When you’ve had a hand in preserving as many treasured and fascinating Maine sites as Greg Paxton has, it’s a big ask to name just one favorite. Paxton is the outgoing executive director of Maine Preservation, the Yarmouth-based nonprofit advocating for the state’s historic places, buildings, and districts. He helped launch the organization’s Field Services Program — to pick just one achievement — which lends technical and funding expertise to local people and groups aiming to preserve a historic property. That program alone has assisted on some 1,400 projects across Maine since 2009. So yes, sir, please pick a favorite.
After a childhood in Connecticut and New Jersey, Paxton covered some ground: Vermont, South Carolina, and 27 years leading the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. For much of that time, he had a summer presence in Maine, where his wife’s family goes back six generations. When Maine Preservation offered an opportunity to return to New England, in 2008, Paxton jumped at it. He was lobbying for passage of the state’s historic-rehabilitation tax credit that year before he even had boots on the ground.
Among the changes he’s seen in his career, the 71-year-old says, is an increasing understanding that safeguarding history often means reshaping a built and lived-in environment. “I think the general public perception is that we’re in the museum business or battlefields or forts, and that’s where the field was for years,” Paxton says — but less so today. “Buildings, to be preserved, have to be used. So whether that’s your own house or a mill building or an abandoned school, it’s often a question of finding contemporary uses while bringing along as much of the well-built historic fabric as possible.”
His favorite example? The 1844 Mayo Mill in Dover-Foxcroft, overlooking the Piscataquis, which was dramatically renovated in 2015 into a mixed-use complex with residential space, offices, a boutique inn, a café, and more. “It illustrates all the things we’re trying to do,” Paxton says, “modern uses in structures that are community landmarks.” The project began with locals listing amenities they wanted for Dover-Foxcroft, then realizing the storied industrial space at its heart could host them all.
“It makes people say, ‘This is my town. Isn’t this unique thing great?’” Paxton says. “At the same time as it’s a functional space, it harkens to history and brings in all of this community emotion and pride.”