Lamar County is in North Texas on the Oklahoma border. Paris, the county's largest town and the county seat, is about 100 miles northeast of Dallas. The county's center point is 33°40' north latitude and 95°35' west longitude. Lamar County comprises 919 square miles of pasture and farmlands, with some scattered timber. The terrain is gently rolling; the elevation ranges between 400 and 635 feet above sea level. Northern Lamar County, above Paris, drains into the Red River, while the southern half drains southeast into the North Sulphur River. Soil types range from a blackland clay, which predominates in the southern half of the county, to loamy soils characteristic of the once-wooded areas of the northern part of the county. Mineral resources include limestone and gravel from the Red River and North Sulphur River regions. The major lakes are Lake Pat Mayes, a 5,000-acre reservoir formed by the impoundment of Sanders Creek in the northern portion of the county during the late 1960s, and Lake Crook, a small reservoir on Pine Creek just north of Paris. Temperatures range from an average high of 94° F in August to an average low of 31° in January. Rainfall averages slightly more than forty-five inches a year. The growing season extends for 228 days.
The Red River valley region was home to the Caddo Indians, particularly the Kadohadacho group, who are believed to have occupied the valley shortly after A.D. 500. The Caddoes, primarily an agricultural people, hunted to supplement their food supply. When Europeans began to explore the valley during the 1600s, the Caddoes found themselves between the French and Spanish, both of whom wanted to explore and settle the region. By 1720 the French had established friendly relations with the Caddoes along the Red River, and they maintained the upper hand until France ceded the region to Spain as part of the settlement of the Seven Years' War in Europe in 1763.
Settlement began in the Red River valley well before the Texas Revolution. The first Americans are believed to have settled there about 1815. More families arrived in 1816, and there are reports of an Indian massacre of settlers at New Settlement, on Pine Creek near the Red River, in 1820. Although George W. Wright is often considered the first permanent settler in the area, his family settled downriver at Pecan Point in 1816 and did not actually move to the future Lamar County until 1839. The area of present Lamar County was within the boundaries of Red River County at the time of the Republic of Texas. By 1840 population growth necessitated a new county, and legislation was introduced by representatives from Red River County. Wright, who had served in the Third Congress as a representative from Red River County, was a major promoter of the founding of Lamar County, which was established by act of the Fifth Congress of the republic on December 17, 1840, and organized by election on February 1, 1841. At the time, the county included much of what is now Delta County. In 1870 Delta County was formed, and Lamar County was reduced to its present size. The county was named for Mirabeau B. Lamar, the fourth president of the Republic of Texas. The original county seat was Lafayette, a small settlement located several miles northwest of the site of present-day Paris. On June 22, 1841, forty acres of land was donated by John Watson for building a proper county seat, but though the town was platted, no lots were ever sold. The county court continued to meet at Lafayette, however, until the Texas Congress passed a law in 1842 requiring that each county seat be located within five miles of the geographic center of the county. Mount Vernon was made Lamar county seat in 1843, but again no courthouse was built. In 1844 Wright, who had purchased 1,000 acres near the settlement of Pinhook, offered to donate fifty acres to the county for a townsite if the county commissioners would make it the county seat. The offer was accepted, and the new town was named Paris. The first term of the county court was held there on April 29, 1844. Paris is still the county seat.
Lamar County was well situated to play a significant role in the transportation of goods and merchandise in North Texas. As early as 1844 the Texas Congress passed an act to form a commission to plan and build the Central National Road of the Republic of Texas. This road proceeded from the Red River, near Wright's Landing in Red River County, across Lamar County to Paris, and then southwest to Dallas, where it connected with other major roads of the period. It prospered for several years, then declined, as Preston Road to the west drew off much of the north-south traffic in the region.
The early settlers were primarily of English and Irish stock; many migrated to Texas through Tennessee and Kentucky. They cultivated small farms rather than large Southern-style plantations. In the 1850 census Lamar County had 3,978 residents, with 1,085 slaves comprising 27 percent of the population. By 1860, at the beginning of the Civil War, the population had increased to 10,136, and the percentage of slaves had increased slightly to 28 percent. Only 20 percent of the households owned slaves. Large slaveholdings were uncommon, as more than 60 percent of the slaveholders owned five or fewer slaves and only forty-one owned twenty or more.
