Jack Quinn (1898-1978) spent 50 years typing the news of Oxford Hills with his two forefingers. Photo courtesy of Paris Cape Historical Society

PARIS — If it happened in the Oxford Hills between 1925 and 1975, chances are there is a picture to prove it and it can be found in the archives of the Paris Cape Historical Society, where local newshound Jack Quinn’s estimated 100,000 photographs, negatives and newspaper clippings are housed.

A portion of a multi-page feature spread Jack Quinn filed with the Boston Globe. Photo courtesy of Paris Cape Historical Society

John “Jack” Quinn was born in 1898 and grew up Oxford. He took his first job in 1915, clerking at Jones’ Pharmacy. It was there that he became part of the community news cycle, working in the hub of local news and gossip.

As a young man, Quinn became a jack of all trades, working at times as a weaver at the Robinson woolen mill in Oxford, a sign letterer, a salesman for a packing firm and an insurance salesman. He also opened a general store in the 1920s shortly before marrying Jennie Lebroke of Norway.

Quinn was known as a talented dance performer, starting at Jolly Time in Otisfield in 1933. He would go on to hold his own dances at Robinson Hall and at the Association Hall at Market Square. His bands played music at the dances, which were notable for drawing crowds of up to 1,000.

But the career that finally stuck to Quinn was newsman. With no education or training in journalism or photography, he took pictures throughout the community and wrote about it. He captured moments such as friends sharing a meal at Minnie’s Lunch Counter, children at play, youth sports teams, storefronts, weather events and the construction of local landmarks.

Paris children stand by their completed snow fort at the Gothic Street railroad crossing, c. 1940.  Photo courtesy of Paris Cape Historical Society

Quinn’s portfolio translates to taking about 2,000 pictures a year on average, or five or six every day.

“He probably wasn’t known as being the best photographer,” laughed Ben Conant, curator for Paris Cape Historical Society. “No formal training, but he would see things happening and he’d run with it. He’d get there quickly, get his pictures and story and get out.”

Quinn was an established news reporter by the time Conant was born. His son Joe and Conant’s older brother Jan were best friends. Conant remembers him fondly.

“Jack, he was quick to act,” Conant said. “He was outgoing, and he knew how to embellish a story.”

Jack Quinn’s notes taken during Paul Dwyer’s trial for the murder of Dr. James Littlefield. Advertiser Democrat photo by Nicole Carter

Quinn worked as a correspondent for several local and regional newspapers— Portland’s Evening Express, the Lewiston Sun, Boston’s Globe and Post, and later with the Portland Press Herald and Sunday Telegram.

He made his name covering the infamous 1937 murders of Dr. James and Mrs. Lydia Littlefield of Paris Hill and subsequent trials of their accused killers Paul Dwyer and Francis Carroll.

For years the case twisted and turned with confessions and recantations, convictions, appeals and both of the accused being finally released. The murder of Lydia Littlefield is still considered an open case. Quinn followed the investigations and trials, filing reports and photographs for the Associated Press continuously, even doing radio reports on the crime.

“Back then, Jack had to file stories by train. He had to time it, develop his pictures and type out his story,” Conant said. “He’d use the down line train to get his dispatches out. He’d have to catch the train before it left.”

Quinn saw something newsworthy at every turn and never hesitated to chase it down. Vacationing in New York in 1951 as then Princess Elizabeth and her husband Philip toured Canada, he rushed to Ontario, joined a crowd of 30,000 onlookers and managed to dispatch photos of the couple to the Sunday Telegram without any press credentials.

Many of his pictures capture Oxford’s and surrounding communities’ economies — bygone retailers like Shop and Save, well-known auto dealerships, restaurants and other businesses. Residents of all ages at work and play highlight Quinn’s black and white images. He documented new buildings, new bridges and the draining of Thompson Lake. He didn’t limit his services to just the news either, photographing portraits, passports and life events from weddings to funerals.

George Henry Jones (1849-1946) of Oxford, Jack Quinn’s first business mentor, c. 1936. photo courtesy of Paris Cape Historical Society

One of Quinn’s favored portrait subjects was George Henry Jones, the pharmacist who gave him his first job as a teenager. Born in Oxford in 1849, Jones tried but failed to enlist in the U.S. Army at the ripe old age of 14.

Thwarted in his first attempt at a military career Jones turned to industry, going to work at the Bates Mill in Lewiston. At 18, he volunteered again, this time managing to muster in with the 27th Unassigned Infantry at Augusta. Because his date of enlistment was April 7, 1865, Jones’ Civil War service was short lived. The 27th Company was discharged by May 13 having never left the state capital.

Jack Quinn captured Civil War veteran George Henry Jones in many photographs. Photo courtesy of Paris Cape Historical Society

Jones returned to Oxford to work in his family’s woolen mill for the next six years. In 1871, he bought Oxford’s only apothecary business when its owner retired. He worked as a druggist until his retirement in 1936. And while Jones’ Civil War career petered out after just weeks, he was still considered a veteran of the conflict.

He spent his final 10 years of life attending to state veterans affairs and events such as Gettysburg reunions. He assumed the ceremonial rank of Maine Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1946, serving until his death later that year.

Quinn retired from reporting in 1963. He and Jennie became “snowbirds,” splitting their time between between Paris and Florida. Retirement didn’t lead to him putting down his camera and he continued documenting life in Oxford Hills through his lens. He passed away in 1978, leaving a behemoth assortment of news clippings and photography.

Quinn’s son and daughter-in-law, Joe and Colleen Quinn, donated his entire collection to the Paris Cape Historical Society in 2014. Volunteers spent years pouring through the materials, cataloging, dating and identifying people in the images, work that continues today.

The society has selected 46 of them to be featured in a 2020 tribute calendar to Quinn. It is available for sale at the Paris Cape Historical Society at 19 Park St. in Paris (207-743-2384 or 743-2462). With a handful of Quinn’s photos making their way back to print, that leaves about 999,954 to go.


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