WEST PARIS – An effort to preserve the West Paris high school was the driving force behind the town’s secession from Paris 50 years ago, according to the Paris Cape Historical Society.

The town celebrated its 50th birthday Sunday.

On Saturday, the West Paris Historical Society commemorated the event with an open house at its museum and a birthday party for the town.

The celebration in 1957 was a little more raucous. Church bells rang in the new town, and a cannon manufactured by a local mill during World War I was fired.

On Sept. 23, 1957, voters turned out in force to support the formation of the town, which had formerly been part of Paris.

According to “Paris, Maine: The Second Hundred Years 1893-1993,” a publication by the historical society, Paris was initially established as a “double township.” While most townships were created from six-by-six mile parcels, Paris had a six-by-12 mile parcel.

The construction of a railroad in the 1850s bypassed the stage road over Paris Hill, leading to more commercial and industrial development in the southern and western areas of town. Eventually, the village of West Paris was operating almost autonomously, retaining its own railroad station, Grange, Masonic lodge, Oddfellows Hall, post office, Fire Department, American Legion post, water district and high school.

It was controversy over the merging of the West Paris High School with Paris High School in South Paris that led to a greater drive for independence among those in West Paris.

At the 1957 town meeting, a vote was taken to close the West Paris school. Not only did the issue not pass, but a selectman who had supported the merger was ousted from office.

After the meeting, alumni of West Paris high school began a movement to split from Paris. The movement gained the support of state Rep. Bessie Mann of Paris, and about 100 West Paris residents traveled to Augusta to support a motion for the new town.

While the law passed, the matter still needed to go to a special election. Of the 599 registered voters on Sept. 23, 1957, 480 were for secession, 24 were against, and three ballots were spoiled.

The first official town meeting was held Jan. 2, 1958. On that date, Clarence Coffin, Verner Smith and Hugo Heikkinen were elected selectmen.

As a result of the split, West Paris was given 21 percent of the assets and liabilities of the Paris budget to start the year with a $6,080.38 surplus. Voters authorized the selectmen to borrow up to $60,000.

As for the high school, it was closed in 1965 when West Paris joined SAD 17.


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