Paris is the county seat of Lamar County. It is on U.S. highways 271 and 82 in the central part of the county in the upland separating the tributaries of the Red and Sulphur rivers. The first recorded settlement in the vicinity was in 1826, and settlements were known to be in the area as early as 1824. The town was founded by merchant George W. Wright, who donated fifty acres of land in February 1844, when the community was also designated the county seat by the voters. It was incorporated by the Congress of the Republic of Texas on February 3, 1845. The community was named for Paris, France, by one of Wright's employees, Thomas Poteet. Paris was on the Central National Road of the Republic of Texas, which ran from San Antonio north through Paris to cross the Red River. By the eve of the Civil War, when it had 700 residents, Paris had become a cattle and farming center. Lamar was one of the few Texas counties that voted against secession, though many of its inhabitants later served in the Confederacy. In 1877 and 1916, major fires forced the city to rebuild.
Paris has long been a railroad center. The Texas and Pacific reached town in 1876; the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe and the St. Louis and San Francisco in 1887; the Texas Midland (later Southern Pacific) in 1893; and the Paris and Mount Pleasant (Pa-Ma Line) in 1910. Paris Junior College was established in 1924. In 1990 it was one of the oldest junior colleges in Texas; at that time the main campus had twenty buildings, including a new $1.1 million physical education center, and the college offered both technical and academic instruction. Its jewelry technologies department was recognized internationally. On April 2, 1982, Paris was hit by a tornado that destroyed more than 1,500 homes and left eight dead and 3,000 homeless. From 1984 through the early 1990s, local businesses invested nearly $7 million in renovating and revitalizing the downtown area. The city in the early 1990s was a regional medical center serving northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma. Around that time Paris had some ninety churches, representing every major religion and denomination. At that time there were two military installations in Paris and nearby: Gaines Boyle Memorial Reserve Center and Camp Maxey National Guard Training Site.
In 1990 Paris had a council-manager form of city government; its seven-member council selects one of its members as mayor. The city was served by the Kiamichi and Chaparral railroads and by Rail-Tex, a lessee of the Missouri Pacific. Cox Field provided commercial air service to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by Exec Express II Airlines. During the early 1990s local residents were involved in agribusiness-including the raising of beef and dairy cattle, hay, wheat, and soybeans-and in numerous industries, among them Babcock and Wilcox (steam generation); Campbell Soup, Incorporated; Flex-O-Lite (reflective glass beads); Kimberly-Clark Corporation (disposable diapers); Merico (earth grains and packaging divisions); and Philips Lighting (incandescent-lamp parts). In the early 1990s Paris was still served by the daily Paris News. The town has been home to Sam Bell Maxey, John S. Chisum, and Democratic Senator A. M. Aikin, Jr., who served in the Texas legislature for forty-six years.
The population of Paris was reported as 9,358 in 1904, as 11,269 by 1910, as 15,040 by 1925, and as 15,649 by 1930. By 1940 it had risen to 18,678, with 530 rated businesses, and in the early 1950s the population was reported as 21,636, with 610 rated businesses. The number of residents was 20,977 by 1960, 23,441 by 1970, and 25,498 by 1980. In 1990 the population of Paris was reported as 24,699. By 2000 the population was 25,898.