Paris, Tennessee - We take Paris seriously
This is my fourth Paris so far on my walkabout, and it wins the prize for commitment to its name. As you can see from the photos below, these folks are all in. And I haven’t even included photos of such places as Paris Donuts and Paris Pedicure.
My takeaway is that this Paris is like most towns it’s size in the South. (I grew up in one of them so I feel I have some “expertise” in this area). The downtown area was left behind in the 1960s and 70s as new strip shopping centers were built along with the invasion of fast food franchises. What’s left now is a struggling downtown that the town has thrown some money at to upgrade and play up its history. The “new” strip shopping centers are looking their age. Zoning was never that important so the town looks unkept. The nicest looking buildings in town are the funeral home, the local CPA’s office and the banks. The town is surviving but not thriving.
After 23 days on the road (15 straight night in my tent!) I am reminded of how Charlottesville and my hometown of Aiken are special places that continue to be pretty places to live (granted they both have their share of sprawl).
I couldn’t ask for more out my walkabout so far. New people, new places, time to enjoy and reflect. Time for challenges and time to enjoy being me. Probably falling down on making a difference. I’ll work on that!
Here’s a bit of history of Paris, Tennessee and the surrounding Henry County.
The land between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers was purchased from the Chickasaw Indians in 1818. (Editor’s note: I don’t know by whom because the article I read used the passive voice ☹️🤪) The Jackson Purchase - named for Andrew Jackson - was divided between Tennessee and Kentucky. Tennessee’s portion became known as West Tennessee.
Settlers soon swarmed in (Editor’s nite: literally license) and the Tennessee General Assembly created the County of Henry on November 7, 1821. The county was named in honor of Revolutionary War patriot and statesman, Patrick Henry. Henry County became the gateway for the settlement of West Tennessee and beyond.
The town of Paris was established as the county seat on September 23, 1823, and became West Tennessee’s oldest incorporated municipality. The town was named for the French capital in honor of Lafayette, who visited Tennessee in the early 1800s.
A two-room “dogtrot” cabin of small poplar logs was erected in 1823 to serve as the county’s first courthouse. Court was held in the north room while pies and liquor were sold in the south room. During the Civil War, the courthouse lawn was the setting for the organization of military units including the Fifth Tennessee Infantry Regiment.
Henry County sent more than 2,500 volunteers to the Confederacy and was given the title “Volunteer County of the Volunteer State” for providing more volunteer soldiers per capita than any other county in Tennessee.
The Civil War came to the county after Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered a Union force into Paris. On March 11, 1862, four companies and a battery of artillery consisting of 500 men attacked the Confederate encampment which numbered 400 soldiers.
After this “duel between artillery and Enfield rifles” had gone on for 35 minutes, the Union forces retreated back toward Paris Landing.
Another war also had a significant impact on Henry County. Camp Tyson, named for Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Tyson, was built near the Routon community in 1941. The camp was the only barrage balloon training center in the U.S. Army during World War II. Thousands of American servicemen werie trained for the Barrage Balloon Service of the Coast Artillery Corps. In addition, Camp Tyson held German prisoners of war.
Henry County’s first tourist attraction, Sulphur Well, was created by accident in 1821 when an artesian well of sulphur water was struck in an attempt to locate a large salt bed on a Chickasaw reservation. Eventually a summer resort was erected at the site to accommodate the large numbers of people who came to drink the water which was thought
to have health benefits. Many sought refuge at Sulphur Well during the 1837 yellow fever epidemic.
In 1944, Sulphur Well was covered by TVA’s Kentucky Lake, the largest man-made lake in the United States and the second largest in the world. Paris Landing State Park was created in 1945 and the lake soon became a popular recreation destination. Paris became known as the “Capital City of Kentucky Lake” and tourism took on an important role in the area’s economy.
The “World’s Biggest Fish Fry” emerged as one of Tennessee’s premier annual festivals which draws tens of thousands of visitors into Paris and Henry County during the last full week of April.
Today, Paris is home to just over 10,000 people.