School History

          West Paris High School/ West Paris Elementary/ Agnes L. Gray Elementary School
                                                         A Brief History
                                Compiled by Donna DiConzo 6/2003 - rev. 7/2015
 
          The school building sit majestically at the foot of Berry's Ledge. The hills, once open fields trod by hoof and wagon wheel, have long since grown again to forest land. The train whistle only blows in passing and the station is only a memory. Yet even as the winds of change shift 'round us, the school yard remains the same, still singing with the wondrous, magical songs of youth. Children play on the playground, slide down it's slide and swing on it's swings at recess. They laugh, cry, and skin their knees. And, they continue to learn and grow here.
          Built in 1895 to house two smaller schools, the "West End School", also known as the "Up Over the River School" was located on Greenwood Street. The exact location of the "East End School" has faded with time, but is believed to have been located near Trap Corner on the village side of the bridge that spans Andrew's Brook. The new building would house the sixty odd students from the village and Trap Corner areas.
          The town purchased the land from Mrs. William Willis. "The House" as they fondly called it then, was a large three storied, many windowed structure. It's massive gable end and full width porch facing the street had two doors on either side and two double hung windows in the middle. In 1901 a wing addition to the right side of the building was completed, again with multiple windows and a strong gable end. At some point the porch was closed in on either side, forming two small cloakrooms, at which time the two windows became the front entrance.
          The West Paris High School was established in 1909. The High School originally ran as a two year course, the last two years of high school being completed at Paris High School in South Paris. The Class of 1918 was the first four year class to graduate from West Paris High. For many years the younger students learned their lessons on the ground floor, while the high school students were taught on the second floor. In the 1920's the left wing was added for growing population of students from West Paris Village and the surrounding areas. In 1938 the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration), built the combination auditorium/gymnasium.
          In the early years of the 1950's West Paris has it's own High School, Post Office, Library, Railroad Station, Fire Department, Water District and other organizations, such as the Grange, American Legion, Odd Fellows and Masonic Lodge. There were also general stores, A Finnish Co-Op, gas stations, hardware stores, restaurants and mills in town. And although a Village Corporation had been formed in 1921, what West Paris did not have at the time was it's own town government, as it was part of the Town of Paris. A kind of unwritten agreement had evolved over the years to unofficially recognize three main communities within the Town of Paris. Paris Hill, South Paris, and West Paris, all had their own representatives on the Board of Selectmen and the School Board. Although there had been some talk in the past of becoming independent, no real consideration was given to the idea until it reached a feverish pitch in 1956, mainly due to the fact that at the time many Paris citizens openly believed it foolish to maintain two high schools in the same town. At the 1957 Paris Town Meeting an article to close the West Paris High School would be on the warrant. West Paris citizens dominated the meeting and won the vote to keep their high school. The West Paris Alumni Association then rallied to the cause and pushed for West Paris to become it's own town with it's own town government in hopes of saving the high school permanently. A bill was created, L.D. 1172 and put on the ballot for the 98th Legislature. A caravan was organized to carry West Paris citizens to Augusta, roughly 100 citizens traveled to Augusta to attend the hearing. Stores closed so businessmen could attend. Local mills even allowed worker time off with pay to go to Augusta. So many citizens attend the hearing it had to be moved from the hearing room to the Chamber of the Maine Senate. The 98th Legislature passed L.D. 1172, and Governor Muskie signed it into law. The law provided that a special election be held in west Paris to ascertain if the citizens of this newly proposed town really wanted independence. The election was held in September of 1957. Another provision of the legislative act was that at least 55% of the registered voters of West Paris participate in the referendum/ The turn out was greater than 80%, 480 of the registered 599 voters were in favor of independence. West Paris celebrated it's new found independence with the ringing of it's church bells and firing the cannon, known by the name of "Big Bertha", made in a local mill during World War I. The first official town meeting was held on January 2, 1958.
          In 1965 West Paris joined the new Maine School Administrative District #17 and the school became strictly elementary. The Class of 1966 would be the last class to graduate from West Paris High School. The buildings would come to be known as the West Paris Elementary School. In the late 1960's the building had once again grown to small and the Legion Memorial School was built across the street on land donated by the American Legion, for kindergarten and first grade students. In 1973 the "Big School" (as the original "House" was called after the building of the Legion School, which they called the "Little School") was officially dedicated and renamed the Agnes L. Gray School in honor of Miss Agnes Louise Gray, a West Paris native and long time teacher. 
          The school building and it's grounds continue to be a vital part of the West Paris community. The auditorium/gymnasium, being the largest room in town, is also used for town meetings, budget hearings and banquets. The playground, basketball court and baseball fields are used throughout the summer. More though, than it's buildings and grounds, are it's children, teachers, staff and countless volunteers of all ages that are such an essential part of West Paris. And with all due respect the building should still be called the "House", because without a doubt within it's wall is a "Family".
                                 Information compiled by Donna DiConzo 6/2003 revised in 7/2015
                                 Resources: Coutnless Town Folk who remember - Thank You!
                                                     Paris, Maine - The Second Two Hundred Years
                                                     The West Paris Historical Society