The land between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers was purchased from the Chickasaw Indians in 1818. The Jackson Purchase–named for Andrew Jackson–was divided between Tennessee and Kentucky. Tennessee’s portion became known as West Tennessee.
Settlers soon swarmed in and the Tennessee General Assembly created the County of Henry on November 7, 1821. The county was named in honor of Revolutionary War patriot and statesman, Patrick Henry. Henry County became the gateway for the settlement of West Tennessee and beyond.
The town of Paris was established as the county seat on September 23, 1823, and became West Tennessee’s oldest incorporated municipality. The town was named for the French capital in honor of Lafayette, who visited Tennessee in the early 1800s.
A two-room “dogtrot” cabin of small poplar logs was erected in 1823 to serve as the county’s first courthouse. Court was held in the north room while pies and liquor were sold in the south room.
During the War Between the States, the courthouse lawn was the setting for the organization of military units including the Fifth Tennessee Infantry Regiment led by Lieutenant-Colonel J.D.C. Atkins.
Henry County sent more than 2,500 volunteers to the Confederacy and was given the title “Volunteer County of the Volunteer State” for providing more volunteer soldiers per capita than any other county in Tennessee.
The Civil War came to the county after Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered a Union force into Paris. On March 11, 1862, four companies and a battery of artillery consisting of 500 men attacked the Confederate encampment which numbered 400 soldiers.
After this “duel between artillery and Enfield rifles” had gone on for 35 minutes, the Federals retreated back toward Paris Landing. The Battle of Paris ended with 20 Confederates killed or wounded and left the Federals with four killed, five wounded and one captured.
On March 21, 1864, Governor Isham G. Harris was involved in a skirmish near Mansfield where two Confederates were wounded. The Union soldiers retreated with two killed, including their major in command, and several wounded.
Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest began his Johnsonville Campaign at Paris Landing on October 29, 1864. He captured four Union gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 26 pieces of artillery, $6,700,000 worth of property and 150 prisoners on the Tennessee River.
Another war also had a significant impact on Henry County. Camp Tyson, named for Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Tyson, was built near the Routon community in 1941. The camp was the only barrage balloon training center in the U.S. Army during World War II. Thousands of American servicemen were trained for the Barrage Balloon Service of the Coast Artillery Corps. In addition, Camp Tyson held German prisoners of war.
Henry County’s first tourist attraction, Sulphur Well, was created by accident in 1821 when an artesian well of sulphur water was struck in an attempt to locate a large salt bed on a Chickasaw reservation.
Eventually a summer resort was erected at the site to accommodate the large numbers of people who came to drink the water which was thought to have health benefits. Many sought refuge at Sulphur Well during the 1837 yellow fever epidemic.
In 1944, Sulphur Well was covered by TVA’s Kentucky Lake, the largest man-made lake in the United States and the second largest in the world.
Paris Landing State Park was created in 1945 and the lake soon became a popular recreation destination. Paris became known as the “Capital City of Kentucky Lake” and tourism took on an important role in the area’s economy.
The “World’s Biggest Fish Fry” emerged as one of Tennessee’s premier annual festivals which draws tens of thousands of visitors into Paris and Henry County during the last full week of April.