Historic Road Trip: Denison to Clarksville
Settled by Native Americans, conquered by Spaniards, then included as part of Mexico, this region is rich with history and culture. This part of North Texas was also home to several legendary Texans, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sam Rayburn, and Sam Bell Maxey—their stories are each told at a Texas Historical Commission state historic site in the area.
Denison, a railroad town, arose from a relatively wild frontier community during the 1870s, where “tent cities” surrounded the more law-abiding selection of businesses along Main Street. In 1988, the City of Denison joined the Texas Main Street Program to revitalize and preserve its historic downtown. Since then, more than 420 buildings have been rehabilitated, Main Street has become a thriving cultural and entertainment district, and the city was a semifinalist for the prestigious 2019 Great American Main Street Award.
Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site features the modest working-class house where the 34th U.S. President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was born in 1890. The two-story home includes preserved antique décor and furniture. The visitors center features Eisenhower’s accomplishments as president via memorabilia and exhibits.
On the shores of Lake Texoma just northwest of town is Eisenhower State Park. Popular activities include swimming, boating, fishing, camping, hiking, and biking.
Huck’s Catfish is a neighborhood restaurant, owned and operated by the original owner, serving hearty catfish and seafood dinners. The most popular items are the fried catfish entrée with two veggies and the Cajun-spiced grilled salmon steak. In the central Main Street district, don't miss the chance to pair classic Italian cuisine with Texas wine and beer. Homestead Winery and Ivanhoe Ale Works both share a historic building.
Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic SiteGet Directions (903) 465-8908
A TURN OF THE CENTURY RESPITE Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, was born in the downstairs bedroom of his family’s rental house in the community of…
Eisenhower State ParkGet Directions (903) 465-1956
Eisenhower State Park, on the shores of Lake Texoma, opened to the public in 1958. The park was named for the 34th U.S. president, Dwight David Eisenhower, as he was born nearby…
Sam Rayburn Library and MuseumGet Directions (512) 495-4515
The Sam Rayburn Museum documents the life and career of Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn (1882–1961), the longest-serving House Speaker in American history. Dedicated in 1957, this elegant Greek Revival structure of white Georgia…
Sam Rayburn House State Historic SiteGet Directions (903) 583-5558
Step into the warm and welcoming world of one of Texas’ best known statesmen, Sam Rayburn. One of the most powerful and influential politicians in the 20th century, Rayburn served in the…
Fannin County CourthouseGet Directions (903) 583-2039
The Fannin County Courthouse in Bonham was built in 1888-1889 of rough-cut local limestone by stonemasons Kane and Cormack. It was designed in the Second Empire style of architecture by architect Wesley…
Bonham State ParkGet Directions (903) 583-5022
The 261-acre Bonham State Park falls within the northern extent of the Blackland Prairie, an area marked by grasslands interspersed with woodlands, near the Oklahoma border. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed the…
Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic SiteGet Directions (903) 785-5716
Sam Bell Maxey was a Mexican War veteran, former Confederate general, and future U.S. Senator when his family moved into their fashionable, newly built home on the south side of Paris in…
Lamar County CourthouseGet Directions (903) 737-2420
Once home to Caddo Indians, the Red River Valley region of Lamar County began attracting Anglo settlers during the early decades of the 1800s. In 1840, the surrounding population had increased significantly…
Red River County CourthouseGet Directions (903) 427-2645
The discovery of unique decorative finishes and ornamental painting during the restoration of the Red River County courthouse, financed by a significant grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, led the…
Nearly 30 miles to the southeast is Bonham. Named in honor of Alamo hero James Butler Bonham, the community received an early start in Texas, formed from an 1837 settlement known as Bois d’Arc and renamed Bonham in 1844. The community served as supply base for settlers moving to North Texas as well as businesses in nearby Fort Worth.
Congressman Sam Rayburn’s 1916 home, now the THC’s Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, remains virtually untouched. It still holds the original furniture, photographs, and the congressman’s personal belongings. Rayburn was the longest-serving Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives. This influential statesman’s house is a National Historic Landmark, a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Congressman Rayburn also commissioned the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum, a Texas Historic Landmark, as a tribute to the people of Fannin County after being awarded $10,000 for distinguished service to the nation. The museum, opened in 1957, houses a replica of the Speaker of the House of Representative’s office during Rayburn’s tenure.
The nearby 1888 Fannin County Courthouse, featuring a THC historical marker on its grounds, once embodied the Second Empire architectural style with its elaborate roof and clock tower. However, in 1965, the building was covered with limestone and modernized to mimic an unadorned Art Deco building. The passage of two recent bond proposals ensured that the courthouse will be returned to its original 1888 grandeur. The full restoration is now underway as part of the THC's Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP).
