History of Downtown Paris

Revolution and a New Start

Twenty short years after the U. S. became a nation, Tennessee joined up and became a state—the sixteenth state to join this brand new experiment in freedom, liberty, and nation building. The oldest incorporated municipality in the state of Tennessee, Paris became the county seat shortly after Henry became a county in 1821. Henry County was named after Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry who said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

“…The Panthers Would Answer!”

As late as 1820, there really wasn’t much in Henry County or Paris. There were a few settlers here and there, but they said it was so wild that “if a baby cried in the night, the panthers would answer!”

It Was Named After Whom?

Since there is nothing obviously French here at first glance, many visitors wonder how Paris got its name. Legend has it that one of the county commissioners, James Leeper, thought a lot of the French General, the Marquis de Lafayette. This member of French royalty and an outstanding military man helped our ‘rag-tag crew’ of a nation during the American Revolution. James Leeper wanted to honor the Marquis de Lafayette, so when it came time to suggest names, he put the name Lafayette in the hat.

The Luck of the Draw

Amazingly, Lafayette was the name drawn. However, no one was certain about the spelling—they didn’t want to misspell their hero’s name and the name of their city! That would be much worse than no recognition at all. So instead of possibly spelling the town’s name wrong, they settled on Paris. They figured the Marquis de Lafayette was probably from somewhere around there anyway (if they wanted to call 300 miles “somewhere” they were right!).

Which Bar Are You Going To, Dear?

Paris was the first town in West Tennessee to incorporate. It had five stores, four taverns, and a courthouse. The original courthouse was made of poplar logs and was two little rooms divided by a covered opening. They held court in the north room and an enterprising Parisian sold pies and liquor in the south room. That made it terribly convenient for folks to go from the ‘bar of justice’ to the ‘other bar’. That courthouse only lasted two years, much to the dismay of the local “l0vers of the grape and corn.” In 1825 the county built a two-story brick courthouse.

The Outlook Grows Dark

As war clouds loomed in our young nation, Tennessee was the last state to secede, leaving the Union in May of 1861. By that time there were 2,000 people living in Paris, which was a pretty good size for a town back then. The war had a tremendous effect on the local citizens. Calls were made for men to assemble here on the courthouse lawn to organize Confederate regiments.

“Volunteer County of the Volunteer State”

Monday, May 20, 1861 is the day the Fifth Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, was permanently organized. Crowds poured onto the courthouse lawn from every direction. The company criers mounted the fence around the courthouse and yelled, “Oh, yes! Oh, yes! All that belong to Captain Caldwell’s company parade here! Parade here!” So many of them volunteered that our county later on was given the title, “Volunteer County of the Volunteer State.” But that distinction got us in trouble.

We Sure Got Some Attention—and Some Fighting

So many men were being enlisted here that General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Union soldiers to Paris to try and stop the tremendous influx of enemy combatants from this one little area.

The Battle of Paris, which took place about a mile west of town, occurred on March 11, 1862. It only lasted a little while; we fought hard and the Federals retreated back to Paris Landing. The Yankees, however, eventually occupied Paris. They took over our courthouse and used a local hotel for their sick and wounded.

Much to the entire nation’s relief, the war came to a close in the spring of 1865.

Bad Things Still Happen

The beautiful downtown area has had its misfortunes over the years, however, especially fires. In 1873, a relentless fire left nothing standing on the entire west side of the square. Fire struck the square three more times over the years; they didn’t have very good fire-fighting equipment back then, so fires were usually very destructive and burned for far too long.

The Molasses Miracle

The 1884 fire burned 118 and 116 North Market Street. Although there were several people killed in that fire, there was also a miracle. Seems that there was a fellow caught under some fallen timbers in one of the stores, but nobody could get to him. He was surely destined to die until a big barrel of molasses fell and broke. With the heat of the fire, the molasses got warm and made him slick enough to ease out from under the heavy beams and get to safety. A miracle indeed!

Parisians Can Be Stubborn

Despite the vicious fires, the row of businesses on the west side of the courthouse make up the longest continuous row of court square buildings still existing from before the turn of the century in the entire state of Tennessee. One example of this perseverance—some call it mule-headedness—is the Toggery, a Men’s Store. It has been in its original location since 1917—longer than any other single business on the square! Ninety-one years for one location says a lot, and especially since it will be 100 years in 2017!

Not ‘Snake Oil’ At All!

Speaking of the north side of the square, take a look at the Toggery’s next-door neighbor. In 1877 a young man moved to town, become a clerk, and eventually a pharmacist in that store, back when it was a drug store. The man’s name was Edwin Wiley Grove. He was in his mid-twenties when he bought the pharmacy, and he was just barely scraping by, but he had an idea, and it was a great one.

