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Living through winter and early spring is a chore in Northeast Texas, but also a perfect time to visit for a couple hours at the Lamar County Historical Society Museum. It is located at 1009 West Kaufman, near the Union Depot and within the Heritage Center and Hayden Park complex. Hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 10-4 p.m. or, if a group plans ahead, a special tour will be offered.
The self-guided historical expedition begins in the foyer where the huge Staples Jewelry Sign and the William H. Huddle paintings of Mr. and Mrs. W.B. Aikin greet visitors as they sign the registry. The foyer has many enlarged photographs of early Paris scenes and buildings, as well as cabinets full of memorabilia. This, plus Paris school and Lamar County sports history, surrounds a horse and carriage. A most impressive doorway takes visitors into an octagon of history rooms. The entry way is what little was left of the Judge Jim Noble Thompson home on South Church Street after it burned. Museum founder and Historical Society leader Dr. William deG. Hayden retrieved the front and back entries from the rubble and the museum builders repaired and painted them as the beginning and ending of a trip through time that was created in the middle of the huge museum.
The Octagon Room displays large photos of old Paris homes, two maps, a display of the late Federal Marshal Sheb Williams, and furniture created by the oldest manufacturing plant still operating in Texas, Rodgers-Wade. Visitors can spin off from there into eight quarters where each contains various views of Paris and Lamar County life.
Usually the best start is into the first room to the left or northeast, where an original Paris Sonic Drive-In stand draws much conversation. In that room are displays about area musicians, the 1982 tornado, the police department and old Bonham Street homes. One display is of former Paris News publisher A.G. “Pat” Mayse, a driver in the industrial movement that took over Paris after the loss of the World War II Camp Maxey army training camp. The east room is the Paris Fire display. The town nearly completely burned in 1877 when an angry step-son started a fire in the back of his family store and tavern. It quickly spread to almost the entire square. Paris lost its south side in 1896 and then in 1916 over 1,400 homes and buildings were destroyed on a windy, 96-degree day in March. A pair of panoramic photos found and displayed by Paul Denney shows the town as seen from the tower clock of the courthouse in 1914. It is a neat view of what did and did not burn two years later. In between the panoramics are various photos of what the area looked like after the flames swept through. It was a true disaster, but townspeople and leaders had it virtually rebuilt by 1920.
To the south of the fire room is a display of the Mrs. Perry Swaim household dating from the 1890s. The dining table, cabinets and bed are representative of those times in Paris when the economy was driven well by Ames Tool Company [tool handles for the Panama Canal] , Rodgers-Wade [custom furniture], Cummer Manufacturing crate factory [fruit containers], the Box Factory of Paris, the Paris Candy Company, Bettes Furniture Manufacturing, and an agricultural and milling sector that kept rail cars coming and going from all directions. Paris was a true banking center at that time, fueled by W.J.McDonald who later gave his fortune to the University of Texas to build an observatory, Rufus Scott who built the large home on South Church Street now used as Starrett Funeral Home, and John J. Culbertson, a millionaire in the cotton oil seed business. He gave the fountain in the middle of the town, and the peristyle in Bywaters Park as well as the library located west of that where his home burned in the 1916 fire. Across the Octagon Room to the northwest is an intricately created African-American Room, full of representative history and many photos. This area alone might take 45 minutes of deep study. While Lamar County was settled by mostly small farmers with perhaps 2-5 servants prior to 1860, there were a few larger farms where perhaps as many as 60 blacks worked the fields for the owners. This could not compare to the larger plantations to the east in Red River or Bowie Counties, but the cotton production in Lamar County was large. The room also displays items about the separation of the races that so endured until the 1960s. 5th Graders Use the Museum to Study Downtown Paris Buildings Behind and west of the African-American Room is the War Room. The logs on the floor are from the old Fort Shelton, a stronghold southwest of Paris that protected the settlers from roaming western Texas Indians in the 1830s. Paintings of Civil War General Sam Bell Maxey are located on the wall. Displays and servicemen photos are available to study. The two Paris admirals-J.O. Richardson and Sam Moore-are displayed. The room is draped from the ceiling by a parachute, and displays the uniforms of the services. The space also has photos of Camp Maxey in a large framed
exhibit on the west wall.
