Paris- Texas that is!
This is the story of Paris, Texas, not the movie Paris, Texas that really has nothing much to do with Paris, Texas, but my story about this remarkable little town in north Texas. My father’s family came from that area and this history of that place comes from their stories. The featured photo is of the Paris Union Station, built in 1912, and is used today by the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce and serves as the research library for the Lamar County Genealogical Society.
Family Reunion in Paris, Texas- June 1915
Grandma Belle Burton always said that the dirt in Paris was the best. The best for growing crops and the best for eating. She would have known because for many years dirt was all they had, except kids, lots of kids. That’s also how she came to know that Paris dirt was good to eat. It seems that during one of her eleven pregnancies she developed a craving, not your standard pickles and ice cream craving, but a real deep desire to eat a spoonful or two of dirt!
Above, a typical red-barn farm on the outskirts of Paris.
Usually, at Thanksgiving time, Grandma Belle would tell the dirt story. Us grandkids would laugh, her own kids, our moms, and dads, would make goofy puckering contortions with their mouths and shake their heads. They were a little embarrassed that their mother would want to eat dirt in the first place but also because they had come from such a dirt-poor background. Grandma Belle didn’t care, she was proud of her background and her simple, honest life in Paris, Texas. It was a hard life when she and Grandpa Jackson were growing up. Homemade toys for Christmas and hand-me-down clothes for birthdays. No television, no radio, just hard work every day picking cotton, laboring in the blazing sun, tending to the chickens and being so tired at the end of the day that you couldn’t have watched television even if it would’ve existed. But in Grandma Belle’s later years, Paris, Texas would always invoke fond memories of the good things in life, the really important things in life, the things that really mattered like family and large family gatherings with homemade food and kids swinging on a homemade tire swing and the laughter of children.
Above, the homestead of Isaac Nash.
On a Saturday in June of 1915, Great, Great Grandpa Isaac Nash woke-up early, as he was accustomed to doing every day. His wife, Nute, was right behind him and in no time, she had fresh eggs from the hen house, potatoes and salted pork sizzling on the wood-burning stove. The hound dogs, hoping for a fresh morsel, scratched at the homemade screen door that hung there loosely and did little to keep the flies from entering the house as they pleased. The scent of freshly brewed coffee, hot and very black, soon mixed with the eggs, taters and salted pork. Biscuits started to rise and turn brown, a white gravy, made from the pork fat, soon joined the aroma of the other breakfast items. There were no Cocoa Puffs or Sugar Smacks at this table, no sir, this was a real breakfast, one that stayed with you all day, and perhaps your whole life, what with all the fat and salt.
Above, Grandma Belle just after becoming a teenage bride in Paris.
No sooner had breakfast finished when preparations were made to begin cooking more food for the huge family reunion planned for that afternoon. The boys were sent out to pick ripe berries and melons, and the girls were sent off to pick the last remaining wildflowers of spring for bouquets. The younger women ironed the clothes that would be worn that day, white shirts and dresses were the order of the day. Young Henry, for his eight years of age, fussed about having to have his hair trimmed and stopped short at having his starched, stiff shirt tucked into his pants. How can a boy climb a tree or chase girls with a shirt tucked in his pants anyway? And doggonit, do them womenfolk need to put so much starch on these shirts anyway?
Above, a long road that leads to a secluded farm on the border of Paris and Reno.
Not far away, Big Uncle Bill hitched his wagon, loaded it with the foods his family had prepared, helped his wife up and tossed the kids onto the hay straw that lined the wagon bed. Uncle Jim in another part of Paris performed the same routine and soon both wagons made their way to other family farms picking up passengers to take to the family reunion. They arrived not far apart and were joined by family members that had walked or rode a mule or horse. Roy Harrison, in his attempt to court Mary Nash, pulled up in his shiny new, two-wheeled bicycle. Spirits were high and the gingham covered tables were soon laden with freshly cooked okra, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, grease gravy, and pecan pie. Mary Lela’s homemade pickles made your mouth water just looking at them in the jar. Grandma Belle would continue the tradition of making those same homemade pickles in her later years. Sadly, she would not hand down the recipe and future generations will never know the wonderful taste of really great pickles.
