Just off Hwy 59 in East Texas, only 15 miles from Marshall and miles away from ordinary, lies the impressive little town of Jefferson, Texas. If you’ve never been, you’re not alone. I’ve lived in Texas for most of my life, and I’ve never even heard of Jefferson. Thanks to the good folks there, I was recently invited to join them for a couple of days to explore all this tiny town has to offer.
Founded in the early 1840s and named for Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson was once one of the largest and busiest river ports west of the Mississippi, only second in size to Galveston, TX. While no longer a port town, remnants of the town’s booming past remain, incorporating beauty, charm, and a sense of mystique making the town both incredibly welcoming and heartwarmingly memorable.
Today, Jefferson, TX (population 1,961) has something for everyone, but if you’re into history, shopping (antiques, anyone?), escaping the daily hustle and bustle, or enjoying delicious fare, this is the place for you. Jefferson is small enough to be almost completely walkable. Parking is free, accessible, and easy all over town, and clean public restrooms are conveniently located near the heart of downtown and in the beautiful, accommodating Visitor Center.
As with any new place, I recommend you explore Jefferson by wandering. Just park your car, get out, and let the sights and sounds (churches, historic homes, family-friendly green spaces) summon you. In a city this safe and friendly, you’re guaranteed to be greeted and welcomed with open arms.
While you’re wandering, consider some or all of the following:
Tour The Grove, a historic home built in 1861 and full of mystery, love, and ghosts.
Mitchel Whitington’s historical knowledge of his home and passion for preserving the history there is second only to his engaging personality and charismatic delivery. His home tour is delivered as an accurate account of the families who have preceded him in his home with an extra special glimpse into their lives with the hardships, the love stories, and the love of the home itself being the common thread.
Mitchel is not only an authority on his own home, The Grove, but he is also the author of numerous books about Jefferson. For an easy and fascinating read on the history of Jefferson, I recommend his book Jefferson: The History and Mystery of the City on the Bayou.
Explore the unique and whimsical shops and cafes throughout the town.
An antique-lover’s dream, the shops in Jefferson offer fun finds for all ages. From budget-friendly vinyl albums to pieces from the Civil War era, you could spend days in these stores and not see everything. As a bonus, it’s hard to walk ten steps without finding yourself in a shop that specializes in sweet treats. Homemade pralines, made fresh daily, await you in the eclectic, impressive Jefferson General Store and a soda fountain café can be found inside the City Drug pharmacy.
Don’t miss the fabulous fare in the local cafes. I recommend anything served on the homemade oatmeal molasses roll at the Austin Street Bistro, a tiny venue that feels as if you’re kicked back in a cozy bistro in a foreign land somewhere. In a sense, you are!
Take a boat tour with Captain John Nance of Turning Basin Riverboat Tours.
Cruise down Big Cypress Bayou, the once bustling waterway full of history and nature that brought Jefferson to life in the late 1800s, as Captain John provides a witty and unforgettable narrative.
Tour Jay Gould’s Private Railcar, The Atalanta.
I love a town with a train and not only does Jefferson have a real train that barrels over the bayou regularly, reminding you of days of yore, but it is also home to Jay Gould’s private railcar. You can tour the railcar and see just how the wealthy lived and traveled during the 19th century. If that isn’t enough, Jefferson also houses the R.D. Moses Texas & Pacific Model Railroad Exhibit, a monstrous 14’ x 48’ functioning, beautifully preserved, model train that depicts the Texas and Pacific Railway in West Texas in the 1950s. This exhibit is conveniently housed next door to the Jefferson Historical Society Museum, built in 1888 as the Federal Courthouse & Post Office, that contains 150 years of history from all over, but with an emphasis on the rich history held within Marion County.
Immerse Yourself in The South at Scarlett O’Hardy’s Gone With the Wind Museum.
Meet Mrs. Bobbie Hardy, the lovely owner of the Gone With the Wind Museum, and tour her private collection of memorabilia from the classic book and movie. Over 1,700 square feet are dedicated to story and the mastermind behind it all, author Margaret Mitchell.
Try the Watermelon Salad at McGarity’s Restaurant & Saloon.
This military veteran-owned and operated establishment is a visual feast, in and of itself. With antiques of all types hanging from above, enjoy lunch or dinner or cocktails with friends, in this laid-back space. Fun fact: the owner of McGarity’s is one of two gentlemen whom I met who both visited Jefferson as a tourist and immediately returned to make it their home.
Sip a glass of wine on the wrap-around porch at the Carriage House B&B.
Designated the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Texas in 1997, Jefferson B&Bs offer unparalleled levels of relaxation and accommodations. With reasonable rates and impeccable service, you’ll be glad the hotel chains haven’t discovered this sleepy town.
Nestled on a cozy corner near downtown, one of Jefferson’s most impressive B&Bs and my host while I was in town, the Carriage House, warmly invites you to come in and stay a while. (In fact, I wanted to stay forever.) With a huge wrap-around porch, you’ll find the perfect blend of privacy, relaxation, and nature. While complimentary wine and snacks are graciously provided for guests, consider grabbing a bottle from the Enoch’s Stomp Tasting Room just down the street before raising your feet and your glass. If you need a warmer spot or a bedtime snack, head towards the fire pit, complete with all the makings for s’mores. Once ready for bed, you’re only steps from a great night’s sleep and an incredible breakfast the next morning (blueberry bread pudding and mimosas, anyone?). What a wonderful way to start and end your days in Jefferson!
If the Carriage House is full, which is not uncommon, check out one of the following B&Bs instead:
If you can’t tell, I truly loved this little town and my short time spent there. I cannot wait to return. I’ll be heading back soon, as this is the perfect retreat for my mom and me. I also plan to propose a girls' trip weekend to my besties. I can think of no better way to explore Jefferson again than with good friends, a bottle of wine, and that porch at the Carriage House that calls to me.
Have you been to Jefferson, TX? If so, tell me about your experiences there. I’d love to hear from you!
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Hi, I'm Brooke. I travel the world at every opportunity, and I hope to help you do the same. I offer travel tips and insights from a real world, every day perspective. Read more about me and my vision for Happy Tracks here.