If you are looking for a real history lesson this month, then look no further than Jefferson. Jefferson, located in Marion County, is located on Big Cypress Creek and Caddo Lake at the junction of U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 49. Founded in the 1840s and named for Thomas Jefferson, the town established itself as one of the largest river ports in Texas. As the primary entry point for settlers, immigrants and supplies, the city quickly earned the nickname “Queen of the Bayou”.
Today, Jefferson is also known as “The Bed & Breakfast Capital of Texas” and entertains a global visitor base. Boasting nearly 70 entries on the National and Texas Register’s of Historic Places, a Carnegie Library, Historical Museum, ghost walks, historic home tours and a local railway, Jefferson is a celebrated, year-round destination for tourists. Find our lodging partners here.
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Jefferson’s historic homes can be visited year-round, but in the springtime, the community celebrates with a “pilgrimage”.
Every year Jefferson sponsors a three-day historic pilgrimage to view these sites. In April 1940, The Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club sponsored a three-day Dogwood Trail to promote beautiful East Texas. Visitors came from near and far to see the inside of these historic homes.
With the added incentive to promote the history of Jefferson, the legendary Pilgrimage Historic Home Tour began. Still, an active volunteer organization whose members love all things historic and beautiful, Jefferson’s Pilgrimage is the culmination of hundreds of volunteer hours from both the contributions of past members and present-day enthusiasts who keep the spirit and love of Jefferson alive and shared with the world. Since 1955 the festivities have also included a reenactment of the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial. A fascinating story that remains unsolved.
If you miss the pilgrimage, no need to fret, Jefferson has a variety of other attractions.
Take the kids to the Historic Jefferson Railway and feed the gators while you are there! The railway also hosts spring specific events such as The Great Locomotive Chase & Naval Battle of Port Jefferson.
Experience a true civil war naval battle aboard the Historic Jefferson Railway, the only venue available to see this re-enactment.
Reminiscent of the landing parties that aided the regular land forces, from both above and below the Mason-Dixon Line, it will be a unique experience. Keep your seat on the train as the battle takes place on both sides of the track and from the gunboat in the river.
Gen. Nathaniel Banks and his Federal forces spent the spring of 1864 slowly making their way up the Red River but were repulsed by Confederate forces in battle near Mansfield, Louisiana. Had U.S. troops managed to fight through and capture Shreveport, the East Texas supply depots in Marshall and Jefferson would have been targeted next, cutting off Texas and her war material from the Confederate effort. 150+ years later, a slightly less wild-and-wooly Jefferson celebrates American history by hosting the largest Civil War reenactment in Texas. The one-time “King of Spades” river port becomes a palette for living history, with troops, civilians and settlers camped throughout the downtown historic district and at Cypress River Ranch, the site of this year’s full-scale battle.
If that doesn’t peak their interest, just wait until the sun goes down…. Jefferson is considered the most haunted small town in Texas! By the glow of lantern light, you will venture through dark alleyways and courtyards listening to vivid accounts of historic tragedy, murder and ghostly encounters. You might even experience one! The Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk is the only tour in town that will try to take you inside of a haunted location!
You can’t visit Jefferson without taking in some fresh air. One of the best ways to experience the “Queen of the Bayou” is to hop on a boat with Captain John Nance and his crew over at Turing Basin Riverboat tours. Just check out their top 10 reasons you should take our boat tour… guaranteed to enlighten and entertain!
If a boat isn’t your thing, take a ride through town with the Lone Star Carriage Company. Liesl Moody will provide a guided tour as her team of horses pull you down the brick streets of the town. This is a great way to learn about what Jefferson was like back in the riverport days. Hear stories about the houses and churches along the way. Learn about the famous Diamond Bessie Murder Trial. Also, see where Lady Bird Johnson once lived and so much more!
Learn about the variety of restaurants located throughout Jefferson ranging from fine-dining options to casual cuisine. Enjoy one-of-a-kind experiences at any of our restaurants with well-chosen wines, impeccable service, and lively atmospheres.
Treat your taste buds to a delicious trip through Jefferson. Try Cajun-style seafood, melt in your mouth BBQ, or savory farm-to-table recipes used throughout several restaurants. Thirsty? Drink an old-fashioned Root Beer Float, 5 cent Coffee, or various Soda fountain drinks at the Jefferson General Store.
Test your Texas BBQ IQ at Joseph’s Riverport Barbecue. Proudly serving East Texas, named one of Texas Monthly’s 50 Best BBQ Joints in the World. Home of the famous Swamp Fries.
Located in East Texas, Jefferson is in one of the state’s most beautiful areas- The Piney Woods. Dallasites can take a short 2 & ½ hour drive east on I-20. It’s a bit further from Austin taking about 5 hours by car.
The nearest major airport is East Texas Regional Airport (GGG / KGGG). This airport has domestic flights from Longview, Texas and is 48 miles from the center of Jefferson, TX. Another major airport is Shreveport Regional Airport (SHV / KSHV), which has domestic flights from Shreveport, Louisiana and is 50 miles from Jefferson, TX.
Ready to plan your getaway? Visit Jefferson’s web page or call 903-665-3733 to partner with the city’s experts!