Above, cotton was king at the turn of the 20th century in Paris.
The day was sunny and bright, the laughter of children filled the air. Times were tough and the USA was still two years away from entering its first world war, but today this gathering in the small hamlet of Paris, Texas was the most important thing in life, being together as a family.
Above, nowadays Paris remains the same in places as it did 100 years ago.
In the early days of photography, many made their living going door-to-door, taking pictures of newborn kids or the whole family. They would always seem to know when a farm was having a family gathering or when a family came home from church in their Sunday best. And so it was, on this warm day in June, in a time when family was all that mattered, a photographer set-up his heavy wooden tripod, topped it with his huge, bellowed camera, covered himself with a large black cloth and took a long time exposure of the 1915 Burton/Nash family reunion.
Above, the family reunion photo from 1915. Grandma Belle is the little blond girl third from the left in the bottom row.
These days, Paris, Texas is part of Lamar County which was part of Red River County in the days that Texas was the Republic of Texas. In the 1840s there was an expansion of growth as more and more people headed west in an effort to obtain cheap and even free land. As part of the Republic of Texas, Third Congress representative George Washington Wright championed for a new county. On December 17, 1840, the Fifth Congress established the new county naming it after Mirabeau B. Lamar, the first Vice President and the second President of the Republic of Texas.
The railroads would soon reach Paris and it became a major hub that was bolstered by the burgeoning cattle ranches and cotton farms. In 1876, the Texas and Pacific extended their branches to Paris. By 1887, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway, which would eventually merge with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, and the Frisco would stretch their lines into Paris. In 1894, Texas Midland Railroad that was later absorbed by the Southern Pacific Railroad made its way into Paris. The shortline Paris and Mount Pleasant Railroad would begin operations in the Paris area in 1910. The Kiamichi Railroad continues to serve the Paris and north Texas area today. The resplendent Union Station in Paris, shown as the cover photo, was built in 1912. It served passengers and freight from Paris on the ATSF, Frisco, and Texas Midland until 1956. Today, this marvelous station is used by the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce and as the Lamar County Genealogical Society research library.
Above, the Paris Federal Building and Post Office after the fire on March 21, 1916.
Major fires caused extensive damage to the city in 1877, 1896 and again in 1916 where fire destroyed nearly half the town. The majority of the town’s central district was ravaged, and fires swept through the surrounding residential housing causing over $11 million dollars in damage. And although many business buildings were made of brick, their wooden interiors fueled their fire. The town’s city hall, jail, post office, and federal buildings were destroyed as was the county courthouse and several churches. At the time of the 1916 fire, there was speculated that a fire in a trash pile behind a warehouse got out of control.
In the early years of the 20th-century cars were a novelty. Most people still rode horses or in horse- drawn buggies. Above, there is family speculation, now that Grandma Belle is no longer here to set the record straight, that this was the car that she and Grandpa Silva were literally married in.
Above, Grandpa Silva on a fishing trip along the Pecan Bayou, one of the many bogs, marshes, swamps, and tributaries of the Red River that runs north of Paris.
Although cotton was king in the early 1900s, it was the hard work of men and boys like those in the photo above who helped get the white fluffy buds to market. My Grandpa Silva is the little boy at the far right on top of the cotton wagon and my great-grandpa is the man on the man standing on the far right.
Above is Paris resident Roy Harrison, who is also in the 1915 family reunion photo. This photo was taken of Roy in Germany while he proudly served in the first world war.
Baby and a rattlesnake (from cousin Carl Jackson)
Silva’s oldest boy (Kenneth Jackson) at that time was a toddler about 2 – 2 ½ years old. He could talk a little bit, but not much. One day Silva’s wife (Belle) was busy doing her laundry. Being real busy, she did not pay much attention to the baby. He came into the house and jerked on Belle’s dress to get her attention and said, “Bug mother, bug, bug.” He left and went out, but after a bit came back in and said the same thing, “Bug, Mother.” He left the second time so this time Belle thought she would see what he was talking about. By the time she got to him, he was under the house on his hands and knees reaching towards a coiled up rattlesnake!
