Romantic Getaway: Jefferson, Texas
Recommended for: B&Bs, historic homes, shopping

>more Romantic Getaways in Texas

Southern 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 area’s richest crop—cotton. In its peak, Jefferson was the second largest port city in the state. Only Galveston surpassed its booming business.

After Reconstruction, 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 (www.jefferson-texas.com) 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 butler’s 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 Hotel.

The walking tour travels past many houses that were built during Jefferson’s heyday, mansions with ornate windows and trim. Stroll hand in hand through these historic streets that still recall Jefferson’s heyday.

If you’re 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 you’d 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. You’ll find plenty to keep the two of you busy at this B&B, including horseback riding, fishing, and hiking.

Short and Sweet

Getting There:
Jefferson is located on US 59 in East Texas.

Special Events:
Grab your costumes and head to Mardi Gras, East Texas-style. Two weekends of street dances, gala balls, and grand parades will have you shouting “Laissez les bon temps rouler!"

Home lovers should mark the first weekend in May on their calendars. The Jefferson Historical Pilgrimage, one of Texas’s 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.

Dining:
The most elegant restaurant in town is the Stillwater Inn (203 E. Broadway, www.stillwater.com, 903-665-8415). Located in an 1890s Victorian home (also a B&B), the restaurant is owned by chef Bill Stewart. Menu selections include steak, seafood, veal, and rack of lamb, accompanied by an extensive wine list.

Jefferson restaurants require membership, purchased for a few dollars, before serving alcoholic beverages.

Tours:
Home tours of the House of the Seasons are posted daily. For information, call (903) 665-1218. Take a private tour of Jefferson or a romantic evening jaunt aboard Mullins Carriage Service (903-665-2857 or 665-8768).

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 area’s colorful past.

Bridal Bits:
The Maison-Bayou is a popular spot for weddings and receptions, with plenty of room for any size crowd. The Excelsior House is also a favorite with wedding parties and receptions. The rental fee includes rental of dining room, ballroom, and courtyard for a maximum of 2 1/2 hours, setup and cleanup of the dining room, ballroom and courtyard, use of our silver, candelabra, silver coffee service, table settings, tablecloths and table runner. Smaller weddings can take advantage of the garden wedding package for weddings in a beautiful garden gazebo.

For More Information:
See the Marion County Chamber of Commerce website at www.jefferson-texas.com or call (888) GO RELAX.


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