In the early 1880s, cotton began to dominate Texas agriculture as a principal cash crop, with over two million cultivated acres producing 800,000 bales of cotton per year. With the 1876 arrival of the first railroad line to Paris, local businessmen John Martin, W. B. Wise, and Frank Fitzhugh saw an opportunity to press cotton locally into transportable bales by building a cotton compress located next to the Texas and Pacific Railroad line on what became a twelve-acre complex, the Paris Cotton Compress (variously known as the Transcontinental Compress Company and the Farmers and Merchants Compress Company) opened in 188 and operated for almost 100 years.
In 1884, the owners added a warehouse to the complex. By the 1890s, the Paris compress had two steam presses operating 24 hours a day in season for shipment to domestic and European markets. The compress compacted ginned bales of cotton to a specific density. In 1895, state rules set that density at 22.5 pounds per cubic foot for domestic use. The firm of Martin, Wise, and Fitzhugh became one of the largest cotton buyers in the South, with offices in New York, New Orleans, and Liverpool, England. Operating under various owners and managers over the decades, the business stimulated the local economy, helping to make Paris a thriving regional commercial center.
topped out at around 100,000 bales per year in the 1920s. The compress remained viable despite the post World War II decline in local cotton production, until the 1973 cotton boll weevil infestation decimated local crops. In 1978, the compress shut down and in the 1980s, the complex was dismantled.