Jefferson, Texas is one of those small Texas towns that defies logic.
It has a population of 2,305. The median household income is $36,683 and the median age is 49.2. Small town, small incomes, middle-age citizens…
So why, then, is Jefferson one of the most charming towns in Texas? Maybe it’s because it has the reputation as also being the most haunted town in Texas. Or maybe because nearly every single building on the main avenue (Broadway Street) has a historical marker. Or maybe it’s because the townfolk are very proud of their town and strive to make it a relaxing, yet entertaining full-destination site.
Yes, yes and yes.
But First, a Very Brief History of Jefferson, Texas
Jefferson is the county seat of Marion County and at one time was a bustling river port on the Red River. The town was named for Thomas Jefferson and was founded by Allen Urquhart and Daniel Alley. As the town grew, it became an important stop for riverboats traveling from New Orleans, Louisiana to Shreveport, Louisiana.
An interesting feature about Jefferson is that the town is laid out differently from typical Texas towns of that era. Normally the courthouse would sit in the middle of the main part of town (in a “town square” format). Not so with Jefferson.
Urquhart and Alley had differing opinions on the town’s layout: Urquhart laid it out along Big Cypress Creek with its streets running at right angles to the bayou. Alley, on the other hand, laid his streets out following the points of the compass (north, south, east and west). The intersection of these two plans gives the town its unique V-shaped layout.
According to legend, the town leaders rejected the offer by railroad magnate Jay Gould to run a rail line through town in the early 1870’s. They preferred to rely on the river for their prosperity. Legend goes that Gould placed a curse on the town, saying that “grass would grow in the streets.”
The Texas and Pacific Railway was built in 1873 and stretched from Texarkana to Marshall, completely bypassing Jefferson. Whether Gould had anything to do with it seems to be up for debate. Regardless,it affected the town very negatively and thus began the decline.
A town in decline? Or a blessing in disguise?
Another factor which contributed to the decline in population was the destruction of the Red River Raft. This was a naturally-occurring logjam which had been in place for over 100 years. This “raft” of logs was so dense that a man could walk across the river and not get his feet wet, and it had formed a natural dam which raised the level of the river and Caddo Lake several feet. This rise in water level is what allowed passage of the riverboats which brought goods to the town and which contributed to Jefferson becoming Texas’s leading inland port.
Nitroglycerin was used in 1873 to remove the Red River Raft, thereby lowering the water level so much that steamships were no longer able to reach Jefferson.
At its peak, Jefferson boasted a population of over 30,000, but these two occurrences spelled the end of the thriving town as it had been.
Of course, the townspeople who live there now say that’s a good thing. If development had continued, Jefferson would now be the size of any of the major cities in Texas such as Dallas and Houston. As it is, the locals are thrilled that it…“declined.”
One more thing – many quaint Texas towns have their developed sides. Brenham, McKinney, and more (which will be explored in later articles) have their historic sections which are tucked into their respective swelling, modern, noisy developed areas.
But Jefferson never did. It remained small and remote. There are no malls or shopping centers nearby. Other than a few gas stations and restaurants on the outskirts of town, what you see is what you get.
And the locals are just fine with that.
Places to Stay in Jefferson, Texas
If you want to experience Jefferson at its best, plan on staying in a bed & breakfast inn or one of the two grand historic hotels. Jefferson has many B&B’s from which to choose, with charming names such as The Captain’s Castle, Bed of Roses, The House of the Seasons, and more. And it has two wonderfully historic hotels, right across the street from each other – the Jefferson Hotel and the Excelsior House Hotel. Both are reputed to be haunted, but that’s for another article…
My choice was Three Sister’s Cottages a delightful bed & breakfast.
The main house is where owner and proprietor, Tammy Connally, resides with her husband Randy. The three cottages on the property are where the guests stay, and the word “charming” just doesn’t do them justice.
The cottages are named after Tammy’s three daughters – Nicole’s Chateau, Megan’s Way, and Tara’s Era – and each is beautifully decorated in a cozy country style, including warm quilts, well-stocked kitchenettes, and bathrooms with clawfoot tubs.
I stayed in Tara’s Era and was delighted with how warm and inviting the cottage was. Comfort was the first thought that crossed my mind, from the warm wood paneling to the sweet country quilt to the well-appointed kitchenette (including coffee, sugar, creamer and snacks). And the floors are painted red – my favorite color.
This cottage spells cheerfulness with a capital “C.”
The bathroom was outfitted with an authentic clawfoot tub. Soaps, lotions and bubble bath were all available, not to mention plenty of white, fluffy towels. Tub baths were the order of the day…
Wi-Fi is available, and each room has a television, but with all there is to do in Jefferson, who had time to watch tv?
Each cottage has a porch with rocking chairs that we used each morning while enjoying coffee and listening to the birds singing in the back garden.
And guests are invited to sit around the fire pit each evening and toast s’mores, if desired. My traveling companion and I missed out this time – we were on the Historical Jefferson Ghost Walk. Perhaps next time…
Tammy must have been an executive chef in a previous life, because the breakfasts were gourmet all the way.
She delivered the delicious meals, exquisitely presented on fine china, to our door at 9:00 AM each morning. Gourmet breakfast, in a quaint cottage, in pajamas…does it get any better than that?
Three Sister’s Cottages could quite easily become our Jefferson home. There’s just something about the privacy of having one’s own cottage that makes me want to go back for more…
By the way, I called Tammy a day or two before arriving to ask if she could make something with chocolate for one of the breakfasts. I operate a website called “UncommonlyChocolate.com” that is devoted to all things chocolate and thought I would like to write about my experience. But I wondered if maybe I was stepping on toes or interfering with her planned menu.
Nothing was further from the truth. We had a pleasant conversation and she promised chocolate for breakfast. Tammy was true to her word and delivered a dazzling breakfast our first morning which featured crepes filled with strawberries, topped with whipped cream (the real kind, not the fake “whipped topping”) and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Add sausage, bacon and juice and you have a breakfast fit for royalty.
Thank you, Tammy. We’ll see you again soon.
Coming up…Things to Do in Jefferson Texas.