The citizens of Lamar County have always been well represented politically in Austin. During the republic Lamar County residents were often among the delegates sent from Red River County. In 1861 Lamar County sent three delegates-William H. Johnson, Lemuel H. Williams, and George W. Wright-to the Secession Convention, where they cast three of the seven votes against secession. Lamar County then supported its delegates' stand as one of the fourteen counties that voted against secession, by a vote of 663 to 553. Once the war had begun, however, Lamar County citizens supported the Southern cause. A number of Confederate military units were recruited from Lamar County, the best known being Samuel Bell Maxey's Lamar Rifles, the Ninth Texas Infantry regiment. Other residents joined units destined for action in the Southern campaigns or the frontier regiments established to fight the Indians in West Texas and Indian Territory.
By 1860 nine post offices had been established in Lamar County; six were operating at that time, and four of these-Paris (1846), Blossom Prairie (later Blossom, 1849), Prairie Mount (later Roxton, 1853), and Pattonville (1860)-were still in operation in the 1980s. The early churches in Lamar County were primarily Protestant. Both the Cumberland Presbyterian and Methodist churches were established as early as 1843. By 1860 sixteen churches were listed in the census, including three Baptist, five Methodist, three Presbyterian, and one Christian. More than 3,000 persons, or 30 percent of the population, claimed membership in a church. The first Catholic church in the county was established in Paris in 1873.
After the Civil War the population grew steadily through the remainder of the nineteenth century, to 48,627 in 1900. During the same period the black population increased at a slightly slower rate; African Americans declined to 23 percent of the population by 1900. At the turn of the century the county remained primarily rural. Paris, the only major community, had grown to 9,358 persons by 1900, but this was still less than 20 percent of the county population. Numerous smaller communities had been established, Roxton and Blossom being the largest, but none exceeded a population of 1,000 during this period. Many small communities established post offices. In 1880 there were thirty-nine in operation, and the number had increased to fifty-one by the turn of the century. This growth stopped early in the twentieth century as the United States Postal Service expanded the Rural Free Delivery system, which provided direct mail delivery for rural residents. Although RFD began in 1896, not until 1905 did its impact become visible in Lamar County. By 1910 the number of operating post offices had fallen to twenty-three.
The railroad first came to Lamar County in 1875, when the Texas and Pacific was built through Paris to Texarkana. In 1887 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway was built through Ladonia to Paris, to connect with the Texas and Pacific, and in 1888 the Paris and Great Northern was built from Paris to connect with the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad at the Red River. The final railroad built in Lamar County during the nineteenth century was the Texas Midland, which connected Paris and Commerce and operated until 1975. In 1909 the Paris and Mount Pleasant Railway was chartered and built; it operated between the two towns until it was discontinued in 1956. The three original railroads were still in operation in the mid-1980s, although each carried less than a million tons of freight annually.By 2004, only the Union Pacific and the Kiamichi Railroad Company ran lines through the area.
County population growth continued upwards to a record of 55,742 residents in 1920, then began an erratic decline to a low of 34,234 in 1960. The number of black residents decreased during the same period to only 19 percent of the total population, the most significant decline occurring during the 1950s. The population of Paris increased during this same period and by 1960 had reached 21,250, which then represented more than 60 percent of the county's residents.
The number of farms and farm values had both steadily increased throughout the nineteenth century, reaching 6,514 farms worth $7.1 million in 1900 and 6,831 farms worth $56.8 million by 1920. Farm ownership then declined rapidly during the next forty years, with farm values dropping substantially during the years of the Great Depression to a low of $13.6 million by 1940, when only 4,176 farms were recorded. The county's economy was becoming less dependent on agriculture. Farming output peaked between 1910 and 1920 and quickly declined to post-Civil War levels. Cotton production, which had been substantial in the nineteenth century, grew from 24,623 bales in 1880 to a peak of 69,264 bales in 1920, but by 1959 had fallen to 16,233 bales. Similar trends were observed in grain and livestock production. As people moved to the towns and smaller communities, employees in business increased from 600 in 1900 to more than 5,000 by 1960, while the number of individuals dependent on agriculture decreased. This transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial one was interrupted by the Great Depression, when many people were out of work. In 1935 more than 3,300 people were seeking employment, and by 1940, although unemployment had fallen to less than 3 percent, more than 2,000 individuals were still on public-works programs. Manufacturing output increased from $1.2 million in 1900 to $13.6 million by 1958.
