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Where can you find stories of ghosts, a “big foot-like” swamp critter, civil war era history and world class freshwater fishing all with a distinctly Texas twist? Where else but under the iron-red, pine-lined hills of one of Texas most fascinating “republic era” little cities, Jefferson. Founded in 1836, the city became the primary inland port, by way of the Red River and Caddo Lake, for all of Northeast Texas. Boasting as many as 200+ plus “Tom Sawyer-esque” steamboats being tied up to its bustling wharves in the late 1800s, over 35,000 people once called it home with its first in Texas gas lamp street lights and ice manufacturing. Now boasting of almost 60 antebellum showplace homes, some doing double duty as B&Bs, and the old town post office magnificently restored as a museum, the town is right up state highway 59 from its world-famous Christmas lights spectacle neighbor, Marshall, TX.
Surrey rides will guide you through the old river port and the operators will regale with you the history and legends and lore of the area. Ghost stories about the victims of the 1866 town fire and the 1869 fire and sinking of the steamboat Mittie Stevens, killing all 60+ passengers who were oblivious to the fact they were in only waste-deep water and within just yards of shore on Caddo Lake. Halloween is especially interesting around here. All along the bayous, creeks, and swamps in the area all the way up to Texarkana, the locals report citing of a musky smelling, hairy giant, ape-like critter who howls at the moon and takes their livestock. As for less scary diversions, Caddo Lake, just 11 miles east, is home to some of the best bass and crappie fishing in the South on 110 eerie square miles, the largest natural body of water in Texas. Don’t venture to far off the boat lanes though without a guide, or you become the stuff of legend and ghost stories, unless of course - you are looking for the alleged sunken shipment of confederate gold bullion!
Jefferson almost vanished until the ladies garden club took it upon themselves to begin a massive, do-it-to-yourself restoration. Some of the most notable restorations interspersed among the quaint restaurants offering Southern favorites and to-die-for Cajun seafood and shops filled with antiques and Texana are the Captain’s Castle, The Culberson House, Excelsior House, Hotel Jefferson, House of Seasons, and the sumptuous private dining car of railroad magnate, Jay Gould. Optimal visiting times are in early May during the annual Jefferson Pilgrimage or in early December.
Jefferson shouldn’t be there anymore, but it is. Y’all come see why.