In my last article I gave a mini-history lesson on this lovely town. I also highlighted a delightful bed & breakfast inn, Three Sisters Cottages. In this article we will cover some of the interesting things to do, places to see and delicious eats in Jefferson, Texas.
First and foremost, Jefferson, Texas is considered to be the most haunted town in Texas. As a former riverfront town, it had numerous bars and brothels on the main avenue. The town suffered its fair share of murders and mysterious deaths, the most famous being that of Diamond Bessie.
During this period, Jefferson was run by a corrupt sheriff who once, when shown a particular hanging in one of the hotels shrugged and claimed it a suicide, even though the body was found, hanging, with the hands tied behind the back.
There are those in town who staunchly deny the haunted happenings, but there are plenty more who stand by the claims. It is widely known, in fact, that Steven Spielberg once left The Jefferson Hotel in the middle of the night because of the ghostly activity in his room. And he is not the only one. The Jefferson Hotel, and The Excelsior House Hotel right across the street, have specific rooms with much ghostly activity.
Ghost tours – absolute must-sees in Jefferson (even for skeptics)
While we were in Jefferson, my traveling companion and I took two ghost tours:
The first was Saturday afternoon when we met owner Mitchel Whitington at his home, The Grove.
The Grove is reputed to be the most haunted house in Texas, a claim supported by various organizations, including This Old House, Texas Monthly and The Houston Press. And Mitchel, who is an author and a historian, has plenty of eyewitnesses to support this as well, including tour visitors. He and his wife see ghostly apparitions and hear mysterious sounds on a regular basis. However, they feel a very strong connection with the house. In fact, they’re never frightened and view the ghosts as part of the house’s history.
During the tour, Mitchel pointed out a particular area in the front parlor where he said at least once a week he or his wife experience sudden drops in temperature and heavy, suffocating feelings. It is this woman’s chair, situated in a corner facing the front door, where perhaps the original lady of the house sat doing needlework.
I went and stood next to the chair for several minutes, but felt nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe next time…
That evening, my companion and I took the Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk Tour. Normally the tours last for an hour and a half, maybe a little more. This evening it took two and a half hours. Jodi Breckenridge is the tour’s host, and she is a walking encyclopedia of information on the history of Jefferson as well as its ghostly reputation. Creepy encounters aren’t guaranteed though she claims that they do happen very frequently on the tours. That didn’t matter to us. The tour was fascinating from a historical standpoint (though we kept on high alert…just in case).
Before the tours…the cemetery
To prepare ourselves for the Ghost Walk Tour, my companion and I visited historical Oakwood Cemetery. It was suggested to us numerous times to “visit the old section,” which is where the more interesting headstones and monuments were located.
Much of any town’s history can be found in old cemeteries, and this was no exception. There were several instances where it seemed entire families were buried around the same time. We were later informed that yellow fever had swept the town in 1873, taking whole families along with it.
The number of children and babies who are buried in these old cemeteries always saddens me. Illnesses which are easily cured with today’s modern medicine often proved fatal back then, including dehydration, and children were often more susceptible.
This tiny grave particularly caught our eye. The tot was only 2 1/2 years old. The marker appears to be metal of some sort.
More places to visit
Another shop worth visiting is Jefferson’s General Store. There is something for everyone in this store which also boasts an old-fashioned soda counter (with 5¢ coffee – seriously!), jams and sauces, old-fashioned “penny candy,” clothes, toys, gadgets and gifts. We spent over an hour there Friday night and went back on Saturday for a bit more shopping.
There is not enough time in a weekend to see everything there is to see in Jefferson. Some of the attractions we missed that will have to wait until next time:
- Jefferson Historical Museum
- Jay Gould’s Railroad Car
- Museum of Measurement and Time
- The House of the Seasons
- The Schluter House
- Gone With the Wind Museum
- Jefferson Carnegie Public Library
- Cruising the streets to view the many historic homes of which at least 100 are marked as historical
- A carriage ride
- And during the Christmas holidays, the Jefferson Candlelight Tour of Homes
Dining, both fine and casual
As for places to eat? There are many in Jefferson. I’ve seen small Texas towns have only three or four restaurants, but this town specializes in food for travelers and locals alike. From Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich & Pie Bar, to Auntie Skinner’s Riverboat Club, to McGarity’s Saloon, the eating establishments in Jefferson are as diverse as their names imply.
My companion and I tried two (remember, breakfast was already covered by our B&B): The Hamburger Store and Austin Street Bistro.
The Hamburger Store, our Friday night dinner choice, serves reasonably-priced American-style food on red checkered tablecloths. The restaurant is decorated with vintage memorabilia, including a car grille cemented into the back wall. The service was friendly and prompt (thank you, Sarah), and the food was delicious, including the wonderful homemade cherry pie with vanilla ice cream. And their iced tea is fantastic!
Austin Street Bistro was our choice for Saturday lunch. We ate very late in the day, given the enormous breakfast we had at our B&B, so lunch was also our dinner.
The atmosphere is cozy, due in large part to one of the brick walls partially left in its natural state. The bar, festooned in tiny white lights, is beautifully decked out with a huge mirror behind it, and the pastry case, showcasing the day’s desserts, greets visitors when they walk in . When the weather is agreeable, the French doors on the front wall open, giving diners the impression of being in a real French bistro. The food is out of this world.
I’ve yet to have a bad meal in this restaurant. I’ve had soups, sandwiches and dinner entrees, and all have been wonderful. This time we couldn’t choose between three of the desserts, so we ordered them all: White Chocolate Cheese Cake w/the Blueberry Reduction, the Pecan Caramel Tart and the French Pear Tart. (We ordered two chocolate desserts to share over on my other website, UncommonlyChocolate.com, to be posted soon.)
In my defense, we only ate two of the desserts and took the third back to our cottage. Thank you, Gena, for your hospitality. We will see you again soon.
This concludes my two-part series on Jefferson, Texas. This is a town definitely worth visiting for its history, ghosts (if you’re lucky), activities, and most of all, its sheer East Texas charm.
Put it on your list to visit – you won’t be sorry.