Other Views from 1885

Where is Paris?

Above: Henry Wellge (1850–1917). Paris, Texas. County Seat of Lamar County, 1885. Lithograph, 16.3 x 24.9 in., by Beck & Pauli, Litho. Milwaukee, Wis. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.

Paris in 1885

Henry Wellge completed his large drawing of Paris, Texas—which one correspondent pronounced “very accurate in detail”—before the end of the year 1885.[1] Working with George E. Norris, who was his partner and sales agent, they printed the image with the Beck & Pauli lithographic firm in Milwaukee late that year.

According to John H. Patterson, a reporter for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Paris was the center of a “purely…agricultural country” and “not attempting to make anything else out of it.”[2] That meant that the city was a regional commercial center for the rich farmland in the northeastern corner of the state. As such, Paris hosted a number of retail and wholesale dry goods, hardware, furniture, grocery, and harness and leather shops; the usual flour, planing, and cotton and oil mills; and saloons, opera houses, and academies. The city had a population of perhaps 7,500, and Wellge identified some seventy-five structures consisting of county buildings, schools, businesses, churches, and residences in the legend of the lithograph.

The streets run north-south and east-west, and Wellge depicted the city looking toward the northeast. A disastrous fire had destroyed much of the downtown area in 1877, and the city council had urged citizens to rebuild with more substantial brick and stone structures, the results of which Wellge documented. The commercial section was arranged around an open market square, because when the old courthouse on the square was replaced in the mid-1870s, the new one was built a block to the north, leaving the square empty.[3] Patterson concluded that the “country customers and the jam of wagons on the Public Square” might lead one to “imagine himself in some busy, hustling Northern city where nothing is thought of but trade and commerce” and suggested that Paris was the third most important city in north Texas, behind Dallas and Fort Worth.[4]

As accurate as the view appears to be, when compared with other maps and photographs, at least two mistakes are apparent. Wellge included the M.P. & N.W. Railroad (the Missouri Pacific & Northwestern), which did not exist and never came about, in the lower center of the picture. The second mistake was the exaggeration of the topography, probably in an effort to show the gradual slope from both east and west toward the city center. The city actually sits on a ridge between the valleys of the Red River to the north and the North Sulphur River to the south.[5] The Texas and Pacific Railway, shown in the right-hand corner of the print, had been serving the city since the mid-1870s.