In 2013, we’re celebrating 100 years of hospitality in Maine’s White Mountains.
View the complete history/timeline – 100 Years of Hospitality
This Resort stands as a visible expression of appreciation of an unusual physician and of gratitude for the inspiring personality shown in the work of JOHN GEORGE GEHRING, M.D.
DR. JOHN GEORGE GEHRING – MIRACLE MAN OF BETHEL
After receiving his medical degree from Western Reserve in 1885, Dr. Gehring practiced surgery in his native Cleveland until he suffered a physical and mental breakdown at the young age of thirty. Seeking rest and recuperation, he chose the mountain air and less frenetic pace of Bethel, where his friends Mr. and Mrs. George Farnsworth lived, to begin his rehabilitation. His self administered regimen, combining medical, mental and physical therapy was successful and he resumed his practice in Bethel in 1895, focusing on ‘nervous disorders’ similar to his own and using his own unique therapies to help others.
Dr. Gehring’s home still stands at the end of Bethel’s historic Broad Street. Gehring House also served as his clinic for patients who were lawyers, corporate executives, writers and other doctors, most quite wealthy (including the New York Vanderbilts) and distinguished in their own right. Bethel became known as the “Harvard of the North” because of the many patients he served from that august institution.
Dr. Gehring has been cited as a pioneer in recognizing the need to deal with both mind and body simultaneously to provide effective treatment. It is also said that many of his patients, even at the turn of the century, needed help in recovering from the over-use of drugs and alcohol. His treatment included healthy outdoor activities like chopping wood and weeding gardens, combined with formal dinners at the Gehring home where Mrs. Gehring would preside as a squad of servants presented the elegant courses. Conversation ranged from politics and religion to music and the arts; discussion of themselves or personal situations was forbidden.
1913: AN AUSPICIOUS OPENING
In 1911, Bethel’s Prospect Hotel, which provided lodging for many of Dr. Gehring’s out patients, was severely damaged by fire. After a plan to rebuild it failed, five of Dr. Gehring’s grateful patients included him in a partnership to construct The Bethel Inn so that people coming to see him for treatment would always have a place to stay. The Inn opened its doors to the public in 1913 and the Tiffany bronze plaque is displayed proudly in the lobby in testimony to the Inn’s unique origins.
WILLIAM BINGHAM II, A RECLUSIVE PHILANTHROPIST
One of Dr. Gehring’s patients, William Bingham, deserved special note because of his philanthropic impact on Bethel and New England. Also from Cleveland, Mr. Bingham came to Bethel seeking Dr. Gehring’s help in 1911, at the age of 32. As a result of family tragedies and a bout with Typhoid fever, he suffered a nervous breakdown and began his recuperation under Dr. Gehring’s care.
William Bingham purchased and remodeled the large green home just to the north and west of Gehring House and spent his summers in Bethel for the rest of his life. He was actively involved in Bethel society until the 1920′s when a Boston newspaper announced that the wealthiest man in Maine lived in Bethel. The hordes of money seekers this prompted caused him to withdraw from the world, dealing with his affairs solely through his lawyers and advisors. He would be transported from Bethel’s train station by a black-curtained carriage to his home on Broad Street, unseen during his stay by all but his few friends, including the Gehrings. He would rarely leave his home and even his dentist and barber did their work at the Bingham residence, protecting his reclusive lifestyle. Still, he was a man of considerable means and compassion, and he contributed generously to the New England Medical Center Hospital, the Neurological Institute in New York and hospitals in Lewiston, Bangor and Portland, Maine. He was a prime benefactor of Bethel’s Gould Academy preparatory school, and, of course, the Bethel Inn.
THE GEHRING AND BINGHAM BETHEL LEGACY
Even now, long after their passing nearly half a century ago, William Bingham and Dr. John George Gehring continue their influence in Bethel.
With the passing of the Gehrings, William Bingham purchased the Gehring home for use of Bethel Inn guests. In the 1950′s, National Training Laboratories was able to purchase Gehring House and its surrounding property for the grand sum of $6000, a steal even by mid-century standards.
Today, Bethel is the summer headquarters of NTL’s Institute of Behavioral Sciences, which brings hundreds of business and academic leaders from all over the world to training sessions and seminars “dedicated to understanding and developing solutions for productive change in every facet of personal, organizational and social life” – not terribly far afield from Dr.Gehrings’ own endeavors.
And, in addition to William Bingham’s home continuing as a Bethel landmark, it is fair to say that neither Gould Academy nor the Bethel Inn Resort could be prospering today without his generosity, both during his lifetime and after, with the continued support of his estate in difficult times.
THE 1960′S: HARD TIMES FOR THE BETHEL INN
Through the forties and fifties, the Inn thrived with all its wealthy summer clientele seeking the crisp climate and beauty of Maine’s western mountains. They arrived from all over the East coast and Midwest by train, carriage and chauffeur-driven automobiles with their servants and steamer trunks in tow for stays through “the season”. They came back year after year with their families and friends, always staying in the same rooms and dining at the same tables.
But by the 1960′s, the Inn’s heyday was past, along with the passing of its loyal summer-long guests, and survival was nearly impossible with the changing vacationing habits of the modern traveler. Again, William Bingham came to the rescue with support from his estate and Gould Academy, a prime recipient of his largesse. Even with this support, a succession of owners of the Inn struggled mightily with only sporadic success until February 28, 1979 when it closed its doors, perhaps forever.
1979: A NEW BEGINNING
Canal Bank of Portland held the mortgage and took over the property from the then owners, Harris-Cayhill Partners. Canal fully expected that the 100-acre, five building complex would have to be sold off parcel by parcel, piece by piece. But they would make one more effort to sell it as is, a daunting task given sales of only $250,000 and an equal amount in losses, year in and year out.
What better candidate than a 40-year old successful, semi-burned out advertising executive with a marketing background, a hotel upbringing, and a few dollars in his pocket?
On May 22, 1979, Richard D. Rasor became the sole owner of the Bethel Inn, its 100 acres, 60 guest rooms, dining rooms, swimming pool, lake house, nine-hole golf course and cross-country ski trails for the grand sum of $150,000 in cash and a $300,000 mortgage. He had grown up in a 25th floor apartment in Manhattan, raised a family in the suburbs of New York and Detroit, had never operated a hotel, could only cook hamburgers and wasn’t a very good housekeeper.
Rasor’s credentials to take over a virtually defunct full-service hotel in Bethel, Maine were not exactly impeccable, but the opportunity coincided with two basic objectives: to live in New England where one can ski in the winter and play golf in the summer, and to own a business that was marketing-driven where his prior career at the J. Walter Thompson advertising company would be useful.
In 1979, he envisioned a wonderful lifestyle and growing business, but not snowless winters, rationed gasoline, a deep recession and a national banking crisis with ensuing credit crunch. Neither did he envision a re-entry to the world of advertising, commuting between clients in New York, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, London and Bethel on weekends to keep much needed investment capital available.
Still, by 1986, the business had grown to a point where a $7,500,000 expansion project made sense to ensure the future of The Bethel Inn Resort. The growth was funded primarily by the sale of 40 new Townhouse condominiums on the golf course with a new free-standing conference center and a year-round health club thrown in. And the business has grown more then tenfold since 1979.