Various dates between 1836 and 1840 are cited as the beginning of Jefferson
at a river landing on Big Cypress Bayou. Whatever the date, early settlers
were already established when the town was laid out in 1842. Today one of
Texas' most historic towns. More than 30 structures bear State Historical
Medallions. Several antique shops.
Jefferson early became major East Texas river port of entry; Big Cypress
was then navigable by steamboats from New Orleans. Discovery of nearby iron
ore brought smelters and plow works, while plentiful pine and cypress stimulated
Here was one of Texas' first breweries, and in 1873 world's first ammonia
refrigerant ice plant. It was state's first city to utilize artificial gas
for street lighting, and shortly after the Civil War, reached a peak population
of 30,000 with as many as 15 steamboats at a time lining the docks, and scores
of wagon trains passing through on the way West.
Steel rails were also reaching west, but Jefferson, confident in the steamboat,
refused Jay Gould's offer for a railroad. Gould angrily predicted death for
the city, and laid his tracks elsewhere. He was right as far as "city" goes,
because growth in succeeding years, like the railroad, seemed to bypass
Jefferson. For today's traveler seeking quiet reflection of a past era, it
is a fortunate result.
Huge expanse of 26,800 acres spreads over portions of both Texas and Louisiana.
It is rich in Indian legends that say the lake was formed at night, in the
dark of the moon, by powerful shaking earth spirits who were angered at a
Caddo Indian chief. There could be a factual basis for the legend because
the lake may have resulted from the great New Madrid (Mo.) earthquake of
1811. Steamboats from New Orleans and elsewhere regularly plied the lake
in mid-1800s. In 1869 a tragedy took 60 lives when river boat Mittie Stevens
burned near Swanson's Landing. Pearls in freshwater mussels
brought a swarm of pearl hunters about the turn of the century. Today lake
has a primeval aura, edged by dense forests that frequently invade the waters;
Spanish moss drapes the trees, and lush aquatic growth appears jungle-like.
Because maze of channels can be confusing, state has marked 42 miles of "boat
roads" on Caddo. Fishing is superb; record fish include largemouth bass,
13.25 lbs., and redear sunfish, 1.17 lbs. Many camps and marinas are at lakeside,
including Caddo Lake State Park . Lake is a few miles north of Karnack, also
accessible from Jefferson and Uncertain.
Built 1907, and one of few such libraries still serving its original purpose.
Second floor designed as opera house. On display is one of the outstanding
doll collections in Texas. Open Tues. - Fri. noon - 5 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. -
1 p.m. 301 Lafayette St.
Jay Gould Private Railroad Car-
The "Atalanta" has luxurious interior with four staterooms, lounge, dining
room, kitchen, butler's pantry and bathroom. Ironically, the car is within
a stone's throw of Excelsior Hotel, in whose register Gould wrote "The end
of Jefferson" when citizens indicated a preference for grass to grow in the
streets rather than have them marked with railroad tracks. Open daily, 9
a.m. - 4 p.m. Admission.
Jefferson and Cypress Bayou Railroad
Despite Jay Gould's prediction, railroads eventually arrived, and after more
than a century, a new railroad is in service. Pulled by quaint steam locomotive,
train winds along tracks beside Big Cypress River past historic sites. Schedule
changes with seasons; 903/665-8400. Depot on East Austin St. Fare.
Jefferson Historical Society Museum-
Four floors of articles, documents and antiques from bygone era. Mementos
of pioneer days, early steamboat commerce, antebellum society. Paintings
and sculpture from D.D. Feldman collection. Open daily, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Old Federal Building, Lafayette and Vale Sts. Admission.