PARIS — The Oxford County Courthouse on Western Avenue, a stately building which has sat on a Paris hillside for 12 decades, is going to be expanded, while still preserving its original beauty.

The courthouse, built in 1895 by Lewiston architect G.M. Coombs as a showpiece, was designed to combine beauty with function. The county added copious details to attract the eyes of visitors, such as ornate wood carvings, attractive staircases, and even a mural of an early court scene behind the judge’s bench, “The Code of Justinian,” painted by Monmouth renaissance man Harry Cochrane, the designer and decorator of Cumston Hall in his hometown.

Throughout the years, the Oxford County Courthouse has been the scene of inheritance battles, property disputes, divorces and criminal trials of all kinds. 

The building hosted a sensational murder trial in the late 1930s, when two men were sequentially convicted and imprisoned in the double homicide of Dr. James and Lydia Littlefield — a story which made national headlines for weeks.

Patricia Shearman, register of deeds for the county office in South Paris, wants to see the building preserved.

“The porch outside of the district attorney’s office was completely rebuilt last year,” Shearman said during a tour, “and you can see from this postcard, that it was done in the original architectural style.

“When I came here, there were two top windows that were boarded over. Those have been replaced, and put back to the way that they were. Of course, we still have the slate roof. And we have done work from time to time in re-pointing the old brick, and being sensitive to the coloring, and all that sort of thing.”

Shearman arrived at the Oxford County Registry of Deeds Office already primed and prepared as an architectural preservationist.

“My father was a minister and I grew up in church parsonages,” Shearman said. “I was fortunate enough to attend three churches that are all on the national historical registry. Of the parsonages, one was a Victorian era (home), beautiful three-story, stained-glass windows, foyer — all of that.

“The second one was an interesting hip-roof 1920s (home),” she said. “And so that is how I developed an appreciation — by being fortunate enough to live in these homes and go to these churches that were just beautiful to me.”

She later became a house painter and a paper hanger, starting her business in Kennebunk and eventually moving to the Oxford Hills. Two Kennebunk-area landmark buildings she worked on include the Wedding Cake House and Clock Farm. She was also active in restoring the Richard Evans Gingerbread House in Norway, which has now been moved to the entrance of the village approaching from Lake Pennesseewassee in order to woo potential preservationists.

Shearman has been combining some modernization with her preservation work close to her suite at the courthouse, including painting the original plaster walls with an oil-based, vapor barrier paint, so that the walls’ surfaces can breathe properly, adhering to national historic preservation standards dictated by the U.S. Park Service. 

Shearman was delighted to recently find a vendor to provide a replacement hinge to replace a defective one in one of the saloon-style swinging doors at the front entrance. She has also overseen projects to restore original lighting fixtures to safe operational condition, but has chosen to install modern energy-saving lighting in archival areas.

While the building is being preserved and restored, there are also plans underway for expansion of work areas, according County Administrator Scott Cole. So far, a study of needed space is concluded, and the state legislature and governor have approved funding for several courthouse expansion projects in Maine, including Oxford County, which estimates its project costs around $12-14 million, according to Cole.

“They did this (space expansion study) big,” Cole said, “and they evaluated (recommendation data) using their own professional judgment. It’s not just like disgruntled employees saying, ‘I need more space.’ It’s a little bit of everything, looking at industry or similar volume operations, in terms of caseload for the courts, typical docketing schedule and that kind of stuff.”

Cole said they will be adhering to modernization standards for separation of parties, flow of pedestrians and traffic.

He said the square-footage study was necessary to estimate a construction cost. A document, “Maine Judicial Branch Oxford County Courthouse Renovation and Addition Project,” suggests renovation of usable and accessible space of 5,549 square feet, and a new space of 27,000 square feet. Cole said the new construction will occupy the present parking lot area between the courthouse and the district court building.

Cole said the state now needs to select an architect for the project.

Hopefully, the firm will like the standard established in 1895 by architect G.M. Coombs.

Even though the senior lady’s footprint will expand by nearly five times her present “dainty shoe size,” it appears that efforts are in place to preserve her original good looks and style. 


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