At noon, March 21, 1916, the citizens of Paris, Texas, celebrated the recent spurt of growth and prosperity in their community at a picnic hosted by the Rotary Club. Little did they know that in just a few hours, their city would be in ruins.
Paris is commemorating the centennial of that devastating fire at 12 noon, Monday (Mar 21), with an event on the Plaza in the Historic Downtown. The event will celebrate a city and the slogan SMILE that helped rebuild Paris so quickly, as well as honor both the local and many regional fire departments that rushed to help fight the conflagration.
The fire was the third largest fire in the U.S., the largest being the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that killed 300 people and burned from a Sunday to a Tuesday. The first flames were noticed in Long’s Warehouse about 5:00 pm, fed by 51 days without rain and fanned by high winds. The fire burned for over ten hours, destroying everything in its path. When it was over, the fire destroyed 264 acres, 1440 buildings, and three people died. The property loss was estimated at $14 million, $350 million in 2016 dollars. With architectural designs from St. Louis, MO, Paris was rebuilt in 18 months, one of the largest collections of post-Victorian buildings with architectural integrity in U.S.
Bonham, Cooper, Dallas, Honey Grove, and Hugo, Oklahoma, all towns who sent fire trucks to help fight the blaze, will again be sending fire trucks to mark the occasion, many of them antique. The Plano Fire Department Drum and Bagpipe Corps will lead off the celebration. Also participating are the grandchildren of 1916 Paris Fireman Mutt Cross and the daughter of “Fire Baby,” Jane Spinker Shipp, who was born in the midst of the disaster and whose story was followed by newspapers through the following years. The Centennial Committee, with the help of local schools and Paris Junior College, has painted flames on streets and buildings to indicate the breadth of the fire and tours of its outer limits will be available. That Monday’s celebration will include music, a description of the fire by a member of the Lamar County Historical Society, a launch of 1000 biodegradable balloons, cookies emblazoned with the fire logo and date, lemonade, a pop-up Post Office with hand-cancelled commemorative stamp, artifacts and re-enactment players, among other things.
Visitors will be able to access the Plaza and parking in the heart of downtown Paris. For more information, contact Centennial Committee Chairman and Main Street Director Cheri Bedford: firstname.lastname@example.org,