BETHANY - It's not the size of the town, but what's at the heart of Bethany that keeps it alive.
Set high atop the rolling hills of Brooke County near the Ohio County line, the town of Bethany has one major feather in its cap - Bethany College. The college, founded in 1840 by Alexander Campbell, leader of the Restoration Movement, brings students from across the country and around the globe to its campus of historic buildings and its reputation for fine arts, athletics and varied and respected coursework.
According to information provided by Historic Bethany, which is part of Bethany College and provides tours of historic sites in the town, the first recorded settlement was established at Bethany by Isaac Williams in 1769
The home of Bethany College founder Alexander Campbell remains a popular tourist attraction for students and historians alike.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Campbell, however, christened the town "Bethany" in 1827 as he sought to have a post office located there. He achieved his goal and served as its first postmaster.
Keeping tabs on all the activities of a college town that boasts of a Main Street, Town Hall, Bethany Park, hiking and biking trails, a pub, church, general store and historic sites are the duties of a police department, town council and mayor.
Bethany may be miles from a large city, yet the bustling college campus keeps students busy and offers many activities for the general population to enjoy. Incorporated in 1853, a decade before West Virginia was formed, the town of Bethany has had its share of historic figures with many of the original buildings still standing.
In fact, the town continues to operate under its original Virginia charter. Today, Jay Eisenhauer serves as mayor. Town council includes Ted Pauls, Linda Chivers, Patrick Sutherland, Helen Moran and Gray Williamson. The town has a judge, solicitor, treasurer and street department manager. Larry Palmer is its chief of police.
Eisenhauer said the recent gas boom in the area has brought increased traffic but also money and additional business to Bethany.
"When it first started, it was a little of a culture shock to what is usually a sleepy, quiet town," Eisenhauer said. "But people have seen the good that has come out of it."
Eisenhauer, who also works for Bethany College, said the relationship between the town and college has only gotten stronger over the past five years.
"Anyone who comes to the college knows they are coming to a rural campus and for those who like that environment, it's very positive. We're a small town, but that means, for the most part, our problems are small. The college and town want what's best for the community, so we work very well together. We are really joined at the hip."
The town's community center was recently completed with a West Virginia Energy grant. As a result the center is very popular and has brought a variety of new and different activities to Bethany including Zumba exercise classes.
Eisenhauer said the town fathers are focusing on ridding the neighborhoods and downtown area of dilapidated buildings and he is working with the Northern Panhandle Development Council to devise a plan for repurposing some of the empty spaces in the town.
The entire town is a designated historic district, having been tagged by the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Alexander Campbell Mansion remains a popular tourist attraction for visitors and other college students interested in adding to their history studies.
That's not to say that Bethany does not have its foot in the modern world. A first-class and well-equipped volunteer fire department serves the community with a number of students among its roster of firefighters and medical emergency first responders.
Old and new live side-by-side in Bethany with the stately Old Main on the college campus leading eyes heavenward with its impressive clock tower while newer residential properties house students. Old Main, built in 1858, is deemed one of America's finest examples of collegiate Gothic architecture.
After the Civil War, construction began to complete the second wing of the building, which was to be used as a chapel. This became known as Commencement Hall at the time of its dedication in 1871.
On Main Street in Bethany, visitors can stop in for a bite and brew at Bubba's Bison Inn or take a look inside the Old Bethany Church. Other historic properties visitors can enjoy are Campbell Mansion, Christman Manor at Pendleton Heights, the Old Meeting House and Delta Tau Delta Founders' House.
A modern but still rustically appealing Gresham House offers overnight accommodations and meeting rooms for conferences. Athletic fields can find players at practice or taking part in various sports, depending on the season. The oldest sport at Bethany College is baseball, which took to the mound in 1865 after the Civil War.
At Bethany Park, children and adults can enjoy a variety of activities, hold a picnic or just enjoy the peaceful surroundings. There is a well-maintained playground area and ballfield.
Harry Chambers, from the Chambers General Store in Bethany, said the Schwertfeger family has given generously to maintaining and improving the park for all to enjoy. Residents are solicited for donations each year to maintain the facilities.
The Town Hall, including the police department, is located adjacent to the park, giving an added sense of security to the recreational area.
Bethany's faithful can spend time at the Bethany Memorial Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ) on Main Street or at St. John Fisher Catholic Chapel on the campus of Bethany College. Also on the campus, residents can take advantage of the offerings at the college bookstore, attend meetings at the Erickson Alumni Center, or join the Bethany Book Club.
The town has an active 4-H group, Christian Women's Fellowship and Eastern Star and Masons organizations.
Elementary, middle and high school students who reside in Bethany can attend public schools in Wellsburg as there are no longer schools in Bethany to accommodate those grades.