Just southeast of town is Bonham State Park, which includes and surrounds a scenic, 65-acre lake. Created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the park provides ample water recreation activities, camping, and hiking or biking on nearly nine miles of trails.
Muddbones is a popular and renowned spot in Fannin County. The Smokey Deluxe burger with pepper jack cheese, grilled jalapeños, and onions sautéed in jalapeño sauce is the most popular menu item.
Built in 1888, the the Carlton House Bed & Breakfast is located in the heart of historic downtown Bonham. The three story Victorian is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,
About 40 miles east of Bonham is a charming town with a world-famous name. Established early in 1845 under the Republic of Texas, Paris has served as the Lamar County seat for more than 150 years. Named after the French capital, the Main Street city pays tribute to its namesake with its very own Eiffel Tower. But it comes with a twist: the Paris, Texas replica is embellished with a red cowboy hat!
In 1868, Sam Bell Maxey and his family moved from Kentucky to their upper-middle-class south Paris estate, known today as the THC’s Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site. The house contains more than 10,000 artifacts including original family furniture, clothing, and letters. A Victorian garden filled with roses and crape myrtle trees honors Marilda Maxey. Visitors can also see Maxey’s burial site at Evergreen Cemetery, featuring a THC historical marker, less than a mile away from Maxey’s house.
Among Paris' many notable historic structures is the 1917 Lamar County Courthouse. Designed by the Fort Worth architectural firm of Sanguinet and Staats, the unique building combines Classical Revival style with heavy Romanesque details, arches, and columns. The latter features echo the previous 1897 Romanesque-style courthouse, which was destroyed by the Paris Fire of 1916. In 2006, the current courthouse was rededicated after a THCPP-funded restoration.
Three other renowned Paris structures, all listed in the National Register, are the First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, and Scott-Roden Mansion. Built in 1892, the First Presbyterian Church is the oldest among the three structures. The semi-circular arches characterize the Medieval Romanesque style. The late-19th and early-20th-century Classical Revival period influenced the design of the First United Methodist Church, while lthe intricately detailed Scott-Roden Mansion combines Art Nouveau and Dutch Renaissance styles.
Voted best barbecue in town for nine consecutive years, Scholl Bros Bar-B-Que serves staples such as ribs, pulled pork, and brisket along with classic sides. This rustic joint is consistently recommended by locals, and customers rave about the tender meat and coleslaw.
For a fun change of pace, why not stay in a historic building with areas that have been converted into lofts? 1st Street Lofts features four suites, each with a kitchen, living area, and private bathroom. The lofts share space in the newly renovated 37 Clarksville building with an events venue and dining establishments. Or Suite 129-Historic Loft is located only 1.5 blocks from the main downtown plaza in the historic Cornerstone building. The building once house a 100-year-old print shop, but now features a luxury loft with all the modern conveniences.
About 30 miles east of Paris is Clarksville. Established by James Clark circa 1833, it was chosen as the county seat when Red River County was developed in 1835. Now a Main Street city, Clarksville takes pride in its history and heritage attractions.
Located a few blocks from the business center, the National Register-listed Red River County Courthouse remains the only intact construction of architect W.H. Wilson. Built in 1885, the Renaissance Revival-style courthouse received a full restoration as one of the first participants in the THC's THCPP. It was rededicated on October 26, 2002.
Part of the Northeast Texas Trail, a 130-mile route along repurposed railroad lines, links Paris and Clarksville. Hikers, bikers, and joggers can get away from it all, exploring tranquil forests and checking out the small towns of Reno, Blossom, and Detroit along the way. Detailed information on route segments, trail conditions, camping, lodging, dining, and area attractions can be found at NeTexasTrail.org.
For soul food, visit Sunflower’s Cafe. The small modular style home is decorated in bright yellow sunflowers, creating a warm, homey atmosphere. Every day, the establishment serves chicken fried steak—a customer favorite—and tamales. Like all good home-cooked Southern meals, Sunflower’s offers delicious cornbread.
Courthouse Inn Bed and Breakfast allows for a relaxing stay with antique beds, whirlpool tubs, furnished antique parlors, a wraparound porch, and a balcony with wicker swings and rocking chairs. It’s walking distance from downtown, the Red River County Courthouse, and Red River County Library. Guests recommend walking to the town square to enjoy a picnic on the lawn.
Texas Lakes Trail Region
Texas Time Travel
Denison Main Street
Paris Main Street
Clarksville Main Street
View the original post on the Texas Historical Commission's blog.