Forty years later, the Société d’Histoire du Cap de Paris continues to collect the history
PARIS — The Paris Cape Historical Society began as a classic American movement — a public gathering in a community facility.
In this case, the establishment was the Paris Public Library in 1980. Stanley Howe, PhD, of the Bethel Historical Society, was invited to speak to Parisians about how to develop a new society, devoted to the larger community under Paris Hill.
“We had our first meeting in the late 1980s,” recalls Ben Conant, Paris Cape’s first chairman of the board as well as curator of collections and institutional knowledge. “We filled the room, 30-40 people. When we formed, we had over 200 founding members. We needed a bigger venue so we went to the old fire station in Paris to hold our meetings.
For many years Paris Cap was nomadic. After the fire station, his next home was in the old county jail on Western Ave. He moved to a loan room there, where they established their museum for a few years. But eventually, county administrators needed more office space.
“So we had to get out of there and we stored the collection we had in the old savings buildings, right here around the corner,” Conant said. “Our next company, one of the trustees, John Titus, he donated some land to us on Route 26. It was the start of us coming up with our own building. It was our first permanent museum the low.
Being part of a commercial strip, this location was not ideal for a historical society. The trustees began looking for a new headquarters, which brought them to the Porter house at the corner of High and Porter streets. This location had been in the Porter family since the 1830s before it was sold to two other parties, the second of which sold it to the historical society.
Thanks to fundraising, bequests and the sale of the Route 26 site, Paris Cap was able to buy the Potter House and establish its permanent headquarters there in 2003.
In 2016, he added his two-story addition which included storage upstairs, an archive and display room downstairs, and climate-controlled storage in the basement.
The historical society holds a number of important primary source collections. Early acquisitions were from the William Viles trust and included documentary resources used by Silas Maxim, co-author of the town’s history published in the 1880s. Maxim’s records included newspapers and journals from the 18th and 19th centuries. Viles’ other bequest consisted of hundreds of negatives of images belonging to Waterford photographer Edward Greene, who worked from the 1890s to the late 1930s.
“Edward Greene used to do postcards and things like that,” Conant said. “His family sent the negatives to Bill (Viles) for safekeeping. These two collections were the historical “head” shall we say of the historical society. Of course, others gave away everything else along the way.
“Over the past 10 years we’ve also gotten Jack Quinn’s negatives, about 100,000. It’s a goldmine. Sidney and Roberta Gordon spent years cataloging the negatives, along with John Davis. A labor of love, it was. This is one of the best photo collections in western Maine.
Paris Cape holds the Civil War collection of Arthur Hunt who led the Sons of Union Veterans, who were the next generation of veterans after the Civil War Grand Army of the Republic. It contains archival books on the war produced by the federal government.
Conant estimates that the archives contain about 150 journals and diaries dating from the late 19th century to the 20th.
In addition to the primary archives, the historical society has an impressive collection of objects representing Parisian organizations and institutions: souvenirs from the Grange de Paris and the Lycée de Paris; municipal reports from the 1850s; decades of Maine records; Archives of the Democratic Announcer (and its earlier versions) from the 1840s; and pedigree records.
Paris’ local manufacturing past is also preserved in the historical society, from documents such as business and account books to artifacts, such as sleds from its sled factory, toys and furniture.
The pandemic closed the museum and its collections for much of 2020, but in mid-2021 the Paris Cape Historical Society was able to return to its usual Thursday hours and restart its series of presentations as it celebrated his 40th birthday.
Conant, who has served as the company’s curator since its inception, continues to work with its directors on upcoming programming. Membership numbers are around 100. He knows that to continue to thrive, new members with new skills need to get involved.
“We need all the support and interest we can get,” he said. “We need young people.”
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