NORWAY — Imagine Main Street in South Paris without McLaughlin Garden and Homestead.

Picture a gaping hole on Main Street in Norway where its renowned Opera House stands.

Then there is the Fox School in South Paris, where generations of children learned and grew, and now provides housing for generations to come.

Think about the rebirth of Norway’s Gingerbread House, rescued from its crumbling sills to rise as an architectural phoenix at the gateway of a rejuvenated and bustling village.

Many people know, although many others do not, that these fixtures of the Oxford Hills communities might not exist today if not for the will and vision of preservation activist Andrea Burns.

Andrea Burns has been a driving factor in Norway’s transformation from depleted mill town to bustling economic village. Courtesy Brewster Burns

For more than 50 years Burns has impacted numerous citizens and local institutions. She spent the first 25 teaching first-grade children at the Fox School. After retiring she committed the next 25 plus to rescuing local treasures.


Through her work, she has established that economic progress does not require bulldozers and fresh concrete, but can be achieved by embracing the foundations already in place.

Burns was recently honored, again, for her vision and determination.

This time she was chosen to receive a 2024 Maine Preservation Honor, in concert with a separate award granted to the Gingerbread House, one of Burns’ many collaborative achievements.

The Advertiser Democrat spoke with Burns this spring to talk about her passion for historic preservation and how Norway embraced her mission and became a Maine destination.

The path that brought Burns to Norway at exactly the time it needed a hero could be seen as kismet. Early in her marriage and parenting, the Burns family (husband Hank, sons Jay and Brewster) lived in historic locales such as Salem, MA and Charleston, SC.

“Living in Salem and spending 10 years in Charleston while Hank was in the Navy, I became very aware of how fragile preservation was during the 1960s,” Burns said. “It was very sad. We began to realize that urban renewal would destroy our historic roots.


“I was sensitive to this fact coming to Maine. People were learning from the tragedies that were occurring in historic cities in other states.”

The Burns family bought a home in Waterford where they first spent summers and eventually moved permanently.

“One of the things about our house in Waterford, there was no insulation,” recalls Burns’ younger son Brewster. “And I’ve never figured out if there were even conversations about putting in insulation.

“But it was a historic house and old houses had no insulation. Part of it was about not tampering with the house the way it was.

“I remember waking up in the winter and a glass of water would be frozen next to my bed. No central heating, nothing to heat upstairs. But it looked great, it looked exactly the way it should look.”

Following her retirement Burns was instrumental, along with its former director Lee Dassler, in preserving the McLaughlin House with its iconic surrounding gardens.


“How quickly that could have been lost,” Burns said. Instead, the buildings and more than 500 species of flowering plants, trees and shrubs were saved, becoming a garden museum. It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2000 and remains open and free to the public.

“Then, the next thing I knew, there was movement in Norway to take down the Opera House,” she continued. “We got it listed as a threatened building.”

Burns set about having key historic preservation allies – Bruce Cook, Scott Berk and Brenda Melhus – named as directors for the newly created Norway Downtown board. Cook passed away in 2020, but Berk and Melhus continue to lead the organization with other well-known community leaders.

By the time Burns moved from Waterford to Norway, around 2009, Brewster said his mother was immersed in revitalizing Norway through historic preservation.

“She set her energy downtown and started making things happen,” Brewster said. “Every time I’d see my mom there would be conversations about downtown Norway and about historic preservation. Every. Single. Time.

“She was obsessed, in a great way, to turn Norway into a place that is visually appealing, historically accurate and because of those things, very good for business.”


Some of Burns’ most effective talents have been to rally the community – citizens, businesses and municipal leaders – to find common ground to revitalize Norway, and to hold stakeholders accountable to move forward together.

“The incredible gift I’ve had is a broad vision of Norway, and other towns when I was on Maine Preservation’s board,” Burns said. “You go in the town and start talking to people and you know immediately what they want, [which is] to create a sense of life.

“It used to be they worked here and picked their stuff at the dime store. But they don’t anymore. Those mills are gone.

“So why do we want to lure people to Norway, bring money from the outside in? We want it to be beautiful and enticing. We need to be something special, and not just for residents but for visitors, too.

“A preservation-based economy is economic development.”

From a Main Street in 2009 that had as many boarded up storefronts as it had open businesses, Norway now most certainly has a sense of life thanks to Burns and others like her.

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