Paris, Maine

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Searching the Past.

We are currently working on OASIS, a research residency started in April at the Deering Estate, Cutler, Florida. On September 14, we had the chance to visit Paris, Maine, the birthplace and childhood home of Charles Deering, the estate’s founder. While stopping by the Paris Town Office, Elizabeth Knox assisted us in researching the official records, books and other early histories written about the community. [1]

On Elizabeth’s recommendation, we also visited with Paris Historian, Author, and Researcher, Ben B. Conant. When we arrived at the Historical Society’s office, Ben immediately stopped the archiving process he was working through with society volunteers and started pulling out all of the Deering related artifacts and references that he could find. Meeting Ben was an amazing experience and he gave us many leads to follow up on in the next months. Then he asked if we would like to visit the Deering Family markers and he accompanied us on walks through two separate graveyards. Even if we had known the location of the graveyards, we would not have been able to make connections that Ben pointed out to us. There are many Deering family members, in-laws and influential friends buried there in the town of Paris. Ben also showed us the location of several public buildings and family homes with Deering histories.

[1] Elizabeth J. Knox wears several hats: Town Clerk/Registrar/Deputy Tax Collector & Treasurer, Office Manager, President of Oxford County Town Clerk’s Association, Town of Paris

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Walks through the Cemeteries

It was a warm late summer afternoon. At the first cemetery, we saw the stones of the immediate family. Charles Deering’s mother, Abby Reed Barbour died of measles when he was just two years old. To honor her memory, he placed a human sized bronze plate over her grave. Next to it is a large rectangular stone that Charles dedicated to the Deering Family as a whole.

The second graveyard is more secluded and entering the gates gave the feeling of entering a church. We drove up past the old Kimball home, turned around and parked on the hill. The wrought iron gates were open and the grassy path into the graveyard was welcoming. We walked past an apple tree with all of its fruit lying on the ground below. Steps led up to the graves and a second set of gates at the top had to be opened. Inside this secluded location, there is a small number of graves. The space seems to carry the presence of the few persons resting there.

In this second graveyard, there is a stone that matches the Deering Family marker. Charles Deering is also responsible for this second stone, dedicated to the Kimball Family of Paris. Charles went to live with the family of his friend and schoolmate, Charles Kimball when his own mother died. A bronze plaque on one end of the large memorial attests to the gratitude he carried for the Kimballs throughout his life. [2] The two boys left Paris to study at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and while Charles Kimball became an architect, Charles Deering successfully pursued several careers during his lifetime. [3]

While visiting Paris, Maine we learned about many industries and social pursuits of its early residents. When attempting to write about the past, it is important to get as complete a picture as possible. Sometimes searching through the past and the details of lives lived brings us back to the present and toward making sense about the future. It was a rare treat to pass a day in pursuit of historical facts with the guidance of Ben Conant and Elizabeth Knox. We look forward to maintaining contact with these keepers of the records.

[2] This stone placed 1923 in remembrance of the friendship of William K. Kimball and Frances F. R. Kimball for the boy Charles Deering …

[3] The history of Charles Deering’s accomplishments is the subject of a wide variety of records. Our Oasis project rises from our residency at the Deering Estate in April 2017 and we continue to work with the material researched in Florida and Maine.

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Of Culture and Trees

While Ben spoke of many historical events as we walked back along the grassy pathways, it gave a chance to also discuss contemporary concerns. We had a conversation about seasons while passing the apple tree and seeing all of the fruit lying on the ground. Like most people, we have each observed changes in the supply and demand of market crops. Ben remembers his grandfather telling him about the drop in fruit exports to England from Maine after the First World War. I remember learning that Canada was once known for three main fruit producing regions. We have each entered grocery stores and seen apples bearing labels from far off countries on other continents. These observations are details that speak to changes in economies in each of our countries. The simple action of taking a walk through a graveyard and seeing a wealth of unharvested apples has carried our conversation from the past to the present.

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The first thing that struck me when crossing from Canada into the United States at the St. Stephen, NB to Calais, Maine was the grand size and apparent good health of the trees. While New Brunswick is known as a softwood producer, the trees here are so regulated and farmed that their small size reflects that overstretched economy. By contrast, when you get into Maine, a State where forestry also provides one of the State’s basic economies and renewable resources, the pines and the hardwoods are truly reminiscent of Paul Bunyan’s tales. The difference in the size of the trees is so noticeable that I was not surprised to see a large-scale statue of the legendary figure when passing through Bangor.

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Upon arriving in Paris, Maine to research some of the public records of Charles Deering’s childhood home, I asked the Elizabeth Knox about the wealth of trees in the State. She told me that various groups in that state have made protectorates of many areas in order to keep their trees. Back in New Brunswick, the familiar custom of leaving thin bands of trees bordering the highways fails to give the impression of much generosity of growth.

Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas
Septembre 29, 2017

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