History of the School
In 2001, a number of historically minded Henry County organizations formed a committee dedicated to preserving Lee School. By spring, the Robert E. Lee School Association (RELSA) had filed a charter and had begun soliciting funds to restore and find a purpose for the building. Their mission, 1) to restore and preserve this historic building and grounds and 2) to make Lee school a useful and viable part of our contemporary culture in Paris and Henry County. In 2002, the school building and land were deeded to RELSA. A feasibility study, funded in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was completed and possible uses for the facility were recommended.
Several capital projects have been completed including heating and air conditioning installations, classroom/restroom rehabilitation, window repair, landscaping and parking, wiring, and painting and restoration of the Bell Tower.
In 2003, the Robert E. Lee School Association Board chose an initial purpose for the historic building and the Lee School became a Center for the Arts.
The nonprofit Robert E. Lee School Association is dedicated to the restoration and renovation of the historic school building located near downtown Paris. With assistance from grants, donations, memberships and a special contribution of $10,000 to the Paris-Henry County Arts Council by an anonymous donor, three rooms are ready for the premier season of the Robert E. Lee Academy for the Arts.
The Academy offers year-round classes and workshops with an emphasis on visual and performing arts to citizens of all ages from throughout Paris and Henry County.
Robert E. Lee Academy for the Arts Time Line
1823 - City of Paris Tennessee Incorporated.
1825 - Sixty prominent citizens of Paris pledged money to build the first School in Paris, to be named the Paris Male Academy. Land was donated by John C. Hamilton. Pledges were to be paid annually for 3 years in either cash or equivalent value of cotton .
1830’s – First known newspaper ads for Paris Male Academy appeared. The size or type of construction is not known.
1848 - New brick building with bell tower was built.
1861 - Confederate troops were mustered on the school grounds and in the old building.
1861 – 1865 - School was closed for the duration of the Civil War
1880 – Fire destroyed the school. The Paris Male Academy was moved to another location.
1881 - Paris City School system acquired the property and built the front four rooms of the present Main Classroom Building. Top floor rooms were originally one large room. Elementary curriculum was offered.
Circa 1893 - School expanded to 16 rooms and curriculum expanded to include high school (through grade 10). School became known as City High School. High School curriculum included: Literature, Solid Geometry, Trigonometry, Latin (Virgil and Cicero), Moral Philosophy, History, and Mythology
Circa 1906 - School was named for Gen. Robert E. Lee.
1906 – E. W. Grove became the county high school; Lee school became an elementary school again.
1909 - Lunch Room built, first used as a gymnasium. Students’ role in financing construction recognized on cornerstone. Lee Academy supporter George McFarlan (Mac) Luckey’s Grandfather, Mr. W.W. Luckey was the contractor.
1909 - Miss Charlie McGehee became a teacher at Lee School.
1915 - Lee School Lunch Room prepared and transported soup to the new Atkins Porter Elementary School until they could build kitchen facilities.
1922 - Miss Charlie McGehee became Principal of Lee School
1924 - Circular fire escapes added.
1957 - Miss Charlie McGehee retired as Principal. Mr. Charles Mansfield became principal.
1975 - Classes ended at Lee School. Offices of the Paris Special School District were relocated to the Classroom Building.
1988 - The site was added to the National Trust Register of Historic Places.
2000 – Paris Special School District announced plans to vacate the building. The John Babb Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution published a resolution that the school must be saved, resulting in a groundswell of public interest in saving the school.
2001 - A study was conducted by the Historical Preservation Department of Middle Tennessee State University to assess the feasibility of restoring the building and to suggest possible beneficial uses of the property
2001 - The building was vacated. The non-profit Robert E. Lee School Association (RELSA) was formed by volunteers with a mission to save the historical building and put it to a use beneficial to the community. Incorporators of the non-profit corporation were Suzanne Richter, Ray Harding, and Mary June Sinnema. As our first Treasurer, Andy Hooper set up our financial record keeping and control systems. He managed large sums of grant money during the massive renovation phase and satisfied all the regulations of the Historical Commission and the IRS. He served as Treasurer for 9 years.
2002- Building and grounds were purchased by RELSA for $10, and restoration began. Funding was provided by grants from The Tennessee Historical Commission, City of Paris, Henry County, memberships, clubs Kiwanis, Rotary, Quota, Athena Delphian, Garden Clubs, Helping Hand, personal donations, bequests, fundraisers, corporate grants and sponsorships.
2004- First classes at Lee Academy for the Arts were held. Charter Board Member, Dr. Suzanne Richter, was named Director of the Robert E. Lee Academy for the Arts.
2006- Quota Club donated a magnificent flag pole, dedicated to the memory of Ms. Inez Irion.
2006 – The Captain Charles Barham Chapter of the National Society of Colonial Dames XVII Century marked the Lee School site as an historical place.
2008 - Lunch room restoration was finished and a formal dedication was held.
2011 - Parking lot was paved
2012 - Main Classroom Building roof was replaced.
2014 - Restoration of two classrooms completed, making a total of 13 of the 16 rooms fully functional.
2015 - Antique steam Locomotive bell donated by the Kendall family was installed in the bell tower.
2015 - Administrative assistant Debbie Knowles joined the staff.
2015 - Creative Director Kaylan Buteyn joined the staff.
2017 - Director of Programs Morgan Wilson and Director of Marketing & Communications Sara Simonis joined the staff.
Click any of the photos below to see a larger version.
A 1907 vintage postcard of Lee School. Note the original fountain, which inspired the installation of the new fountain. The entrance foyer had not been closed in (which may have been done in 1917.)
5th and 6th grade classes of 1925. The teacher at the far tight was Miss
Mavis Miller, a long time teacher who is remembered fondly by her students.
Charles McMillen, circa 1928.
Note one of the two circular fire escape slides, which were installed in 1924 and replaced with steps around 1970. Sliding down them on Friday afternoon was a favorite treat for accomplishments, such as scoring 100 on your spelling test.
An early picture of Miss Stella Dunn, one of the most beloved teachers at
Lee School. She taught second grade in Room 6 (now Kindermusik room). After lunch, she almost always read a chapter from the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingles Wilder.
Mrs. Lashlee's 3rd grade class in 1948. Please see the full gallery below for more inforrmation.
Miss Mavis Miller's 5th grade class circa 1947. The boy to the far left of
the second seated row was Larry McGeehe, an accomplished alumnus from Lee School. The late Dr. McGehee was a successful college administrator, professor, and he published a syndicated series of
newspaper articles called "Southern Scene," describing life in the South in bygone days. He was also a staunch supporter of the Lee School restoration.
Miss Alice Lampley's second grade class, 1957. Miss Alice taught second grade for many years in Room 5 (now the Ceramics Studio). See the full gallery below for more information on this photo.
Mrs. Jacque Veazey's class, (late '60's?)
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Fundraising, Restoration, and a New Focus
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