Town History and Government
Bethel has a traditional village center complete with town green and is surrounded by a core of churches, retail stores, service providers, a library and a municipal center. An abundance of historic homes, winding stone walls and converted farmhouses add to the charm of the surrounding countryside.
Settlement of the area began before the 1700s, but Bethel was not incorporated as a town separate from Danbury until 1855. As with Danbury, business in the town was dominated by the hatting industry until the last facility closed in the mid-1960s. The hatting industry brought growing prosperity to the area, and many substantial Victorian homes were built near the Village center.
P.T. Barnum Square is named after the town's most famous citizen, Phineas Taylor Barnum, the "greatest showman on earth," who was born in Bethel in 1810. Although he left town while still a young man, as a resident he had run a country store, operated a lottery, published the first newspaper and even spent time in jail on a libel conviction. In 1881, he presented the town with an enormous bronze fountain, which dominated the spot where the statue of the doughboy now stands.
From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, technological advances made an impact on Bethel. In 1852, the railroad connected Bethel to Norwalk and from there to New York City. The town created its own water supply from the Eureka Reservoir in 1879, and electricity became available in the late 1880s.
Along with electricity came the building of schools. Homes were built along rural roads until 1950 when the first subdivisions appeared.
As the hat industry faded, Bethel's skilled labor force and scenic surroundings attracted other light industry. WWII veterans were also looking for homes. Bethel was recognized as within reasonable commuting distance of lower Fairfield country, Westchester county and even Manhattan.
Between 1950 and 1960, the town's population grew to 8,200. Bethel began consolidating it's educational facilities into an educational park, increased its public facilities and installed a sewer system throughout the village.
In the early 1960s, Interstate 84, with an interchange just west of the Bethel-Danbury line, was constructed. The expressway stimulated commercial development in the Stony Hill area. Non-agricultural employment virtually doubled from 1960 to 1970.
The building boom continued through the 1970s and 1980s. Two industrial parks were established during this period, Berkshire Corporate Park and the Francis J. Clark Industrial Park.
Bethel has a town meeting form of government. The town meeting is the legislative body. The First Selectman is the town's chief executive officer. A Board of Selectmen and a Board of Finance also govern the town.
The powers and privileges possessed by the town come from three sources: the Connecticut Constitution, Connecticut General Statutes and the town's charter. The charter, first adopted in 1973, defines the powers and privileges of the local government although some limitations are placed on the town by the state's constitution and state laws.