Mar 27, 2012
12:24 PMDiscover Connecticut
Connecticut From A to Woodstock: Bethany
In addition to having a motto "Rural is beautiful," Bethany is a pretty good place to live according to Connecticut Magazine. In 2007, it topped our list for towns with population 3,500-6,500, but this time around it came in at No. 10, although it was still the top-ranked place in terms of education. Yes, that's a "drop," but I think it may have been due to vast improvements by other towns rather than anything Bethany has done "wrong." And being in the Top 10 of Connecticut small towns is like being a Miss America finalist—you might not get the crown (this time), but you're still among the fairest of the fair!
Where is it? Bethany is located in the south-central part of the state, midway between Waterbury and New Haven.
What's it like? On its website, Bethany describes itself as "rural, mostly agricultural and residential with some light industry," and that sounds about right. The population of 5,500 is spread across 21.4 square miles, and the majority of businesses are concentrated along routes 63 and 69. The west part of town is on a plateau, while the eastern side is more rural with features like Lake Bethany and the West River.
Brief history According to the town's website, Bethany was first settled by Samuel Downs in 1717 as part of Woodbridge and New Haven, and was later spun off as its own entity in 1762, finally incorporating as a town in May 1832. The name Bethany is taken from the biblical town at the foot of the Mount of Olives in the Old Testament, the reputed home town of Lazarus, among others. Here is the town's full history, courtesy of the Bethany Historical Society.
B-Town #1 When Connecticut Magazine did its previous (2010) version of "Rating the Towns," some folks in Bethany took exception to the town slipping down the list, and created their own (absolutely awesome) response. Rather than try to describe it, I just suggest you watch it—with the volume up!
You scream, I scream . . . When you scream for ice cream in Bethany, the place to go is Billy's Old Fashioned Ice Cream on Amity Road. The original Billy's had been serving up scoops of great homemade frozen treats here for decades, but the business was recently sold, renovated and reopened with Nonnie's Deli, which now offers breakfast and lunch in addition to the ice cream Bethany has come to love.
Fly the friendly skies Bethany was home to one of the earliest air fields in New England—Bethany Airport was founded around 1927 according to the website Abandoned & Little-Known Airports. It featured a single grass runway and a hangar, and was in active use until 1966. Since closing, the land has been used for horse-related activities, a driving range and a recycling facility, among other things. The Department of Transportation has stored equipment in the old hangar, which has seen better days but still stands.
Outside turbulence Here's an interesting anecdote from Highways and Byways of Connecticut, about one time when the "harsh, disturbing cacophany of the outside world broke in upon tranquility" of Bethany.
"For here young love-sick Chauncey Judd was kidnapped by the Tories. These overzealous men had ransacked and located the home of Captain Ebenezer Dayton, then in Boston on a business trip. At gun-point they tortured Mrs. Dayton and her infant while the house and all its furnishings were devastated. They escaped with four hundred and fifty pounds in gold and silver. But Chauncey Judd, returning from a moonlight tryst with love had seen them so they took him along with them. A Tory neighbor, harboring the bandits, with a delicate sense of nicety refused to let them drown young Chauncey in her well because it might contaminate the water.
Bethany men, aroused, gave chase, even through the enemy lines until they captured all the men but one and incarcerated them within the dungeons of Old Newgate—before they returned to the peace of Bethany's Hills."
Almost two and a half centuries later and Bethany is still a generally peaceful—and proud—place.