Back in that time, malaria, a disease carried by mosquitoes, was killing and disabling thousands of men, women, and children in the South. The disease was rampant worldwide wherever the climate was similar to that of the southern United States (hot and humid). The only known treatment (not cure, but treatment) was quinine. The problem was that it was so bitter tasting that many patients preferred the disease to the medicine!

There’s That Stubbornness Perseverance Again

Grove figured that if he could concoct a form of quinine that didn’t taste so bad, his fortune would be made. Late into the night, he’d work in the basement of that little pharmacy or at his house a few blocks away. They say that at times the fumes were horrible. But after several years his perseverance paid off, and Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic was born.

With the assistance of a few friends, on little capital, Grove started the Paris Medicine Company. His chill tonic became a raging success worldwide. If fact, it was standard issue for British soldiers who were shipping off to malaria-infested countries. Even though Dr. Grove eventually moved the Paris Medicine Company to St. Louis and eventually became a resident of Asheville, North Carolina, he didn’t forget about the little town where he got his start.

How Can I Repay You?

In 1905, Mr. Grove submitted an offer to the Henry County Quarterly Court stating that if the city and county would buy the land and build a public high school, he would endow it for $50,000. You can see the school, known as the Grove Tower Building, from many places in Paris.

Prior to his offer, parents had to pay for any education past the eighth grade. This was the first public high school available in this county. The cornerstone was laid June 26, 1906, and Grove High School became the only privately endowed public high school in the state. Because of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, many folks call it “the School that came from a Bottle.”

Today, however, the Grove endowment’s interest is spent on computers and other things that Dr. Grove could never have imagined during his time in Paris.

The Last Courthouse, Hopefully

The same architect who designed the Tower Building designed our fourth—and so far final—courthouse. The year was 1896 and the sidewalks around town were still wooden for the most part. And the streets—well, paved streets were still twenty years off. But there were concrete crosswalks, and that was a huge improvement, considering the streets were still dirt or mud, depending on the weather.

The interior has been remodeled, but the original paneled doors and frame staircase are intact. Period lighting and other elements that offer a turn-of-the-century feel have been restored. We’re proud to have the oldest working courthouse in the state of Tennessee.

We Grow Famous Folks Here

In the main hall of the courthouse, you’ll find three governors’ portraits and one of Patrick Henry. Paris lays claim to Governor Isham G. Harris, our civil war governor, Governor Porter, who currently resides in the city cemetery, and Governor Rye, whose beautiful home is still being lived in by Parisians.

We Grow Industrious Folks Here Too

Grace Episcopal Church in downtown is the oldest church building in Paris. It was founded by three women who got support from friends abroad. They raised the balance of the necessary money by holding suppers, bazaars, and benefits.

Construction began in 1895, and the building was completed the next year. The windows in Grace Church were designed and produced by the famous Tiffany glassworks. The glass itself was shipped to the American factory from Versailles, France. Each separate piece was wrapped in straw, placed in wooden kegs, and put on a ship bound for Philadelphia. The kegs were then transported by a horse-drawn wagon to Lancaster, PA, where the windows were actually constructed.

The Rose windows in the west end of the church were inferior and faded in the afternoon sun. They weren’t replaced until 1966. The individual pieces of these two new windows were gathered from the cathedrals of Europe that were destroyed during the first and second World Wars. So some of this stained glass dates back to the 15th Century!

Hard Work Pays Off Handsomely

Paris became known for the production of cosmetics. The first outfit was the National Toilet Company, founded in 1899. They produced bleaching creams, face powders, and rouge under the name “Nadinola.” Next came the Paris Toilet Company founded in 1913, and Tyson and Company, founded in 1920.

Alvin Tyson and Walter Johnson, who were originally connected with the National Toilet Company, owned Tyson & Company. They came up with a new twist for the industry and began producing cosmetics exclusively for women of color.

The company was located upstairs and they packed all those cosmetics in jars and put the jars in cartons. Then they’d put those cartons down a metal chute and, whoosh, they’d fly down to a delivery person waiting in the back alley below.

Something is Always Going On Downtown

Downtown Paris has been the backdrop for many celebrations. Back in the thirties, farmers would come to town the first Monday of the month to swap everything from knives to mules. The folks at the newspaper, The Post-Intelligencer, decided that since so many people were in town that day anyway, they’d sponsor a little festival with some mule contests and a parade. The idea caught on, and by the next year everyone was looking forward to the second annual Mule Day. The folks at the theater took moving pictures, and everyone went to the Capitol later and watched the events of Mule Day all over again.