After 1960 the population rose to 42,156 by 1980, with more than 25,000 persons living in Paris. Two other communities in the county recorded populations of more than 1,000 in 1980, Blossom (1,487) and Reno (1,059). More than 13,500 persons were employed in 1985, with an annual business payroll of $200 million. Consolidation of post offices continued through the 1950s, so that by 1960 only twelve were operational. The number of farms continued to decline. Only 1,432 were counted in 1982, but their value had increased to $292 million. Cotton production also declined, to less than 2,000 bales in 1982, but grain crops made a strong comeback, with more than 7.3 million bushels of corn grown in 1982. Beef-cattle production grew substantially during the 1960s and 1970s, reaching a peak of 79,620 head in 1969, but fell to less than 50 percent of that level by 1982. In 1984, 26 percent of the population was of English descent and 19 percent was Irish. African Americans, who accounted for 28 percent of the population in 1860, had declined to only 15 percent of the population in 1984, the lowest percentage since the Civil War.
Dirt roads for local transportation had been used since the 1840s. Gravel or paved highways connecting Paris to Clarksville, Sherman, and Commerce were in place by 1925. In 1984 the county had more than 1,500 miles of paved road, which included U.S. highways 82 and 271. Motor-vehicle registrations increased from 8,949 in 1939 to 38,077 in 1984. Air traffic is served by Cox Field in Paris and Powderly Airport in Powderly. Another airfield is used by the Flying Tigers Museum in Paris. Commuter air service is also available to Paris.
During the middle nineteenth century, a number of private academies were established. Ten public school districts were in operation in 1867. In the mid-1980s Lamar County had six school districts. More than 52 percent of the residents age twenty-five years or more had the equivalent of a high school education in 1980, compared to only 22 percent in 1950. More than 10 percent of the same population had a college degree in 1985. Education is further enhanced by Paris Junior College, where the 1990 enrollment was 2,326.
Lamar County has suffered several major disasters since its establishment. In August 1877 a fire destroyed nearly three-fourths (ten acres) of the downtown business district of Paris. Recovery was rapid, and stronger building ordinances induced residents to construct many of the new buildings of brick. On March 21, 1916, much of the town was destroyed by the "Great Fire," which began in the southeast section of town and, assisted by winds estimated at forty miles an hour, burned from 5:30 P.M. to 3:30 A.M. and devastated 260 acres. More than 1,400 structures were destroyed, including most of the downtown business district. The total monetary loss exceeded $11 million. Miraculously, only four lives were lost. On April 2, 1982, a massive storm system spawned tornados across the entire width of Lamar County. Tornados struck several towns in the county, including Blossom and Paris. In Paris two tornados hit within minutes and leveled a path nearly 1,000 feet wide and five miles long through the center of town. Eight people were killed, and more than 200 were injured. Damage was in the millions, as 315 homes were destroyed, 800 more were damaged, and another 80 buildings were destroyed. The residents quickly rebuilt their damaged town. In 1984 Lamar County had one daily and two weekly newspapers, three radio stations, two hospitals, and more than 100 churches. Six banks and two savings and loan associations served the financial needs of the county. More than 90 percent of the residents were served by a public or private water system. Unemployment was low. By 1990 Lamar County’s population had grown to 43,949.
The voters of Lamar County favored the Democratic candidate in virtually every presidential election through 1968; the only exception occurred in 1928, when Republican Herbert Hoover beat Al Smith. After 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon carried the county over Democrat George McGovern, the area began to trend Republican. Though Democrat Jimmy Carter carried the county in 1976 and 1980, Republicans won majorities there in 1984 and 1988. Democrat Bill Clinton won a plurality of the area’s votes in 1992, partly because independent candidate Ross Perot had strong local support, but Republican Bob Dole won a plurality in 1996 and George W. Bush won comfortable majorities in 2000 and 2004.
In 2014 the census counted 49,523 people living in Lamar County. About 75.3 percent were Anglo, 13.5 percent were African American, and 7.1 percent were Hispanic. More than 76 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had four years of high school, and almost 15 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agribusiness, various manufacturing concerns, and government services were key elements of the area’s economy. In 2002 the county had 1,725 farms and ranches covering 470,216 acres, 49 percent of which were devoted to crops, 36 percent to pasture, and 12 percent to woodlands. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $38,985,000, with livestock sales accounting for $27,209,000 of that total. Beef, dairy, hay, soybeans, wheat, corn, and sorghum were the chief agricultural products.
The largest towns were Paris (population, 25,092), Blossom (1,582), Deport (568, partly in Red River County), Reno (3,293), and Roxton (651). A Tour de Paris bicycle rally is held in Paris in July.