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 enough to lobby for an independent county, carved out of the sizable Red River County established during the Republic of Texas. By December of that year, Lamar County was formed, courtesy of designation by the Fifth Congress of the Republic, only to have its boundaries reduced thirty years later in order to establish neighboring Delta County. Named in honor of the Republic’s fourth president Mirabeau B. Lamar, Lamar County authorized a series of communities to act as county seat before finally settling on Pinhook in 1844, later changing the name to Paris.
The county also utilized its share of courthouses, employing three different sites in a succession of structures and locations between 1841 and 1847 before construction the first of three impressive county buildings in Paris. The first was a two-story, Second Empire style edifice completed in 1875 and featured mansard roofs, stone quoining, dormers, crestings, bracketed cornices, and towering brick chimneys. Although the name of the architect is unclear, John McDonald was the builder and contractor of record. County commissioners court notes indicate problems with the structural integrity of the courthouse after a decade of use, motivating plans to condemn the building by 1894.
The county completed its next courthouse in 1896, demolishing the Second Empire structure to accommodate a monolithic Richardsonian Romanesque building built by the contracting firm Martin, Byrne & Johnston. With exterior walls of Texas granite, the design featured a Greek cross plan, corner pavilions, a pyramidal roof and central clock tower. Its bronze clock tower bell weighed approximately one thousand pounds. Twenty years later most all of the Richardsonian courthouse, along with much of downtown Paris, would burn up in flames. News of the 1916 Paris fire made headlines as far away as Ohio:
“Fire swept through this city for six hours last night and destroyed approximately thirty blocks,” Ohio’s Portsmouth Daily Times reported in their March 22nd, 1916 edition. “The fire started about 5:30 yesterday afternoon in a storage warehouse of H. J. Long, at the foot of South Eighteenth Street, adjoining the Texas and Pacific Railway tracks. The wind was blowing a gale at the time and the flames were driven so rapidly that they soon were beyond control. In less than two hours, the fire had laid waste to a section extending from Eighteenth to Twenty-fifth streets in width and along several blocks of the Texas and Pacific right of way, burning several of the most costly residences, the Episcopal church, the Congregational church and First Baptist church, several apartment houses, the Gibralter and Emerick Hotels and many other structures…With nothing to check its progress, the fire reaching the city square, rapidly entered the business district proper…Practically every building on either side of the square in the heart of the business center, was destroyed…The central fire station also had been burned together with most of the city's fire hose.”
Devastated but determined, Lamar County citizens set about constructing a new courthouse, employing local designers and builders William G. Barry, Edwin R. Smith and Elmer George Williams along with the expert consultation from the Fort Worth architectural firm of Sanguinet & Staats. The new Classical Revival design was built upon the ruins and features rough pink granite details salvaged from the 1897 courthouse. Also re-used are many of the granite columns, terra cotta ornamentation in the form of eagles and medallions, triple-arched porticos, and corner pavilions that enhance the massive structure. Despite a fire inside the courthouse in 1980 that damaged historical details, the 1917 Lamar County courthouse survives intact, restored to its original design with funding assistance from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, and rededicated almost one hundred years later on September 3, 2005.