Joseph Houston settled a station in the area in 1776, but was forced to relocate due to prior land grants. In 1786, Lawrence Protzman purchased the area of present-day Paris from its owners, platted 250 acres (100 ha) for a town, and offered land for public buildings in exchange for the Virginia legislature making the settlement the seat of the newly formed Bourbon County. In 1789, the town was formally established as Hopewell after Hopewell, New Jersey, his hometown. The next year it was renamed Paris after the French capital to match its county and honor the French assistance during the American Revolution.
Among the early settlers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were French refugees who had fled the excesses of their own revolution. One Frenchman was noted in 19th-century state history as having come from Calcutta, via Bengal, and settled here as a schoolteacher.
The post office was briefly known as Bourbontown or Bourbonton in the early 19th century, but there is no evidence that this name was ever formally applied to the town itself. It was incorporated as Paris in 1839 and again in 1890.
Paris is the "sister city" of Lamotte-Beuvron in France.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.0 square miles (15.5 km2), of which 5.9 square miles (15.4 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2), or 0.52%, is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 9,183 people, 3,857 households, and 2,487 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,351.2 per square mile (521.7/km2). There were 4,222 housing units at an average density of 621.2 per square mile (239.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 84.23% White, 12.71% African American, 0.16% Native American, 0.16% Asian, 1.35% from other races, and 1.38% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.62% of the population.
There were 3,857 households out of which 31.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.8% were married couples living together, 16.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.5% were non-families. 31.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.33 and the average family size was 2.90.
In the city, the population was spread out with 25.3% under the age of 18, 9.0% from 18 to 24, 28.5% from 25 to 44, 21.6% from 45 to 64, and 15.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 88.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,872, and the median income for a family was $37,358. Males had a median income of $29,275 versus $21,285 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,645. About 17.5% of families and 17.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.2% of those under age 18 and 15.9% of those age 65 or over.