Tornadoes are fairly common in the humid subtropical climate of Paris. The city is located in the famous “Tornado Alley” of the United States where tornadoes strike frequently. At one time the Jackson family lived in a small wooden house that was built on top of bricks for the foundation. Cousin Carl Jackson recalls this event:
Getting ready to jump
Silva awakened us one time in the middle of the night and said for everybody to go get into the storm cellar. Even though it was real black outside, one could see the tornado because of all the heavy lightning going on. It was a lot like you see in the movies, a very large funnel cloud going all the way to the ground. The funnel did not come directly over us but did come real close. It gives a person a very strange feeling. A very loud noise until the eye of the storm gets to you and then it’s real quiet, then as it passes by it starts in again. Believe me, it is something you would never forget! The noise of a storm is very, very loud and frightening!
The poor dog was out in the yard when the hail hit, and he just about didn’t make it under the house in time. Then the wind hit about a few minutes later and it was getting dark. Silva said for everybody to stand on the porch to get ready to jump just in case the house started to go. You could feel the porch raising up under your feet. You could not see anything because of blowing dirt and because of the darkness. That storm passed OK, but others didn’t. People in that area called those storms a square wind because the wind is not circling as in a tornado. The owner of the farm had what people called a storm cellar, but we were too far away to reach it in time.
Above, my Dad was born in Paris, but the family made its way to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1940s. I remember on the first day of high school we had to fill out some sort of a form. On it was where we and our parents were born. As the teacher was reading them, he got to mine and said, “Wow, we have a kid with a huge international background. His Mom is from Germany and his Dad is from Paris. Embarrassed to be singled out I humbly said, “Paris, Texas.” And the entire class was silent. Guess that was the first time they had heard that there was a Paris outside of France!
Above, my Uncle Thurman Wesley Sain while he worked as an attendant at Curley’s Texaco gas station in Paris- Texas that is, not France (or Tennessee).
The former Rufus Fenner Scott home, now the Roden Funeral Home on Church Street.
Paris is home to many turn-of-the-century mansions. One prominent home is the Rufus Fenner Scott Mansion that was designed by the German architect J.L. Wees. The four-floor home was built in 1910 and is constructed of reinforced steel and solid concrete.
Rufus Fenner Scott was a well-known and important Paris businessman who was in the banking and international shipping and import business. The Scott Mansion managed to survive the fire of 1916 largely due to its concrete construction. Afterward, Scott brought back J.L. Wees to Paris to redesign the destroyed historic Paris downtown district.
Wees was born in the southern part of Germany, and at an early age he decided to become an artist and an architect. When he completed high school, he moved to Paris- France not Texas. Just after he completed his first year Wees made the decision to travel to the United States. He wound up first in New York, then moved to St. Louis where he eventually wound up in 1916 in Paris- Texas, not France.
Wees drew up the redesign and supervised of the Paris business area as well as the Paris Library and the plaza fountain.
Above, the stately Victorian Wise House on West Washington Street. The Wise House was built for William Belford Wise, a prominent English cotton merchant. It is now locally known as the Wise-Fielding home as it was once owned by Colonel John Fielding.
Another magnificent turn-of-the-century Victorian McClendon home on West Washington Street that was lovingly restored by Mike Folmar.
Cousin Carl Jackson tells about being baptized by accident in Paris:
Back in the early 1900s, in the south it was the general custom of different religious groups to come around the country at different times with a large tent they would set up and preach whatever religion that they were. They sometimes would stay for a week at a time with several sessions and as is the case one particular one I remember – even baptize people in the local rivers. The kids (the younger ones) would go to these tent preaching sessions a lot of times just to see what was going on because it was different. The Baptist groups were no different so one day I came upon one such and noticed these long lines forming and I did not want to be left out of some possible benefit, so I got in line also not knowing what it was all about. When the lines got closer, I could see the people getting dunked, but I still stayed in line because it looked like fun so without even knowing it, I was baptized.
