A Brief History of Jefferson, Texas
Once upon a time, Jefferson was one of the most important cities in all of Texas. In all of the South, in fact.
Despite the fact that it sits 200 miles inland, Jefferson enjoyed a period as the second busiest port in Texas. In the late 18th Century, a huge logjam just above Shreveport, La., backed up the Red River. Enough water poured into Caddo Lake and the Big Cypress Bayou for them to become navigable by cargo ships known as steam wheelers.
Those boats could steam up the Mississippi River, into the Red River, through Caddo Lake and into the Big Cypress Bayou until reaching a part of the bayou still known as the Turning Basin.
Jefferson's port facilities crowded the shores along the Turning Basin to receive the cargo, or to depart cargo, most notably cotton.
The first of the steam wheelers arrived in 1844 (one year before Texas' statehood), and carried with it Capt. William Perry, who would found what it still one of Jefferson's top lodging establishments, the Excelsior Hotel.
Texas' admission into the Union spurred further growth in Jefferson, which became known as the "gateway to Texas." The city's import grew even larger during the Civil War, when the city's port supplied the Confederacy with meat, hides, food samples, iron, munitions and leather goods.
Into the 1870s the town continued to grow as one of the few thriving cities in the defeated Southern States. But things changed for Jefferson in 1873 when the huge logjam above Shreveport was blasted open. The water level in Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou dropped to levels that no longer allowed the passage of the large cargo ships. Railroads, too, played a part. With their expansion, shipping no longer played such a big role in the Southern economy.
Jefferson spent much of the 20th Century in a deep slumber. But enterprising residents woke up to the great history, great buildings, great people and great attractions in their midst in the 1960s, beginning an effort to restore the city's allure.
Today, Jefferson is known throughout Texas as an excellent choice for a weekend getaway, a romantic vacation, even a honeymoon destination. The city is small - a population of roughly 2,000 - but features historic lodging and many interesting shops and boutiques in the Downtown shopping district.
Those who assumed Jefferson's heyday was long past may be wrong after all.
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