PARIS, TN: Harding details Lee School history

Local history buff Ray Harding speaks at a meeting as part of the Paris Special School District’s 100th year Monday night at the Lee Academy for the Arts. He spoke in one of the two original rooms of the former Lee School building after it was rebuilt following an 1880 fire.

“The building in which we meet tonight is on a lot that was bought from Judge John T. Hamilton shortly after the city was incorporated in 1823,” Ray Harding told a group gathered at the Lee Academy for the Arts, formerly the Lee School building, Monday night.

“Paris was the first incorporated city in West Tennessee and leaders soon realized a school was needed.”

Two of its earlier supporters and benefactors were J.C. Atkins and James Porter. Atkins was a United States Congressman prior to the Civil War. He subsequently served as a Congressman for the Confederacy. After the war, he was pardoned and returned to the U.S. Congress — the only man to serve in both.

James Porter eventually served as Tennessee governor.

Harding said the school was simply called Paris Public School until it was named for Robert E. Lee in 1906.

About 30 people attended the meeting.

Among the items Harding brought to show were a handbell used by former Lee principal Charlie McGehee and a copy of the orginal deed to the land.

“Until 1906, Lee was also a high school,” Harding said. “It remained an elementary school then until 1975.”

The Paris Special School District used it as its headquarters after that.

“After it moved out, a large number of citizens were determined to save the historic building,” he said.

“Possible uses were considered, such as being used as offices or even apartments,” Harding remarked, “but the beginning of the Lee Academy for the Arts was obviously the best.”

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