Above and below photos are of the Sanitarium of Paris, Texas. When I first looked at the photo below of my cousin, who was enrolled there, I thought it was a sanitarium for people with mental issues. I would later find out, of course, that it was a renowned hospital where many Parisians were born.
Above, cousin Helen Van Dyke on the front entrance of the at Paris Texas Sanitarium while she attended nursing school.
Above, as of late the sanitarium has fallen onto hard times and has been abandoned in favor of more modern facilities. Imagine the many life and death struggles that went on in this iconic hospital.
Paris has one major hospital that was located on two separate campuses. One id the former St. Joseph’s Hospital now the Paris Regional Medical Center South and the former McCuistion Regional Medical Center now called the Paris Regional Medical Center North, however, the South campus has closed and only the North campus remains operational. The healthcare network in Paris is one of the largest employers in the area along with Kimberly-Clark and Campbell’s Soup.
John Simpson Chisum was a pioneer Texas cattleman who entered the cattle business in about 1855 with the famous Half Circle P brand. By 1860 Chisum was running over 5,000 head of cattle, including the iconic symbol of Texas- the Longhorn. The famous Chisum Trail ran from the Paris, Texas area through the Texas Panhandle, southwest to the Pecos River and then north through his ranch at Roswell and on to Ft. Sumner. A secondary trail led west from his Chisum Ranch at Roswell, southwest through the Hondo Valley, across the Tularosa Basin, over the Organ Gap and into Arizona.
This is cousin Travis Hardin in his later years. A big man who apparently was quite hairy who was prone to run around in the woods naked. Well, run around doesn’t quite fit the bill, it was more like going out in the woods and chopping wood or go hunting and gathering, all while naked. Why would you do such a thing you ask? Was he some sort of gigantic, hairy pervert? No, he was just smart. If you know the northern part of Texas, you know that there is a nasty little bug called a chigger. This annoying little creature will climb into your socks and pants and before you know it, it will bite your skin and then simply die. But the itchy reminder that you have been chiggered, will stay with you for many days. So again, you ask why did Travis run around naked, looking for all the world as Bigfoot? Well, it seems that chiggers never jump onto bare skin, they will only climb inside clothing before they bite you!
A story about Paris pecans from cousin Carl Jackson:
Most of the people in this part of the country would gather pecan nuts in the fall and we were no different. Most of the pecan trees grew wild and were quite large. Every family would simply go and help their self to whatever was there to get. I’ve always been afraid of high trees and such so it took all the guts I could muster to climb up those limbs to shake and whop the tree limbs to make the nuts fall. To this very day, I don’t understand how I managed to get up there and do that because I am quite sure I wouldn’t have the courage to do it now!
It had been a long time since my Dad left Paris, Texas along with his parents and siblings. He never went back for whatever reason I really don’t know. He passed away much too early in life and sadly I never had the chance to ask him or about a million other things that I should have asked him about. Nonetheless, it was always on my bucket list to visit Paris, Texas, the place of my father’s birth. I have been there several times since I first went there in December of 2003 over the Christmas holiday. I met with several family members who still live in the area and brought home a container full of that famous red dirt that Grandma Belle craved when she was pregnant. I sprinkled it around my Dad’s grave marker.
When I visited Paris, my family members took me to several local cemeteries where my relatives are buried. It was an honor to see their final resting place and to pay my respects.
Paris has gained some degree of infamy around the world its tombstone of Jesus in cowboy boots. The grave of Willett Babcock is located in the Evergreen Cemetery and many are convinced that it was purposely made to look like Jesus sporting cowboy boots. It may not be Jesus, but the Jesus lookalike is clearly wearing a robe and cowboy boots!
Although the city of Paris is a mix of new and old, it does hide a terrible past and a dark chapter in American history. Race relations have always been an issue in this part of America and in 1893 a black teenager named Henry Smith was accused of murder. He was never tried, then tortured and burned to death on a gallows while thousands of spectators looked on. And again in 1920, in what has been called the worst lynching in Texas history, two African American men, brothers Herman and Ervin Arthur, were tied to a flagpole and burned to death at the Paris fairgrounds.
