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 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land in February 1844.
By the turn of the 20th century Paris, Texas eased toward the population line of 10,000 inhabitants, a jump of over 2,000 from the census of 1890. Industry in Paris at that time was boosted by the construction of the Panama Canal. By 1910, Lamar County had some 50,000 citizens mostly involved in agriculture. Cotton was king and many of the leaders of Paris were involved in that business.
All that changed on the hot Tuesday afternoon of March 21, 1916. A devastating fire roared through a few blocks to the southwest of downtown. Starting near a warehouse on the south side of town, whether by sparks from a train wheels or by kids playing with matches, the wind swept the flames through neighborhoods directly toward downtown Paris. This fire became one of the largest and most costly fires in the history of the United States.
From 5 p.m. to around 5 a.m. the next morning, citizens ran from the blaze which tuned eastward with the wind shift. The small fire department was not denting the onslaught. Fire departments came from surrounding counties to help put out the fire. A light rain began to diminish the threat. When the fires were finally put out, some 1439 buildings were in ashes. A swath of Paris, approximately one mile and one-third from south to north, and about three quarters of a mile in width, was destroyed.
The eerie post–fire scenes of men walking downtown through the mess under street lights unharmed, immediately turned into a hurried workplace. Banks constructed a long row of wooden building in the middle of the square and drew lots for exact locations, and began business with old customers. Mayor Henry P. Mayer, painted a sign that said “smile” and this was the first sign erected in Paris the morning after the city was destroyed by fire. Smile quickly became the slogan that “rebuilds the city of Paris in twelve months.”
By 1918, the town was almost complete again; and now stands as monument to the architecture of the day. The City of Paris downtown historic structures remain one of the largest collections of 1916 through 1918 buildings in the nation, and have earned a designation on The National Register of Historic Places.