On the southwest of the Octagon Center Room are the Reverend Robert Cooke Buckner exhibit areas. This minister came to Paris before the Civil War from the Albany, Kentucky area with several families, including the Maxeys, and became the preacher of the Paris First Baptist Church. He created a newspaper that became The Baptist Messenger, and by 1877 was in the Dallas area building and managing an orphans home. The small room off to the west of the large exhibit is a reconstruction of a classroom from Buckner’s Orphans Home. Twice students who attended school in that room have come to Paris for a small reunion and luncheon.
From the eight room displays the next museum section is through the old Howland Store door that leads into the Sheb Williams Agricultural exhibit area. Here is the mantelpiece of the entire museum–the 1840s Biard Home brought in from a few miles south of Paris and reassembled. It is furnished with furniture and items of that time. Around the old cabin are various display sections. The iron lung brings back memories of the polio scare, the registration desk keyboard reminds those of the Gibraltar Hotel era, and the Roxton section has many historical items from that community’s past. A printing press, an old phone booth, and other manufacturing items are displayed before the visitor runs into an outhouse! Yes. It is real, except once the rickety door is open, there are modern and air conditioned facilities for visitors. To the southeast side of the cabin is a blacksmith shop, an assortment of household appliances of the past, and an array of tools that visitors can look at and handle. Attached to the east side is the Midget Shop, a replica of where Woodrow Bills created so many fine woodworking objects during his long career in Paris. The building came from behind the old Lamar Hospital, and Bills donated all the equipment. It is a dream come true for the dozen or so retired men who built the complex and keep it in shape.
To the north of the cabin is a cut out of an enormous cottonwood tree that was once in the log constructed meat drying shed on the Travis Wright Plantation in Red River County. Some like it came from up river in the 1830s or 1840s when hunters would cut down a tree, load in their pelts, and wait for a heavy spring rain to lift the log and float the booty on down to home or market. When at the destination, the hulled out log was used for other purposes. A more modern era of transportation is north of this display. It is a railroad exhibit, with a miniature train constructed by Parisian Calvin Miller Morgan. Outside the large door to the east of that is farm equipment.
South of the museum in the middle of the park is a gazebo donated by the David Daniel family in memory of Vernon and Lura Daniel. It is rented by the Society for weddings, and is a popular place for a photo background. The same goes for the large highway bridge or to the west at the rose garden planted in 2010. The depot houses a huge local history and genealogy research center, a Chamber of Commerce meeting room, the Paris Economic Development Corporation offices, and a small transportation museum. These are open during the week only. The tour of the Historical Museum will take a good two hours for the serious visitor, but can be scrutinized quickly in about 45 minutes if in a rush. But, the docents sure do not mind if there is a revisit by guests. Those from local grade schools to visitors from Europe walk this path of history each year.
That Guys Coffee
117 Clarksville St
Opened in 2010 by gourmet coffee roaster, Gerald Hutchings, That Guy’s Coffee has a cool vibe. The front room displays Gerald’s custom coffee roaster, and all you have to do is follow your nose to know when he’s roasting at his funky little shop. The freshness of his wonderful coffee will have you swearing off Maxwell House forever and That Guy ships coast to coast.
But it’s what is in the back room that makes the trip to That Guy’s Coffee a truely unique experience. A curtained doorway separates the front coffee room from The Listening Room. The Listening Room is an intimate musical venue to hear some of the most talented singer/songwriter to pass through our town.
The exposed brick walls display art from a variety of local artists include That Guy himself, giving the room a bohemian coffeehouse feel. With a maximum seating capacity of 59, there are only excellent seats for any concert. And what makes this a “Listening Room” is the focus on the music. Each concert is started off with an announcement to silence cell phones and if you need to talk, please quietly step outside. There is no question you are here to enjoy music up-close and personal.
The musicians talk about their music and lyrics giving a sense of being in a “Behind the Music” episode on VH1. Gerald and his wife Laura spend a significant time seeking out just the right musicians for the Listening Room, and rarely do they fall short of outstanding.
While That Guy’s Coffee is open daily, the Listening Room only books about one concert per month, so check the website for dates and musicians. Tickets typically run $15-20 and can be bought online or at That Guy’s Coffee. Feel free to bring a bottle of wine, and fresh brewed coffee is a must.
The next concert is Camille Cortinas & Eric Neal Friday February 18th. “Best Folk Acoustic Act” & “Best Female Vocalist” Nominee – Dallas Observer. Don’t miss it.
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