Herman Arthur, a young 28-year-old, who had recently returned home to Paris, Texas after serving his country in World War I. In Europe he was treated the same as everyone else, but when he came home it was business as usual in the Jim Crow post-Civil War south Both of his parents, Scott and Violet Arthur, were born into slavery and had moved their family to Paris, searching for the same opportunities that similar white’s had sought there. Herman joined his family working as sharecroppers J. H. Hodges and his son, William. It would not be long before the two Hodges began to abuse their sharecroppers (read this as slaves!). They worked them long hours and made them work six days a week with little chance to get ahead. Then one day the two Hodges abused the young Arthur sisters, and all went to hell quickly.
You can read more about The Worst Lynching in Texas History by E.R. Bills at:
Paris has moved ahead from its humble beginnings as a wild frontier town and has undergone many changes. Cattle and cotton and the opportunity to seek the American dream gave the city life.
The city has grown steadily with periods of ebb and flow and even bout of stagnation, but one thing remains the same and that is no matter how much it changes, it always has that American small-town feel to it.
The replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas is a landmark in the city. The tower was built in 1993 by members of the local welders union and was constructed to compete with another replica of the iconic French version that was being built in Paris, Tennessee. The version in Texas was designed to be five feet taller than the Tennessee version. In 1998 a bright red cowboy hat was added to the top tier of the tower making it 65 feet in height, about one-tenth the height of the 1,063-foot Paris, France version.
The Paris Chamber of Commerce says that the tower has 27 LED lights that can be programmed for different colors. At Christmas time they light up the tower in green and red. Couples that are expecting a child can announce the sex of their baby using the towers thirty-watt lights in either blue for boys or pink for girls.
When my high school teacher and my classmates were so surprised that there was actually another Paris besides the one in France, it made me check to see just how many Paris’ there really are in the world. I was very surprised!
There are 53 cities in the world named Paris, in fact, 22 right here in America and even France has more than one!
Paris in America- 22
Paris in Indonesia- 4
Paris in Haiti- 3
Paris in the Philippines, Italy, Gabon, France, Spain, Congo, and Canada- 2
Paris in Ukraine, Turkey, Togo, Tome and Principe, Panama, New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, and Andorra- 1
States with cities named Paris in America:
Wisconsin, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Ohio, New York, New Hampshire, Missouri, Mississippi, Michigan, Maryland, Maine, Kentucky, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Idaho, California, and Arkansas.
The name “Paris” is derived from the early inhabitants in that part of France, the Celtic Parisii tribe. The Parisii were Iron Age people who lived on the banks of the river Seine in Gaul from the mid-3rd century BC until the Roman era.
Above, my great grandfather and my grandfather in a Paris, Texas cotton field.
It had always been on my bucket list to visit Paris, Texas as a nostalgic trip to see the place where my father was born. For whatever reason, he never wanted to go back, maybe because he was always looking forward and never back. I first went to Paris, Texas in 2003, coincidently, after having gone to Paris, France that same year!
I enjoyed the Paris, Texas area and had the opportunity to meet several family members who made us feel welcome. It was a sentimental journey to see the places where my father was born, and where my grandparents and great grandparents had spent much of their lives. It was easy to see that their lives were not easy, and they worked hard just to survive. I felt very fortunate for their efforts.
The ultimate was to have the opportunity to pay my respects at the gravesites of so many of my family members. I had not realized that the lives of so many of my kin were centered around Paris. In fact, an uncle had once written, “I am related to just about everyone in the area so it’s hard to find a sweetheart.”
It was a great honor to visit Paris, Texas, the birthplace of my father, and so many grandparents and great grandparents, and to add another drop in the bucket!
All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography and Nida Jackson Photography. Please contact me with any questions, comments or for authorization to use photos or for signed, high-resolution copies.
If you found this article useful, please like, share and follow.