Another festival enjoyed by Parisians during the late thirties and early forties was the Nancy Hall Jubilee, but when the bottom fell out of the sweet potato market the jubilee came to a halt. You see, Nancy Hall wasn’t a person the town was honoring. It was the main variety of sweet potato grown around here!

King Catfish Comes to Town—And Sticks Around

These days we celebrate neither mules nor sweet potatoes, but fish, during the World’s Biggest Fish Fry. Back in the early ‘50s, the parade, the fish tent and the carnival were all downtown; now downtown hosts the street dance, the kiddie parade and the catfish races. We serve over 12,500 pounds (or six and a quarter tons) of catfish during our weeklong celebration, which is held the last full week in April. Over six tons sounds like a lot of catfish, but hungry eaters make it disappear in no time at all! The top chefs during Fish Fry have been doing it for years, and they get the honor because of their experience and “lip-smacking good cooking!”

Good People Who Have Left Us

There are a host of notable Parisians buried in the city cemetery. Davy Crockett’s oldest son, John Wesley Crockett, was elected as a United States Congressman in 1837, and in fact, he filled the seat his father had once held. He served this district until 1841. The next year he moved to New Orleans and later up to Memphis, where he became a newspaperman. He died down there at the early age of 44, and his body was returned to Paris for burial. He thought of this as home.

John Wesley Crockett and his wife, Martha Hamilton, a Paris girl, had fourteen children. That may explain why Henry County has more direct descendants of Davy Crockett than any place else in the world!

Henry County is headquarters for the National Direct Descendants of David Crockett. (Incidentally, if you do the math on that passel of children, you’ll find that Mrs. Crockett birthed a new little Crockett about every 21 months for two and a half decades.)

It’s No Sweat If You Have the Right Idea

It has been said that once you move to North Poplar Street, you never move away. This was especially true of the four Mitchum sisters, who each occupied a house on this street. If you’ve ever heard of Mitchum Antiperspirant, you’re familiar with the Mitchum Company, which was later sold to Revlon. These Mitchum sisters’ kinship provided the family ties that bound the Mitchum Company together. First known as the Paris Toilet Company and later on as Golden Peacock, and finally Mitchum, the company began in 1913 as a small producer of bleaching cream.

Eventually it became Paris’s largest home-owned industry. During most of its 57-year history, many of which were Depression years, it thrived and became a multi-million-dollar, international business.

Who’s That Woman Behind You?

As we all know, behind every good man and his business is a good woman, or in this case, four good women.

“Miss Nell” was one of the four Mitchum sisters. Her husband, Will T. Warren Jr., his father W. T. Warren Sr., and Percy Aden were the three founders of Paris Toilet Company.

Directly across the street is the home of Mabel Ing, another of the Mitchum girls and one of the key reasons the family cosmetic business was founded in the first place. In the early part of this century, fair skin was quite the vogue for the ladies. Miss Mabel and her sister, Nell, both had reddish hair and freckled easily. They used a bleaching cream made by a local woman to remove the freckles. That bleaching formula, which the sisters found so effective, was the first formula purchased by the Paris Toilet Company.

The next house down from the Warrens, 603 North Poplar, belonged to Miss Maude Duvall, the third of the four daughters of Mr. Mitchum. Miss Maude’s husband was a train master and also a stockholder in the Paris Toilet Company.

With his daughters so close, you might imagine that Mr. Mitchum would not be far away. The next house, 605 North Poplar, belong to Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Mitchum. But if you’ve been counting, we’ve only discussed three of the four sisters.

The fourth sister, Annie Mitchum Province, never left her parents’ house. Although her husband built them a lovely home on Walnut Street, “Annie Mitch” preferred North Poplar. Miss Annie’s husband, John Province, was also on the board of directors of the Paris Toilet Company.

The house at 615 Poplar Street belonged to Mr. Percy Aden. And of course, since no one ever leaves North Poplar Street, this house was eventually owned by Mitchum Warren, the son of Nell and Will T. Warren. Mitchum is the person credited with the name changes the company underwent.

Y’all Make Toilets, Do You?

You see, when Mitch was in college, people used to ask him, “What does your family do?” When he told them about the Paris Toilet Company, they thought the Warrens made commodes, so Mitch asked his father to change the name, and Mr. Will obliged him.

The peacock was one of Mr. Will’s favorite birds because of its extraordinary beauty. He also thought the name lent itself to splendid packaging and logo opportunities, so in 1927 the Paris Toilet Company became Golden Peacock, Inc.

Before it was all said and done, however, young Mitch changed the name yet again. This time he gave it a family twist, naming it after his mother and aunts and, incidentally, after himself:  The Mitchum Company.

