Billed as “the second-largest Paris in the world,” this East Texas town may not resemble its (possible) French namesake—you can read the various naming theories in my Wanderer column this month—but it’s got more than enough of its own charms to warrant a day trip or even a weekend getaway. Especially if you like to hunt through antiques shops, eat comfort food, and brush up on Texas history.
SEE + DO
Culbertson Fountain // In many small Texas towns you’ll find a courthouse anchoring the historic downtown square, but Paris’s WWI-era plaza boasts an Italian-marble fountain built in 1927 to commemorate the city’s rebirth after the fire of 1916. The tiered beauty is topped with a smiling cherub cradling a . . . fish. Speaking of, it’s a great spot for a picnic or to just sit and plot your antiques-shopping strategy. Bounded by Clarksville, W. Plaza, Bonham, and E. Plaza Streets
Eiffel Tower // At 65 feet tall, this inexact replica of the Eiffel Tower, which was built by members of the local welders’ union and erected in 1993, is less than one tenth the height of the 1,063-foot original. What sets this one apart is the shiny red cowboy hat atop its spindle, which was added in 1998. The tower’s 27 thirty-watt LED lights are programmed according to season (red and green at Christmas) and occasion (expectant couples can host “gender reveal” parties and have the tower lit up in pink or blue). It’s fun to see the light show after sunset, but stop by during the day as well to take a stroll through the adjacent Red River Valley Veterans Memorial. 2025 S. Collegiate Dr (next to the Love Civic Center)
Evergreen Cemetery // Dating to 1866, this is the final resting place for approximately 40,000 souls, including Willet Babcock, a prominent local businessman whose towering headstone—featuring what looks to be Jesus wearing cowboy boots—has been the most searched-for marker since it went up in 1882, a year after his death. Other notable graves to add to your cemetery scavenger hunt: cotton magnate John J. Culbertson’s mausoleum and 27-year-old saloon owner (and gunfight victim) D. H. Moore’s cross, inscribed with “From Your Loving Wife, Marvin” (bonus points if you visit cattle baron John S. Chisum in the Chisum Family Cemetery, at 1100 Washington). Evergreen is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and if you’re lucky you’ll cross paths with Jim Blassingame, third-generation caretaker, who can point you toward what’s thought to be the oldest grave. 560 Evergreen, 903-784-6750
Lamar County Historical Museum // A bronze bust of town founder George Washington Wright greets you outside this red-brick repository near the restored Union Station Railroad Depot. Inside, you’ll find rooms of lovingly arranged artifacts tracing the city’s highs (the cotton and railroad heyday of the late 1800’s) and lows (the devastating 1916 fire), as well as rooms devoted to African American and military history. The attached Rural Life Museum houses the 1846 Biard log cabin, a blacksmith shop, a pioneer kitchen, and an “outhouse” that I recommend you check out even if nature isn’t calling. Though free, the museum is open only on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 to 4. 1015 W. Kaufman, 903-783-0064, lchsparistx.org
Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site // For 99 years, this two-story High Victorian Italianate–style house was home to two generations of a prominent Paris family. The patriarch, Sam Bell Maxey, was a Mexican-American War veteran, a Confederate general, and a two-term U.S. senator with friends in high places (Stonewall Jackson was his roommate at West Point, and classmate Ulysses S. Grant helped him secure a presidential pardon after the Civil War). There may be more than ten thousand items to see here, most of which are original to the house, but the hour-long guided tour hits the highlights, like the giant seashell the family used as a punch bowl, Mr. Maxey’s (still operable) silver dinner bell, a mounted Longhorn skull that was a gift from Captain Richard King, and the first running toilet in town. 812 S. Church, 903-785-5716, visitsambellmaxeyhouse.com
Trail De Paris // Walkers, runners, bikers, and stroller-pushers all make use of this six-mile paved trail, which currently runs east from SE 8th Street to the city limits, where it links up to the Reno Rail Trail. Leashed dogs are permitted, and there are parking lots at seven of the trailheads. 903-517-9778
EAT + DRINK
Crawford’s Hole in the Wall // I’ve been to tinier holes in the wall, but Crawford’s still maintains a coziness that makes you feel like you’re in somebody’s country retreat. The daily specials are written on a chalkboard on the red front door, and the partially exposed brick walls are decorated with deer heads and old tin signs. At the counter, a giant lazy Susan filled with bowls of peach cobbler distracted me as we ordered Frito Pie and chicken salad before snagging the last open table at lunch. (P.S. There’s a historical marker across the street commemorating the city’s first official survey.) 202 3rd, 903-737-9025
Jaxx Gourmet Burgers // Compared to the family in camouflage at the next table over, I felt a bit underdressed in my jeans at this casual burger joint near the historic square. Although I could barely lift my own six-ounce bacon cheeseburger (it came with a steak knife through its heart), I realized I’d been out-ordered by the family too, when the waitress brought them one of the appropriately named “heart attack” specials: a burger that has two grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. Also of note: the wall of more than a dozen beers on tap. 10 Clarksville, 903-739-2955
