The Chapman Inn, located directly on the Bethel Common, is one of the oldest structures in Bethel having been built in 1865 by a retired sea captain but what makes its history so interesting is that it was owned by one of Bethel's most famous citizens - Dr. William Rogers Chapman. Named for his father, the Reverend William Rogers Chapman who was a native son of Bethel, Dr. Chapman was a renowned 19th-century organist, composer, and conductor who founded the Rubenstein Club and Metropolitan Musical Society in New York City.
Born shortly before his father's death in 1855, William's mother Emily Irene Bishop (who used to sing duets with the famed Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind) was raising him to follow in his father's footsteps as a clergyman when William experienced an unexplained eyesight failure at the age of 14. Two rather imminent physicians declared that there was no remedy but in an effort to regain his eyesight, William's eyes were wrapped with bandages and he stayed in a darkened room never seeing a single ray of light for 15 months. During that time the love of music that he inherited from his mother grew in leaps and bounds and when he emerged from the room with his eyesight miraculously restored, his life had taken on a new direction as a musician rather than a minister.
A lover of Maine as well as music, William Chapman founded the Maine Music Festival which was a series of grand concerts that were held throughout the state starting in 1898. As written in the liner notes of The R.B. Hall Superior Band Book published by the John Church Co. in 1908:
"The Maine Music Festival, under the direction of William Rogers Chapman, became and continued to be for more than a quarter of a century one of the institutions of Maine, and it was recognized throughout the country as one of the foremost annual musical events in America. A chorus was organized in every county of the State, and during the thirty years of its life more than five thousand singers became its members. All the great oratorios were sung and during the last five years of its existence, operas were rendered in costume and with action, among which were Faust, Carmen, Aida, Il Trovatore, and Martha, while others were given in concert form. The Maine Symphony Orchestra which was also organized by Mr. Chapman, was composed of some of the best professional instrumentalists to be found in the state."
Though he lived mainly in New York City, Dr. Chapman would spend his summers in Bethel and invited some of the nation's greatest musicians and performers to stay with him at his residences - one in the Mayville section of town that is currently known as The Norseman Inn and another house on the Common that he named Bethel Hill - the current Chapman Inn.
It is because of Mr. Chapman that Bethel could build its very own opera house, which to this day still stands facing the Bethel Common, and in June 1926 he was honored by the University of Maine with the honorary degree of Doctor of Music - the first time the degree had ever been given by the University to any musician.
Needless to say, Dr. William Rogers Chapman was a pretty big deal in Bethel and though he died in 1935, the house on Bethel Common remained more or less in the family until 1957. I say "more or less" because it was actually the former nanny and companion of Dr. Chapman's daughter Abigail - who died at the age of 16 - that lived in the house until her own death in 1957.
Rumor has it that after Abigail passed away, the nanny took on the role of mistress to William and when he died he left the house and enough money to operate it in trust to Abigail's former companion. While William's widow went to New York and enjoyed the life of a socialite, the companion stayed in Bethel and lived in this house until the day she died. It's believed by a paranormal investigator that the house is haunted by both Abigail and her companion who stayed on to keep her company even after death. If you'd like to read more about the haunted aspects of The Chapman Inn, click on this link.
According to their website, the house still looks like it originally did when it was first built as unlike a lot of buildings in New England it hasn't been subjected to additions over the years and as such it makes for a wonderful old bed & breakfast with a wonderful old history. When we arrived on Wednesday evening in the dark and the rain it was hard to get an idea of what the house really looked like on the outside but as soon as I walked through the entryway near the kitchen I was reminded of walking into my grandmother's house to visit as it just had a smell that brought me right back to my younger days. As a matter of fact, every time I entered the house, I was reminded of my grandmother - not a bad thing at all!
The Chapman Inn is run by Fred and Sandra who have apparently been doing it for quite some time if you read any of the reviews over on TripAdvisor and Fred is also the breakfast chef. He bakes his own bread (both white and wheat) as well as Maine blueberry muffins and cooks up what he refers to as "possibly the world's best French toast". Having ordered it for breakfast on Thursday, I can tell you that the man isn't kidding! I just wish I had been able to eat all of it along with more of the delicious offerings that were on the sidebar which includes fruit, yogurt, cereal,and several different types of juices as well as the aforementioned fresh-baked muffins and homemade bread.
Breakfast is included with your stay and if you walk away hungry, it's your own darned fault! Add on the fact that the coffee was delicious and all I can say is that I wish that I was more of a breakfast person but alas, my stomach usually wakes up a lot later than the rest of me.
The room that I had booked for our stay was Room #2 which is located at the top of the stairs and has two twin beds and one queen. Needless to say, the room is huge and there was plenty of space for us all to spread out and relax.
There's also a new flat screen TV mounted to the wall, antique furnishings to match the rest of the house, and a closet big enough to put a small child in comfortably!
If you didn't want to stick the child in the closet there was plenty of room in the enormous bathroom- which was so big I couldn't get a picture of the whole room!
Oh and there's Wi-Fi - let's not forget the Wi-Fi! You'd think Jamie would be smiling about that, huh??
Even though the smell of the house reminded me of my grandmother's, the rest of the house reminded me of the house that my Aunt Nancy used to own. It had the same sort of main staircase and downstairs rooms and her bedrooms were just as large as the ones at The Chapman Inn. I'd always said that Aunt Nancy's house would have made a great bed & breakfast but I guess that's not something that ever interested her which is too bad as I'm sure she'd have made a very gracious hostess.
In addition to Fred and Sandra, Mike and Molly also live at the house - Mike is the family dog (that I didn't see again after we first checked in and never got a picture of) and Molly is the housecat who is, I believe, right around 12-13 years old. The first time I saw Molly sleeping on a chair in the living room, I thought I was looking at a fluffy throw pillow!
Having never stayed in a bed & breakfast before, I have to say that I honestly wasn't sure what to expect when it came to other guests and such but to be honest, it really seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves it was so quiet! Even though there were other cars parked outside, the night that we checked in there didn't seem to be anyone else around so imagine my surprise to come down to breakfast and find the dining room quite crowded with folks enjoying Fred's delicious breakfast! Where on earth did all those people come from??
It was actually very nice sharing breakfast with strangers and hearing what plans they all had for the day as Fred declared that the rain had come to an end and it would be blue skies over Maine - though to be honest, he makes a better cook and innkeeper than he does weather forecaster I'm afraid! Some of the folks were first-time guests of the inn like ourselves while others, like a couple from California, were repeat visitors who came back because they "loved it so much the first time!" I'm pretty sure I can understand their sentiment!
As for the ghosts, even though I woke up several times during the nights that we were there, I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary though part of me was rather hoping to! I didn't tell my mom about the possible haunting while we were there as I wasn't too sure how she'd feel about that sort of thing but after we had checked out I told her about it and she said that she hadn't noticed anything either - nor had Jamie. I guess maybe that's a good thing, huh? Still, it would have made for a heck of a lot more interesting blog post!
All in all, I'd have to say that if you ever find yourself in the Bethel area and you want someplace nice to stay - someplace that's comfortable and cozy and non-pretentious that reminds you of your grandparents' house - then by all means, get in touch with Fred and Karen and book yourself a room at The Chapman Inn. I really think you'll be glad you did, especially if you try the world's best French toast or one of Fred's delicious omelets and who knows? Maybe you could come back and tell me that you met up with Abigail while you were sitting in the living room by the fireplace reading a book!