With more than 300-year history, the Town of Bethel certainly has many stories to tell.
Eighteen of those stories are now available in the paperback book “Historic Tales of Bethel, Connecticut,” written by native resident and town historian, Patrick Tierney Wild.
“Bethel has always been a great place to live and is certainly much bigger than it was when I was growing up, but it still has that hometown feel,” Wild said. “It's a place that in a short time, you can meet a lot of people and make friends easily. It's always been a friendly town and the people here in Bethel are very down-to-earth.”
Wild, 51, also a history and government teacher at Ridgefield High School, said history was always a passion of his, but didn’t get interested in Bethel history until his late 20s when he moved into an old house on Main Street with his brother.
He said: “The house was around 200-years-old. We wanted to learn more about history of the house and who had lived there, so I searched through Bethel and Danbury land records and soon I expanded to other homes on the street and before I knew it, I was looking into the whole history of the town.”
In 1993, the then Board of Selectmen under First Selectman Clifford J. Hurgin, created the town historian position, which Wild accepted that year.
As town historian, he said he answer's peoples’ questions on genealogy, town building history and maintains census records and other documents. Wild also wrote articles for the Danbury News-Times, Bethel Home News and the Bethel Beacon, many of which would later become the basis for “Historic Tales.”
“I had saved all of those articles and I thought I should put them together as a collection,” Wild said. “I also realized many of them needed to be updated or revised or expanded. I went back and chose the ones that I thought were the best and wrote several new stories as well.”
Wild said several the photos in “Historical Tales” have never been seen by the general public and none have been duplicated from his earlier book, “Images of America: Bethel,” a photographic history, published in 1996. Many of the new images came from an old scrapbook donated to the Danbury History Museum that he had access to.
Though the legacy of circus man P.T. Barnum is a story that usually comes first to mind when remembering Bethel’s history, Wild said the book contains other stories not as well known to residents.
“The one story I had the most fun writing was about the one-room Plumtrees school house,” Wild, a former Plumtrees student, said. “Nothing had really been written about it before and I discovered that the current building is actually the third Plumtrees school building that has existed. I think people will be surprised to learn more about these buildings; one is still standing and became an addition on a nearby house.”
He added, “Another story people might find interesting, is about Bethel residents who were Loyalists during the Revolution and what they went through after they refused to support the movement for Independence.”
To read all of the “Historic Tales of Bethel, Connecticut,” the 114-page book is currently available on the publishers website HistoryPress.net, as well as Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com (ISBN: is 978-1-60949-357-8). Prices range under $20. Just released Nov. 1, the book will also soon become available in local bookstores.
Wild said the cover image of the book features color photos of Greenwood Avenue circa 1911 on the top and of a more modern P.T. Barnum Square on the bottom.
He said he hopes the book will give newer residents a chance to learn more about Bethel as much of his previous work was published almost 20 years ago.
“Many of the stories wouldn't be familiar to newer families that have moved to Bethel,” Wild said. “I tried to really cover information that would be fresh or hadn't been covered in as much detail before.”
Wild lives with his wife Alexa and has two children Jonathan and Rebecca. He was also a student at St. Mary’s Elementary School and Bethel High School and has a BS degree from Rutgers University and an MA from the College of New Rochelle. He served as a Bethel selectman from 2003 to 2007.
According to History Press, Inc., Wild has also provided historical information for biographical documentaries on P.T. Barnum for both the Arts & Entertainment Channel and the Discovery Channel.
History Press' official description for the book is as follows:
"Bethel, Connecticut, was settled as early as 1700 in the rolling hills of northern Fairfield County. Rooted in hat manufacturing, the town offered many residents employment in the factories of the Hickocks, Judds and Benedicts. Bethel is also the birthplace of celebrated showman P.T. Barnum, who became an international celebrity but never forgot his hometown. Now most noted for its picturesque downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Bethel retains its small-town appeal while still offering accessibility to both New York City and Hartford. Join town historian Patrick Tierney Wild as he recounts the trials and triumphs that have given this New England town its charm, from the tumultuous days of the American Revolution to the early decades of the fast-paced twentieth century."