Bennett
Introduction and Chronology
In May, 1914, my great-grandfather, Arthur Eugene Bennett, drove to Bethel by horse and carriage from Errol, New Hampshire, to buy the “Leel” Bartlett farm located in the north section of Mayville, that part of Bethel lying between the Androscoggin River bridge and North Bethel*. The farm of Eli (“Leel”) Bartlett (1842-1912) had originally been settled by his great-grandfather, Eli Twitchell, in 1782. Now Arthur Bennett came to purchase the property from Eli Bartlett’s widow so that his son, Edward, and his family could move to Bethel and operate their new farm. As soon as the transaction was completed, Arthur returned to Errol. My grandfather, Edward Bennett, and my grandmother, Minnie Olson Bennett and their children came to Bethel in August, 1914, to take up their new residence.
Moving was staged throughout the summer depending on when haying was completed and when growing vegetables matured. The Bennett’s small herd of dairy cattle was driven from Errol through Grafton Notch to Bethel in the late fall.
A few years later the Bennett’s cows were producing enough extra milk beyond family needs that a regular supply was on hand for sale, either directly from their farm or for delivery in town. So in 1917 my grandfather considered he had a milk business.
A May 1936 fire destroyed the family’s magnificent, century old house and barn; thankfully, the cows survived. Immediately my grandfather was able to buy and quickly move into the neighboring Chapman farm. Nine years later, ready to retire, Edward sold what had become two farms and the dairy business to my father and mother, Harold and Evelyn “Ellie”, in 1945. We moved to Bethel from Arlington, Massachusetts.
My father and mother, both 42 years old at the time, gave the farm and dairy business a large boost of enthusiasm, new products were added , business expanded and my father used a wholly different approach to farm management compared to my grandfather’s methods.
But, after only 10 years, Harold’s health began a steady decline; he died at age 57, in 1961. My mother was faced with some very difficult choices. Running the farm as it had been run was financially just not an option. Milk produced by our own cows cost more than milk purchased from other farms. My own career was the Army. Our dairy processing plant was out of date, very cramped for space and practically worn out.
Luckily we worked out a deal with Arthur Breau who owned Breau’s Dairy in Rumford, Maine, only 20 miles away. Breau’s Dairy took over the contracts with our suppliers, processed the milk and put it into Riverside Farms containers for our route men to deliver in Bethel. My mother continued the dairy business another six years. She sadly saw to selling our cows who had been part of the family; our beautiful hay fields were sold to our neighbor, Arthur Ladd.
By 1967 it was apparent to all of us that we could not financially continue. So, after 50 years of operation as a Bennett family dairy, my mother and I decided to sell the Riverside Farms milk routes to Arthur Breau.
Of the many small, locally operated, dairy businesses that Bethel had known during those years when small dairy businesses could be modestly profitable, Riverside Farms was the only Bethel dairy to pasteurize its milk. The other local dairies sold raw milk. (All milk sold, however, was checked monthly by state inspectors.)
Ten years later I retired from the Army. My wife, Kathy, daughter, April, and I returned to Bethel and our home, built in 1968, located on part of the original farm which Arthur E. Bennett had journeyed from Errol to purchase in 1914.
In 2010, probably very few Bethel residents ever heard of Riverside Farms. Occasionally an old milk bottle or carton may turn up causing the discoverer to wonder where it came from. The rest of this story about Riverside Farms, then, told with pride and more than a bit of nostalgia, could be called a message from the bottle.
June 13, 1859 - Arthur E. Bennett born at Wilson’s Mills
March 3, 1859 - Celia Marie Thurston born at Errol
October 15, 1877 – Arthur E. Bennett married Celia M. Thurston
July 24, 1878 - Minnie Olson born to John (from Risor, Norway) and Betsy Olson of Wilson’s Mills
August 6, 1878 – Edward E. Bennett born in Errol son of Arthur E. and Celia T. Bennett
November 28, 1900 – Edward E. Bennett married Minnie Olson; their children
September 6, 1901 – Elmer Bennett born
August 9, 1903 – Harold Bennett born
June 9, 1905 – Percy Bennett born
April 25, 1909 – Thelma born
December 5, 1912 – Ruth born
August 9, 1904 – Celia Thurston Bennett, wife of Arthur E. Bennett, died
May 1914 – Arthur E. Bennett buys the E. L. Bartlett farm in Mayville
August 1914 – Edward Bennett family move to Bethel from Errol
November, cattle driven from Errol to Bethel
1917 – Arthur Olson Bennett, last child, born in Bethel
Edward Bennett starts his milk route in Bethel
1927, November 26, Harold Bennett married Evelyn Crosby of Arlington, Mass., in Arlington.
1931 – Bennett farm entered its milk truck float for Indian Raid celebration parade.
Sept 18, Ruth Bennett married Robert M. Lord of Rumford Corner in Westbrook
Sept 19, Elmer Bennett married Patricia Mulligan of Rumford in Colebrook, NH
1934 – Elmer Bennett opened first gas station in Mayville – Tydol.
1936 – Fire destroys all buildings of Edward and Minnie Bennett; Bennett’s purchase adjoining A. F. Chapman farm from Emily Chapman.
1939 – E. E. Bennett begins pasteurizing milk.
1945 – Harold and Evelyn Bennett take over the E.E. Bennett dairy business; change name to Riverside Farms
1946-1947 – Edward and Minnie Bennett build new house in Mayville.
1953 – Riverside Farms began homogenizing milk and using paper cartons along with bottles.
1959, April 4 – Minnie Olson Bennett died
July 5, 1961 - Harold Bennett died at the Norway Hospital; farming ceases, cattle sold, milk delivery continued via Breau’s Dairy, Rumford; Riverside Farms name continued.
1966, Dec 6 – Edward E. Bennett died
1967, July 31 – Riverside Farms ends milk deliveries.
1968, June 1 – Arthur O. Bennett died in New York
1977, June 27 – Evelyn Bennett,74, died at Falls Church, Virginia
2006, May 13 – Arthur A. Breau, 89, died in Naples, Florida
The Bethel Journals
Donald G. Bennett
PO Box 763
Bethel, Maine 04217
December 30, 2010
1961 photograph - showing the variety of dairy products and their packaging. At that time all the milk was pasteurized, homogenized, bottled, separated into cream, packaged in Canco paper cartons and stored in the basement of our house at Riverside Farm in Mayville. Cottage cheese came from Berlin Dairy