Paris, Texas - The City, Not The Movie
Paris is a city and county seat of Lamar County, Texas. It is located in Northeast Texas at the western edge of the Piney Woods, and 98 miles northeast of the DFW Metroplex. Paris owns the title of “The Second Largest Paris in the World.”
Present-day Lamar County was part of Red River County during the Republic of Texas. By 1840, population growth necessitated the organization of a new county. The Fifth Congress established the new county in December 1840, and named it after Mirabeau B. Lamar, who was the first Vice President and the second President of the Republic of Texas.
Lamar County was one of the 18 Texas counties that voted against secession on February 23, 1861.
In 1877, 1896, and 1916, major fires in Paris forced considerable rebuilding. The 1916 fire destroyed almost half the town; it ruined most of the central business district and swept through a residential area. The burned structures included the Federal Building and Post Office, the Lamar County Courthouse and Jail, City Hall, most commercial buildings, and several churches.
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court in Largent v. Texas struck down a Paris ordinance that prohibited a person from selling or distributing religious publications without first obtaining a city-issued permit. The Court ruled that the ordinance abridged freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Paris has long been a railroad center. The Texas and Pacific reached town in 1876; the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway and the Frisco in 1887; the Texas Midland Railroad (later Southern Pacific) in 1894; and the Paris and Mount Pleasant (Pa-Ma Line) in 1910. Paris Union Station, built 1912, served Frisco, Santa Fe, and Texas Midland passenger trains until 1956.
The city is home to several late-19th to mid-20th century stately homes. Among these is the Rufus Fenner Scott Mansion, designed by German architect J.L. Wees and constructed in 1910. The structure is solid concrete and steel with four floors. Rufus Scott was a prominent businessman known for shipping, imports, and banking. He was well known by local farmers, who bought aging transport mules from him. The Scott Mansion narrowly survived the fire of 1916. After the fire, Scott brought the architect Wees back to Paris to redesign the historic downtown area.
The Eiffel Tower
The city commissioned a 65-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower in 1993 and installed it on site of the Love Civic Center, southeast of the town square. In 1998, presumably as a response to the 1993 construction of a 60-foot tower in Paris, Tennessee, the city placed a giant red cowboy hat atop its tower. The current Eiffel Tower replica is at least the second one; an earlier replica constructed of wood was later destroyed by a tornado.
Paris is deeply segregated and race relations in Paris have a bloody history.
In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, several lynchings were staged at the Paris Fairgrounds as public spectacles, with thousands of white spectators cheering as the victims were tortured and then immolated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered. Among the victims was Henry Smith, a teenager lynched in 1893.
In 2008, an African-American man, Brandon McClelland, was run over and dragged to death under a vehicle. Two white men were arrested, but the prosecutor cited lack of evidence and declined to press charges, and no serious subsequent attempt to find other perpetrators was made. This caused unrest in the Paris African-American community. Following this incident, an attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service to initiate a dialog between the races in the town ended in failure. A 2009 protest rally over the case led to Texas State Police intervention to prevent groups shouting "white power!" and "black power!" from coming to blows.
In 2009, some African-American workers at the Turner Industries plant in the city claimed that hangman's nooses, Confederate flags, and racist graffiti were regular features of plant culture. At the same time, the United States Department of Education was conducting an investigation into allegations that African-American students in Paris's schools are disciplined more harshly than white students for similar offenses.
In the past, Paris was a major cotton exchange, and the county was developed as cotton plantations. While cotton is still farmed on the lands around Paris, it is no longer a major part of the economy.
Paris has one major hospital. It is one of the largest employers in the Paris.
Paris is similar to its French counterpart in impressive architecture and delicious cuisine, all along with that friendly small-town hospitality that the Lone Star State is known for. Beyond the obvious influences of its European cousin, Paris is a thriving town with an active arts scene, picturesque parks, and all sorts of fun annual events.
Start your trip in Paris by taking a reverent stroll through the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial, located next to the Eiffel Tower. The memorial honors those from five counties who have served, or are currently serving, in our nation’s military protecting our freedom in the past, present, and future.
The voices of yesterday and yesteryear still echo here, speaking to modern-day travelers of the trials and triumphs the people of this area have experienced since first settling here in the 1820’s. Named after Paris, France, by an employee of the town’s founder, George W. Wright, the town prospered as a farming and ranching community until the arrival of the railroad.
Experience Paris’ past by paying a visit to the Lamar County Historical Museum, an unassuming building packed with artifacts, photographs, and re-creations detailing life in town over the decades. In the attached Rural Life Museum, check out the blacksmith shop complete with authentic tools, as well as a pioneer kitchen, the historic Baird Cabin, and more. Walk across the parking lot to the Santa Fe Depot, built in 1914, to visit the Lamar County Genealogical Society Library. Also located in the Historical Depot is the Valley of the Caddo Museum and Cultural Center. This museum incorporates four counties and covers topics such as astronomy and beading, as well as railroad displays and an extensive collection of pottery and artifacts from local digs.
For even more history, tour the Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site, a 19th-century Victorian-style home and get an up-close look at thousands of belongings and furnishings of the family that lived there for nearly a century. General Sam Bell Maxey and his family were laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery, and his Mother, Lucy Pope Maxey, was the first burial in this Historical Cemetery in 1886. Examples of the stone-cutting art within the cemetery include a bevy of angelic figures, flowers, vines, cotton bales, broken trees, anchors and chains, sheep, and a life size buffalo. Yet one of the best-known features of the cemetery is “Jesus in Cowboy Boots.” This popular monument marks the grave of Willet Babcock, and is visited by hundreds of visitors each year.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind outfit to take home, something tasty to snack on, or to admire some gorgeous architecture, head to Paris’ Historic Downtown District. Go treasure hunting – and score a great bargain in the process – at one of the many antique stores, boutiques, and retail shops. To pick up a beautiful painting or sculpture by a local artist, stop into the Plaza Art Gallery housed in the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce and Paris Visitor Center, and while there you can shop for Paris souvenirs. Shopping will no doubt work up your appetite, so make sure to savor a taste of the local flavor at one of the restaurants in downtown Paris. Make sure to stop by the Culbertson Fountain for photos of the elegant Italian-marbled edifice that helps make Paris one of the prettiest downtowns in Texas.