Bethany was incorporated as a Borough on March 31, 1821, but this charming village occupied a place of prominence much earlier in Wayne County’s history. When Wayne County was established from a portion of Northampton County in 1798, Milford, now in Pike County, was chosen as the county seat. This choice did not meet many residents' approval because Milford’s location required difficulty to travel through the rough country to attend to any legal matters. In 1799 the county seat was relocated to a place within four miles of Dyberry Forks, as Honesdale was then known. Until suitable county buildings could be erected, the county seat was to be located at Wilsonville. This choice was even less popular, so it was decided that the county seat would be moved back to Milford for a period of three years and then located at Bethany. Ultimately, the first court in Bethany was held at Jason Torrey’s house on May 6, 1805, with the Honorable John Biddis presiding. Honesdale became the county seat in 1841.
The first courthouse was constructed on the public square, and a log jail was built nearby. The jail housed not only criminals but also those who could not pay their debts. The law at that time allowed the plaintiff to sell all of the debtor’s property, including his last knife and fork, and then send him to jail. The plaintiff could detain the debtor in jail by paying the sheriff fourteen cents a day until the debtor could afford to file an expensive application under the insolvent laws and gain his release. The law that allowed imprisonment for debt was repealed on July 12, 1842.
John Bishop of New Jersey is said to be the first settler in Bethany, and John Bunting from Canaan Township built the first house, followed by Major Jason Torrey of Massachusetts in 1802. Jason Torrey, who moved to Honesdale in 1826, played an important role throughout the early history of the county. Solomon Moore of New York served as the first Postmaster in Bethany. Wayne County’s first newspaper, The Wayne County Mirror, was published in Bethany in 1818 by James Manning of Connecticut.
Among Bethany’s more illustrious sons are David Wilmot, who wrote the famous Wilmot Proviso and Nathaniel B. Eldred of Orange County New York practiced law in Bethany for 20 years, served on the State Legislature, and was appointed president judge of the Pennsylvania eighteenth, sixth, twelfth and twenty-second districts respectively. Another notable native of Bethany is George W. Woodward, who served as a Congress member and was a Judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.