The Bethel Journals—Bethel Maine History

December 4, 2015

People Who Shaped Bethel— Nathaniel F. Brown

Nathaniel F. Brown - Bethel’s First School Superintendent


When Bethel was first incorporated as a town, the early town meetings established a school committee and at subsequent meetings voted to establish school districts.

The 1803 meeting agreed on six districts and as the population grew more districts were added according to where the town’s new “hamlets” were located. By the 1840’s town meeting there were 23 districts. (23 districts meant 23 school houses.)

Then in 1887 the town meeting voted to create a town system doing away with the district organization which had been pretty much managed by each district’s agent but loosely overseen by a town school committee.

In 1888 five districts were combined into two. In 1889 there were 637 students in Bethel schools.  In 1890 voters defeated a move to revert back to a district system.

During 1890 Dr. Gehring and Horatio Upton made up the investigating school committee and presented a scathing report on the town schools at the 1891 town meeting.

Dr. J.A. Twaddle made a motion from the floor to establish a Supervisor of Schools which was voted in. Dr. Twaddle followed up with the nomination of Nathaniel F. Brown for the new position which was accepted by voter ballot.

Nathaniel Brown served as supervisor for four years. During that time the town built the brick grammar school and merged the two village school districts into the new school.

Nathaniel F. Brown (1843-1917) was born February 9, 1843 the son of Elijah and Abigail Swan Brown of the Middle Interval district he always made Bethel his home although he spent some youthful years on the Ohio River and in Cambridge, Mass., where he learned the carriage painting trade. Farming for a short time after returning to Bethel, he moved into the village, pursued carriage painting and married Mary E. Goddard in 1868.

In 1893 Mr. Brown wrote this in his school report for that year:

“I have endeavored to conduct the schools of Bethel as recommended in previous reports. I have tried to get along with as few small schools as possible, as they are expensive and unsatisfactory. Expensive because you have to pay a teacher to instruct four or five scholars almost as much as you would to teach thirty or forty; besides the repairs and taking care of the schoolhouse and furnishing fuel are about the same in all cases. Unsatisfactory, because the progress is not so good; there is not the stimulus and interest that comes from competition. Then in the larger school there is a recitation going on most of the time, and the small scholars can listen to the older ones and learn something. This keeps the school from becoming monotonous and tiresome.”

 In 1893 he purchased and ran the hardware business of Seth Walker and Son (now Brooks Bros). (Mr. Brown’s business included just about everything in the hardware line including builders’, lumberman’s and mechanics’ supplies also bar iron, piping, plus dealing in tin and granite ware, stoves, ranges and furnaces. He did plumbing, furnace work and tin smithing. D. Grover Brooks purchased Mr. Brown’s hardware business and buildings in 1917. The Browns’ home was on Spring Street.


At an 1894 program of the Northern Oxford Teachers Association which was meeting in Bethel, Mr. Brown presented a paper and led the discussion on the topic of Grading Our Schools.

It is obvious he was an influential and prominent citizen besides being a member of the Legislature, he was connected with many town business interests. He was a trustee of Bethel Savings Bank, trustee of Gould Academy and chairman of the Executive Committee; trustee of the Methodist Church, a director of the Bethel National Bank - member of Bethel Masonic Lodge.  He was also collector for the Bethel Village Corporation in 1890 and town treasurer for 13 years. Hon. Nathaniel F. Brown is buried at Middle Interval.


The Brick School built in 1894


Land for the school cost $800—purchased from John Philbrook in 1893. In 1894 the school was built at a cost of $14,096. Desks for the school were purchased from Paris Manufacturing Company. Mr. Charles Davis freighted them to Bethel. Furnace for the school heating system was purchased from N.F. Brown. This school consolidated village schools of Districts 15, Broad St. and District 30, Mechanic Street.

1931 photo of the former N.F. Brown stores owned then by D. Grover Brooks. Left store had been owned by an A. B. Stevens and had the tin works, store right was owned by Samuel Philbrook who sold to Brown.

In 1895 Mrs. O. M. Mason became  Superintendent of Schools and in 1897, Dr. J.A. Twaddle followed Mrs. Mason as Superintendent of Schools.

The Bethel Journals

PO Box 763

Bethel, Maine 04217