PARIS — One of Paris’ most valuable assets, the Paris Cape Historical Society, is also one of its most fragile.

In fact, the community pillar is in need of a local transfusion. New blood is imperative for the organization to continue its mission of preserving Oxford county’s shire town past, which dates back 287 years to the colonial era when it was established by the commonwealth of Massachusetts as No. 4 Township.

Paris Cape Historical Society was founded in 1980, first as a focus of community discussions at meetings in borrowed rooms around town, then at a small site along Route 26 and, finally, establishing its archives and museum at the Porter House on High Street, including an addition with meeting space and climate controlled storage to protect its artifacts.

Relics of Paris’ local manufacturing legacy are on display at the Paris Cape Historical Society on High Street. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

There, the society has aggregated irreplaceable relics of Paris’ social and economic history from first settlement until recent past. Items manufactured in Paris factories include tiny dollhouse furniture, sturdy sleds and furniture. Phone systems and other business equipment like building signs and handwritten mercantile day journals from the 1800s have a permanent home in the museum’s displays, as do garments, quilts, ephemera and other sundries from home manufacturing.

Archive collections include copies of the Advertiser Democrat dating back to the first half of the 19th century and 100,000 photographs taken by local photo journalist Jack Quinn. More recently the historical society became steward to every trophy earned by students of the former Paris High School.

Paris High School may be long gone, but its students’ achievements have been preserved by Paris Cape Historical Society. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

According to founding member and retiring curator Ben Conant, the historical society holds 150 journals and diaries of Paris’ forebears, generations of genealogical records and 170 years of town reports – primary source documents available for historical research in one setting.


What Paris Cape Historical Society lacks are resources: committed volunteers, engaged members and local sponsorship. Long-standing trustees have moved away or passed away. Two current officers have been sidelined, for now, by health issues.

“We need people!” Society Secretary Marilyn Jones summarized the historical society’s biggest challenge during its monthly trustee meeting Monday night.

Paris Cape Historical Trustees (from left): Judy Knight, Jim Merrill and Merton Lord, and Secretary Marilyn Jones. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Jones, who at 90 would like to retire herself, did not exaggerate. The president and vice president board positions are vacant, with Jones’ role opening in the future. Conant, whose mind is a historical vault of its own, continues double duty as curator and genealogical specialist but needs assistants – apprentices if you will – to balance his workload. He was unable to attend Monday’s meeting because he is still recovering from a recent accident.

The society could also use at least one more trustee, and a community relations volunteer to help Trustee and Publicity Coordinator Cynthia Immonen with sponsor outreach, build a social media presence and promote its mission and museum.

Last year Jones took the bull by the horns and recruited four new trustees including Guy McAlister III, son of longstanding Trustee Guy McAlister, Jr. who stepped into his father’s role after he passed away in August.

The younger Guy has quickly become one of the historical society’s MVP/VIP volunteers. He has done maintenance to the 1830s Porter House and just procured materials to repair a major roof leak. He will be responsible for lawn care during the warmer months and provide volunteer snowplowing services next winter.


Currently, McAlister is leading an effort to republish a book of Paris’ pictorial past, a tome that the society will to sell to help revitalize its income.

McAlister is also giving up one of his own to the cause. Although not his firstborn, he delivered his 17-year-old daughter Adreana to attend her first trustee meeting this week. Adreana has grown up watching her grandfather volunteer his time to preserve Paris’ town history and now she is making his dedication a family tradition.

Guy McAlister III (right) is Paris Cape Historical Society’s newest trustee, and his daughter Adreana (center) is its youngest volunteer. Also pictured, Trustee Barbara Robinson. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Annual membership to Paris Cape Historical Society calculates to a commitment of $0.83 a month. No offers of financial support or new members will be refused.

Buoyed in its earliest days by $100 lifetime memberships, not many of its original supporters remain. Not since the 2015 addition to the Porter House, led by the late Joseph Beaudreau, has the group held a major fundraising campaign.

Monday’s trustee meeting included the message from Treasurer Lucien Twitchell that the historical society’s current cash flow will not be enough to take it through another winter, even with McAlister eliminating costly snow removal services.

“Since the pandemic its has been more difficult to keep things going,” said Barbara Robinson, the historical society trustee who also acts as an ad hoc leader of the organization. “We have been working on a giving campaign with the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce but we have not had the resources to move forward with it.”


Ben Conant is a founding member and driving force of Paris Cape Historical Society and its lifelong curator. The society was established in the basement of the Paris Public Library in 1980. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

“There are grants available to historical societies, but we need someone with the research and writing skills to help work on them,” Jones added. “We need more people.”

With limited mobile volunteer power, the small board continues its traditions where it can. Lloyd “Skip” Herrick will be the featured speaker at the historical society’s next community meeting, which will be held at the museum on April 20, starting at 7 p.m.

Herrick, retired Paris police chief and Oxford county sheriff, will talk about his experiences as a community law enforcement officer. Jones has plans to announce more monthly presentations, including one by former board President Liam Opie, in the near future.

Paris Cape Historical Society meetings are open and free to the public. Refreshments are provided. Donations and new memberships are welcomed, as are community members and business leaders who are willing to fill board positions or volunteer their time.

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