I have always enjoyed driving through Paris, and even stopping for a visit. It’s a quaint little town with lots of personality. Businesses occupy antiquated buildings that surround the square, pairing the new with the old.
There are many interesting stories about Paris, including its inception. In 1874, county commissioners were trying to agree on the county seat for then named Sarber County. After several outright objectionable towns, they agreed on an undeveloped area in the northern part of the county.
Having to come up with a name for the county seat proved to be a bit easier. One of the commissioners was particularly fond of Paris, France, so he suggested Paris, Arkansas. Concurring with his idea, a new Paris was founded!
A small log courthouse was built, serving the needs of Logan County citizens. (The county’s name was changed in 1875.) In 1875, fire claimed this building and all records. In 1880, the construction of a new courthouse was completed, a Georgian style red brick building, still the hallmark of the downtown area.
The German Catholic community began to settle in this area due to the economic opportunities afforded by rich farmland and the new railroad. Understanding the need to educate youth, in 1880, Mrs. Levise Waddill, a non-Catholic, sold her property in Paris to the Catholic congregation for one dollar, provided that they build a school along with the church. St. Joseph’s Catholic School was then established and run by the Benedictine nuns, and is still in operation today.
The coal mining industry was flourishing in this area from the early 1900’s until 1950, bringing many new residents to Paris. This increase in population naturally increased the need for additional services, including healthcare. Luckily, Paris was blessed with two hard working and very notable doctors at that time, brothers Dr. Charles Smith and Dr. Mack Smith.
They established the Paris Hospital in 1910. Due to the number of injuries caused by coal mining accidents, they set up a hospitalization plan for patients. An applicant of the plan would agree to pay one dollar each month. If said applicant needed treatment at the hospital, all expenses would be covered by the plan. Thus, what is considered the first medical insurance plan in the country was established in none other than Paris, Arkansas.
In the 1950’s, the U.S. became less dependent on coal; therefore, one by one, all the coal mines closed. Of course, the economy suffered, but this town seems to be very resilient. These days, a lot of the focus is on tourism, since Paris has been dubbed, “The Gateway to Mount Magazine”.
Rich in historical and natural beauty, Paris is truly a noteworthy city in the Natural State!