Paris Bakery // It may seem like a cliche at best and a doomed experiment at worst to open a bakery/patisserie in Paris, Texas, that specializes in French pastries, but—praise the small-town cafe gods!—Paris Bakery is neither. Fresh batches of tasty breads and sweet treats emerge from the kitchen every morning, and the homey space, with its row of bar stools and a back patio often enlivened with live music, is the type of community gathering spot you want to come back to again and again. If I’d had my way (or the time), I would have loitered from breakfast (locally roasted coffee and an apple cream brioche—and, off the record, also a croissant) until lunch, since sandwich offerings include roasted red pepper and egg on tortano, Black Forest ham on baguette, and roasted vegetables with gouda on peasant bread. And then there’s the Saturday night pizza party, when you can get hand-tossed pies topped with, say, basil-garlic puree and ricotta or homemade tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella (you’ll need to BYOB). Open Tue–Fri 7–3, Sat 8–2 and 5:30–9. 120 N. Main, 903-784-1331, Facebook
Green Boutique // With a heart for eco-friendly, fair-trade products and an eye for eye-catching gifts, owner Kari Daniel stocks her downtown boutique with everything from Tintsaba sisal jewelry from Swaziland to E. Vulcano bath products made of volcanic minerals. Also spied: recycled-cotton Solmate Socks and BPA-free Green Toys. I was also drawn to the paintings by local artists adorning the walls, but it was a “galimoto”—a funny little wire push-toy with a bicycling man—handmade in Africa that ultimately inspired me to pull out my wallet. 111 Lamar Ave, 903-785-2397
Mary Bangs Antiques // “Need an ancestor? Pick one!” That’s the exhortation on a box of yellowing photographs at this treasure trove of the past. Also up for grabs during my visit was a pair of snowshoes that looked as if they were from the Ice Age, a flock of metal desk fans, exquisite quilts I wanted to pretend my grandmother had made for me, and a pearl-encrusted Kleenex box. I made off with a fragile 1962 playbill from the Paris Junior College’s production of Let’s See Paree and a costumey vintage eighties bracelet that I enjoy wearing if only because I can tell people I bought it an antiques shop in Paris. 29 E. Plaza, 903-784-4474
Monique’s Antiques // I caught myself gazing longingly into the windows of this shop on the square, which is artfully arranged with the kind of tastefully rustic French farmhouse furniture that well-off Texans favor for their weekend ranches. Upon further inspection inside, I expanded my wish list to include an old monogrammed trunk, a gilded birdcage, and a pair of rope-back chairs (my hopes were dashed when I saw their “I’m sold” tags). I was inspecting a small Napoleon figurine next to a bouquet of dried lavender when I overheard the proprietress, Monique Crook, talking with customers in an unmistakably French accent. Turns out, she was born in Paris, France, but has lived in this Paris for the past two decades. Luckily for her customers, she goes back to her homeland at least once a year, bringing back religious relics and other small items to sell to Francophile Texans. 24 W. Plaza, 903-784-5030
Priest’s Emporium // A junking enthusiast dreams of a place like this: it’s not too big, not too small, and arranged with just enough care that it’s easy to navigate through the perfectly random hodgepodge of collectibles, antiques, and kitsch. The cheeky juxtapositions of items—a PVC-pipe potato gun on a blue suede armchair, a tan felt cowboy hat atop a Hindu deity—whether intentional or not, make for an amusing experience. A heads-up that it’s open only on Monday, Friday, and Saturday. 21 S. Plaza, 903-785-0872, Facebook
Side Street Antiques // It may not have much square footage, but this shop still manages to pack a lot in, with furniture stacked on top of more furniture, as well as dishes, jugs, quilts, tin syrup cans, ancient packs of chewing gum, you name it, tucked into every available nook. I wonder if somebody’s nabbed the restored twenties-era visible gas pump yet. 122 Grand Ave, 903-366-9347, Facebook
Plus . . .
Lillian Kelley’s Design and Two Rivers Antiques // Lillian Kelley’s sells home decor and gift items (some old, many new) in the front, while multi-vendor Two Rivers offers antiques and primitives in the back room.
Paris Baby // If you’re looking for a Trunki, a Tip Pee Toe, or an I-Gym, this is where you want to be (same goes if you have no idea what those things are but are shopping for a kiddo).
The Plaza Gallery // Paintings, sculpture, and furniture by local artists are on view inside the Chamber of Commerce (where you can also buy an Eiffel Tower “bobblehead” and a bottle of Paris, Texas, Eau de Parfum).
SOHO Shoes & Accessories // Bling is both a noun and a verb at this women’s boutique, which specializes in pepping up your wardrobe with trendy clothes, shoes, and accessories.
Old Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast // Originally built in 1871, this restored two-story Victorian home lays claim to being the only B&B in town. Its three rooms (all up a narrow flight of stairs) are small but well-stocked. In addition to a generous breakfast spread (mini frittatas, biscuits, bacon, and yogurt parfaits), there’s a self-serve coffee and tea station available at all hours, not to mention homemade treats (strawberry bread during my visit). The Old Magnolia is lovingly presided over by two retired sisters who grew up in Paris and who felt called by God to turn this historic home into a peaceful retreat. 731 Clarksville, 903-739-8600
BEFORE YOU GO
Read Anand Giridharadas’s 2012 New York Times profile of Paris’s unlikely former mayor.
Watch The Texas Historical Commission‘s 16-minute documentary about Paris, which was awarded the 2013 First Lady’s Texas Treasures Award; Paris, Texas, the 1984 cult hit by German director Wim Wenders and playwright-actor Sam Shepard about a Texas drifter starring Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski. (Low-grade spoiler alert: the town is featured in name only. Oh, and Roger Ebert gave it four stars.)
Download This map of Paris’s antiques shops.
Pack Hiking and/or biking gear to take full advantange of the Trail de Paris.