ROUTE: Paris to Decatur
DISTANCE: 148 miles
NUMBER OF COUNTIES: 6
WHAT TO READ: Michael Andrews’s Historic Texas Courthouses
Whenever I start to suffer the ill effects of traffic overload and endless status updates on my smartphone, I set out for a quieter, quainter place that has at least two of the following: a picturesque Main Street lined with small specialty shops, a beautiful courthouse or other architectural gem, and a beloved cafe famous for its chicken-fried steak or enchiladas or fried pie (I’m not too picky). So I recently plotted a course from Paris to Decatur, mostly along U.S. 82, that would take me through a handful of North Texas’s historic downtowns—and transport me back a generation or two.
Starting out on the edge of the Piney Woods, I headed straight to Paris’s grand plaza, an assemblage of twenties-era storefronts that form a nostalgic square around Culbertson Fountain, an Italian marble beauty built to commemorate the city’s rebirth after the devastating 1916 fire. When I wasn’t uploading pictures of the Instagram-worthy facades (alas, some habits die hard), I was shopping, buying handwoven sisal necklaces at the eco-friendly Green Boutique and a flaky croissant at the Paris Bakery.
I followed U.S. 82 west out of town, and with nobody tailgating me, I felt oddly relaxed behind the wheel. For a while, rows of loblolly pines ran parallel to the two-lane highway, but as I got closer to Bonham the trees became fewer, and I was soon surrounded by gently rolling prairie and broad blue sky. After an hour, I veered off 82 just outside of Bells to pick up U.S. 69 going northwest. Twenty minutes later, I was cruising—at an unhurried 25 miles an hour—down Denison’s ten-block-long Main Street. Its buildings from the early 1900’s are an endearing mishmash of colors (canary yellow, pistachio green) and decorative elements, from the Rialto Theatre’s art-deco marquee to Blue Moon Antiques’ blue-and-red-striped awning. I could’ve spent the rest of the afternoon sizing up art in the galleries and artists’ studios.
Continuing on, I followed Texas Highway 91 south for a few miles until I was back on U.S. 82