PARIS — On a warm June afternoon in 1919, a large crowd from Norway and Paris gathered at the Paris High School diamond to cheer on their baseball teams during the last game of the season – a week after classes ended for the school year.

The former Mildred M. Fox School, is shown in this picture with its sign still on the school as it is readied for renovations.

The two rival teams concluded their season with a victory for the Norwayites from Norway High School who with a “wicked pounding won the bacon ” in the ninth inning. The celebration was had with “no open hostilities,” reported the Advertiser Democrat.

Only a week earlier, 12 Paris High School seniors had gathered at the local Baptist Church, standing on a platform covered with flags, ferns and the class flower, roses, to receive their diplomas.

Valedictorian Berly Silver provided the Valedictory Speech on “The Americanization of the Foreign Born.” Class gifts, including a soap box to Gustave Porter so he “need not hire a hall to deliver his speeches” and a manual called “The Bluffer” to Burton Clifford, were distributed.

Principal Jasper Haggerty was given a traveling bag by the senior class before Superintendent Merlin C. Joy presented diplomas to the seniors whose class motto was, “The elevator to success is not running. Take the stairs.”

It was a time in Paris when the population of about 3,000 enjoyed its quiet, country town atmosphere and broad, elm-arched streets were dotted with spacious and elegant residences.

This vintage picture shows school crossing guards and students at the main entrance to the former Mildred M. Fox School.

It was a time when pride in the Paris High School, a three-story brick building built in Market Square next to the Androscoggin River, was abundant and as one writer had put it, education was “admirably conducted and liberally supported.”

Originally built in 1883 as the Oxford Normal Institute and expanded significantly in 1940 as the Brick School, the school was renamed in 1967 to honor longtime principal Mildred M. Fox, when it was turned into the town’s elementary school.

The last public school students attended Fox School in 2008, though the building was used by a Christian academy for approximately eight years after that.

Now its new owners, Avesta Housing of Portland, hope to re-instill that pride back into the building as it reinvents itself from a school building to senior housing.

And they hope to remember its history as an educational building.

“There are so many stories out there that people have about the building. It’s a great opportunity to collect some of them,” said Patrick Hess, development officer for Avesta Housing in Portland. “We want to make sure those things (memories, stories, artifacts) aren’t lost as the school begins a new life in the community.”

New life

The sale of the Mildred M. Fox School located at 10 Market Place, to Avesta Housing, was finalized on Dec. 28, 2017 for $125,000. This spring is will be ready to open as 12, mostly one-bedroom, units that will be rented to low income senior citizens.

Over the last year, Avesta has restored the historic building to its place as a community landmark, turning it classrooms turned into apartments and re-purposing the building  as a critical affordable housing resource for seniors in the area, said Avesta officials.

Apartments are now being marketed and occupancy is expected to occur this spring. Hess said anyone who may be interested in learning more, should contact Emily Pelletier (by phone at 245-3255 or by email at epelle[email protected]).

“It will also be exciting to see the community that forms within the building. We hope the building helps meet the demand for comfortable and friendly environment.”

Hess said the building was selected for a variety of reasons including the walk-ability it has to downtown restaurants, stores, the post office, walking trails and so forth,

“We found the location to be excellent,” he said.

It also allowed the owner to take advantage of state and federal historic tax credits.

“We’re very excited to partner with the town of Paris to bring new quality and historically significant housing to Maine,” Hess said.

While the developers are using state and federal historic tax credits, not everything historical in the building has or can be saved, said Hess.

“It varies,” said Hess. The project is reviewed by state and federal authorities who require that a period building plan strike a representative balance.

History retained

Hess said they were able to salvage a few items from the school, including the school sign that hung on the exterior of the building for years. While the sign was removed, it will not be part of the new building because of its condition, Instead it has been given to the Paris Cape Historical Society.

“It was too deteriorated. It didn’t make sense to refurbish it. We knew it would have a good home,” explained Hess.

The developer also had to assess the chalkboards that remained in many of the classrooms.

“Saving a chalkboard in every room doesn’t make sense,” Hess said. Instead several chalkboards were saved and hung in the hallways and sitting areas.

Other original pieces such as exterior ramps, staircases, windows and such were saved, but other things, such as lighting fixtures were not, because of the availability of modern fixtures that mimic the look of older ones without the hazardous electrical components.

The large windows, which define the look of the brick building, were kept in place because of the difficulty in replacing such large expanses. Storm windows were added to make them as energy efficient as possible, he said.

Hess said the idea to bring historical artifacts and memories of the community together was sparked by a conversation he had with Andrea Burns, who taught for 25 years at the school and is involved locally and beyond with preservation efforts.

Burns said the building’s “bones” are solid said she is impressed with the attention to historic detail Avesta has. “Having spent 25 years teaching in the Fox School building, it is exciting to see the adaptive use done in a thoughtful and responsible way.”

Part of the history project will be done through distribution of a survey to former Fox School staff and students. The Fox School History Survey asks respondents to describe the school when they were there, important traditions and routines, people they might remember, fondest and clearest memories. It is hoped the surveys can be compiled and put into scrapbooks that will be put in the community room.

It is also hoped that artifacts and photographs can be collected for display in the community room the history of the building as an educational institution.

Anyone who is interested in contributing to the Fox School History Project can find the survey online.

Hess said he hopes that the survey will be distributed far and wide to reach as many former students and staff as possible.

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