Getaway: Jefferson, Texas
belles. Riverboat captains. Plantation houses. This is Jefferson,
a Mecca for history buffs and B&B aficionados who want to
spend a few days immersed in the Southern comfort of East Texas.
Here historic homes offer guests downtown accommodations, over
40 antique and gift shops tempt travelers, and tours on both
land and water provide a look at a community that was once one
of the most thriving commerce centers in Texas.
Over a century ago,
Jefferson was known as the Riverport to the Southwest.
In the 1840s, the town was established as a port city on the
Big Cypress Bayous, linking northeast Texas with Shreveport
and the Red River. Steamers brought supplies and people to Jefferson
and left stocked with the areas richest cropcotton.
In its peak, Jefferson was the second largest port city in the
state. Only Galveston surpassed its booming business.
river traffic started to diminish thanks to the growing railroad
industry. Although it never returned to its earlier status,
Jefferson now enjoys a new role: that of the tourist capital
of East Texas. Tucked beneath tall pines and moss-draped cypress
trees, this town now lets visitors step back in time to the
heyday of river travel. Check in at an historic B&B, take
a river tour, enjoy a mint julep, shop for antiques, or just
walk hand in hand and listen for the echo of a riverboat steam
whistle in the shady bayou country.
A good way to get
an overview of Jefferson is on a self-guided walking tour. Stop
by the Marion County Chamber of Commerce at 118 North Vale Street
for a copy of Historic Jefferson Walking Tours.
This brochure outlines two routes that highlight the historic
spots in town.
Both walks begin
at the historic Excelsior House (211 W. Austin St., www.theexcelsiorhouse.com,
903-665-2513). Constructed in the 1850s, this hotel has been
in continuous operation ever since. Built by the captain of
the first steamboat to visit Jefferson, the hotel has seen many
famous guests, including Oscar Wilde, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford
B. Hayes, and Lady Bird Johnson. Today you can take a guided
tour of the grand hotel or enjoy a stay in one of its rooms.
Just across the
street from the hotel rests the Atalanta railroad car. Once
the private coach of railroad tycoon Jay Gould, the grand 88-foot-long
car has four state rooms, a lounge, a dining room, a kitchen,
a butlers pantry, and a bath. Today these lavish accommodations,
paneled with curly maple and mahogany and filled with original
furnishings, are open for daily tours arranged through the Excelsior
The walking tour
travels past many houses that were built during Jeffersons
heyday, mansions with ornate windows and trim. Stroll hand in
hand through these historic streets that still recall Jeffersons
If youre an
historic home lover, save time for a guided tour of the House
of the Seasons (409 S. Alley, www.houseoftheseasons.com,
903-665-1218). Erected in 1872, the house is decorated with
period furnishings, and tours include a look at its dome and
elaborate frescoes. Besides guided tours, you can also see the
place as guests. Three suites are available in the carriage
house behind the home, each with whirlpool tubs for two, reproduction
Victorian carpeting, TV, and antique furnishings. Just across
the street from the House of the Seasons, the McKay House (306
E. Delta, www.mckayhouse.com,
903-665-7322) offers seven rooms in an 1851 structure.
If youd rather
have more privacy, then head out to Maison-Bayou Plantation
(300 Bayou St., www.maisonbayou.com,
903-665-7600). Built on the banks of the bayous, this B&B
features accommodations in either a reproduction plantation
house or reproduction slave cabins (where you can cozy up in
double beds draped with mosquito netting). These rustic structures
provide modern comforts like central heat and air and private
baths. Youll find plenty to keep the two of you busy at
this B&B, including horseback riding, fishing, and hiking.
Home lovers should
mark the first weekend in May on their calendars. The Jefferson
Historical Pilgrimage, one of Texass oldest festivals,
gives visitors a peek into the elegant homes that make Jefferson
special. Hosts dress in period costumes and welcome visitors
to these historic residences.
require membership, purchased for a few dollars, before serving
For a look at the
bayou that makes Jefferson a port city, take a cruise aboard
the Bayou Queen (903-665-2222). During one-hour tours of Big
Cypress Bayou, the captain points out wildlife and Civil War
ruins and tells tales of the areas colorful past.
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