Is That a Real Mansion?

This one’s called Cavitt Place, and like most older homes, it has a colorful history. The Cavitts were early settlers in this area. After the Civil War, around 1867, they decided to buy James Currier’s farm on the edge of town, located on the main stage road north, now known as North Poplar Street.

The Cavitts built a wonderfully ornate Victorian home, also called Cavitt Place, but it was badly damaged by fire in 1912. By this time, Orion Conyers Barton had married Tillie Cavitt and assumed responsibility for the household. O. C. Barton was a friend and business associate of Edwin Wiley Grove. E. W. Grove was the gentleman who developed the “Tasteless Chill Tonic,” and Barton was one of his investors.

Grove’s Paris Medicine Company was a raging success, and people who had bought just a few dollars worth of stock made enough money to burn a wet mule…or build a mansion.

O. C. Barton was one of fortune’s favorites. For quite some time, he held a position on the board of the Paris Medicine Company, which later became Grove Laboratories.

Barton was a true philanthropist. He and his wife donated the necessary funding to build the girls’ dormitory at Grove High School as well as money for the schools’ Barton Athletic Field.

This wealthy Parisian not only found time for work and civic duties, he also found time to replace the badly burned Victorian Cavitt Place with the new Cavitt Place, the crown jewel of North Poplar.

The new Cavitt Place was designed by Briton Davis, a prominent architect of the day. It was featured in American Architect magazine in 1916. “Colonel” Barton, as he was known around town, spared no expense with that big house. An artist from St. Louis was hired to do artwork on the ceiling and walls. The Colonel even imported a stonecutter from Italy to do the fancy stonework. Mahogany and walnut woodwork are found throughout the house, and the entry is designed with marble floors and stairs.

Eventually, the Barton heirs gave the house to the county. In the summer of 1989, the county transferred ownership of Cavitt Place to the Paris-Henry County Heritage Center, a museum and archives. It is open most days and is well worth the time to investigate and marvel.

Quality Is Eternal

The home at 607 North Poplar, circa 1840, is red brick with white columns. Before this house belonged to A. B. and Miss Eleanor Mitchum, it was home to Dr. E. W. Grove. When Dr. Grove lived there, it was single story without the columns or balcony. Still, it was a fine home and served the Groves well until their business expanded so much they needed to be in a big city like St. Louis.

The Mitchums remodeled it and added on to it when they purchased it in the early 1900s. It has recently been purchased by two graduates of E. W. Grove High School who returned home from Texas to retire in Paris. They have done extensive renovations, yet kept the charm that has endeared this house to North Poplar Street for more than 165 years.

Ain’t Nothing But a … What?

Also nearby is the City Auditorium. This building was used for everything from basketball games to concerts. In its hey day of the 50’s and 60’s, everyone from Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis to Flatt and Scruggs performed there. There are a million memories and songs permeating that building!

Hotel Hi-jinks

Back during the day, the train was the only way to travel great distances, even to or through Paris. One train passenger tells the story of disembarking the train and having one arm grabbed by the owner of the Caldwell Hotel and the other arm grabbed by the owner of the Greystone Hotel! The Greystone is still standing and has a few stories of its own, not the least of which is the old hotel that’s hidden inside.

Through the years the Greystone Hotel with its fine dining room was the place to see and be seen. Its banquet hall was home to the most elegant parties in Paris. Because portraits of Governors Harris, Porter, and Rye were displayed in its front hall, it was named the Governor’s Room. Today the Greystone offers downtown living plus the beautifully remodeled Governor’s Room.

“It Ain’t Over Till…”

The Greystone Hotel is also the best spot to view the old Crete Opera House, next door across the street. When it opened at the turn of the century, it was a fine performance hall with rich velvet carpet covering the aisles, two elegant private boxes hung with Oriental drapery, a large pit for the orchestra, and the latest switch board with 1,000 brilliant lights.

This building eventually housed the Mitchum Company and today houses our county’s election commission, tax assessor, and trustee’s offices.

Unfortunately, in the early part of the 20th century, opera companies stopped traveling throughout the country and that was the demise of the Crete Opera House.

Not the End by a Long Shot!

Paris and Henry County continue to grow and foster talented, industrious people, and welcome in many relocaters and retirees to this gorgeous area.

There isn’t room here to go into the hunting and fishing, which are world class! Henry County and Paris Landing host many fishing tournaments during the year, and you can hardly drive 10 miles in the county without seeing deer or turkeys.

The Best Place To Be

We truly believe that Paris, Paris Landing, and Henry County are the best places on Earth! Why don’t you come see for yourself?