PARIS — Learning can be fun and interactive, and museums don’t have to be serious and stuffy, which is the mantra recently adopted by McLaughlin Garden and Homestead’s board of directors.

Part of the master plan that’s slated for implementation this season includes expanding the pumpkin patch behind the Curtis House, which provides some of the gourds for carving during the garden’s annual Jack-O’-Lantern Spectacular.

Directors, staff and volunteers plan “to experiment with a few fun children’s activities,” including storybook garden experiences where children can walk through the landscape that has been integrated with children’s literature.

Other components of the master plan include erecting a historic greenhouse that will be open year round, creating a larger meeting space at the Curtis House and eventually opening a small cafe on the site.

“(This) would allow people to stay here for a while but really not compete with the other businesses,” Anderson said of the cafe. “We want to be the place that adds to the vitality of the community without diminishing anyone else’s business.”

To coincide with this new vision, the Curtis House on Main Street in Paris, which has sat vacant for several years, will soon see a flurry of activity as the organization’s master plan gets underway.

The nonprofit’s Executive Director Donna Anderson said that over the winter, the board of directors and staff worked on details of the master plan to integrate the two sites that sit side by side on roughly 6 acres of the town’s main drag.

Every single inch of that space is going to be important to us,” she said.

They also simplified the organization’s mission.

The board has embraced a new level of fun,” Anderson said. “Museums tend to take themselves really seriously, which is understandable. History is another thing you can take way too seriously.” 

She added, “I think what we have come to understand is the power of fun and learning. People want to have something that makes them feel like their day or their time kind of feeds the soul.”

The idea is to preserve and develop the site into one location and to further engage the community along the way and in the future.

The house

Next door, the Curtis House, which was purchased by the nonprofit in 2013, is slated to become an education center. Anderson believes this site is the perfect fit because the front of the building — the cape — was built in 1815 as a schoolhouse on Elm Hill. It was moved to Main Street as a residence in 1840, she said.

In 1815, the whole public school experience was just finding its feet,” Anderson said. “The idea that there’s a dedicated schoolhouse so early for students is quite fun.”

As the directors and Anderson hammered out details of the master plan, the ell of the Curtis House flooded in early March because of frozen pipes, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Anderson said the ell was “essentially a woodshed that was never built to be permanent.” It was converted into a kitchen and bathroom and into a real estate office in the 1960s.

In a way, the flood was fortunate because we did get a chance to look at the history of the ell and problems,” she said.

Architects have determined there is no historical significance to the structure and from an insurance point of view, there’s too much damage to fix it. Anderson expects demolition of the ell to begin within the next month.

There is nothing like demolition to get people’s attention,” she said. “When people see demolition, they see destruction, but really, it’s the first part of the creative process.”

Anderson is waiting to hear from the architects on what it will take to preserve the rest of the house and the barn, where they found a surprise: large, late-18th-century timber posts that have historical significance.

“What we have to do is to stabilize the cape and stabilize the barn,” Anderson said. “The barn timbers become something really special for us.”

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Opening day for McLaughlin Garden in Paris is Friday, May 6, National Public Gardens Day. It kicks off the garden’s Wildflower Festival. There will be a wildflower presentation, a scavenger hunt, chores and the Chewonki Foundation will bring its bug mobile.

For more information, visit, call 743-8820 or stop by the garden at 97 Main St.

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