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Brief History of Bethel


     The first settlers came to the area in 1798. A site to build their church needed to be found so in the Spring of 1809, Norman and Burton Judson used a corner of their lot for a church and cemetery. When the stake was driven into the ground to mark the spot for the future church, it was spoken "Let this be known as the house of God". The town was formed on March 27th, 1809 and the name Bethel was chosen based on those spoken words: "Beth" (house) and "El" (God).
     The first hotel in Sullivan county was built in White Lake in 1846 by James Beekman Finlay. What came to follow was a boom of hotels in the area. White Lake was considered very fashionable and many flocked to the area to take in the fresh air and clean water. Boat regattas were held during the summer and many stately homes were built. There were many tanneries, gristmills and sawmills in the area. These businesses prospered and attracted many workers and their families. Churches, post offices, schools, covered bridges and more hotels sprang up all around Bethel.
      Up until the 1930s, Kauneonga Lake was known as North White Lake.  At about that time, gangsters such as Waxy Gordon and Bugsy Siegel moved into White Lake and the area became known as something of a gangster hangout.  In fact, in the summer of 1933, Waxy Gordon, a wealthy bootlegger and former mob enforcer, was arrested on tax evasion charges while in the area. The local hotel owners in North White Lake were not very happy with being associated with gangsters, so they decided to change the name to the one given the place by the Native Americans.
      In the 1960's, the heyday of the summer resorts began to decline and most of the once grand hotels and resorts went out of business or fell to disrepair. The old "Roxie" hotel is one of the only original hotels that is still in operation in Bethel, doing business as "The Bradstan Hotel" today.
      The town of Bethel was the site of the greatest concerts in history on August 15-17, 1969. After the original site in Wallkill, N.Y. fell through, property in Bethel owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur, was obtained for the venue. The concert drew an estimated 500,000 people to the area and the roads were backed up to the New York State thruway. Cars were abandoned and people treked on foot to the now famous site where there was a lack of food, water and sanitary conditions. This however, did not stop it from becoming one of the greatest concerts in history and the town of Bethel is proud to have been the one to have hosted it!
      In 1994, Alan Gerry purchased the concert site and in 2004 the groundbreaking ceremony was held for the $100 million dollar outdoor performing arts center. The first concert was performed by the New York Philharmonic in 2006 and in 2008, the Museum at Bethel Woods opened telling the story of the 1960's.
      During the past several years many new businesses have started in the town and a revitalization of Bethel has begun. Once again people are flocking to Bethel and to what the town has to offer. More homes have been built and an interest in purchasing old bungalows, cabins and stately Victorians is on the rise. Many renowned restaurants have moved into the town and quaint antiques and specialty stores are popping up. The town of Bethel is entering another heyday, and we hope that you can visit us, or make us your new home, and be a part of our dynamic history!

Read more about Bethel's history
 Images of American : Bethel
written by Rita J. Sheehan,
Bethel Town Clerk

Contact Rita at

Bethel Town Clerk

PO Box 300

White Lake NY 12786


845-583-4350 ext 11

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