Imagine yourself as a pioneer taking a riverboat from New Orleans up the Mississippi River, across Caddo Lake, and up the Big Cypress Bayou to Jefferson, one of Texas’s most important river ports, between 1845 and 1872. You likely would stay in the Excelsior House Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Texas. Many immigrants took this route, landed in Jefferson, and moved west.
Today, Jefferson is a short 2.5-hour drive away from Dallas-Fort Worth. Enjoy it during a weekend or a leisurely getaway. Find a place to relax, slow down and smell the roses, and explore the restaurants and antique shops in the historic downtown.
The Bed and Breakfast Capital of Texas
Known as the Bed-and-Breakfast Capital of Texas, there is no shortage of historic places to stay in Jefferson. Choose from the Azalea Inn, Delta Street Inn, House of the Seasons, or White Oak Manor, to name just a few.
For boutique hotels, stay at the not-for-profit historic Excelsior House, the oldest hotel in Texas. It’s owned and operated by the ladies of the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club in association with the Excelsior Foundation, which also preserves other Jefferson historic properties: Ruth Lester Memorial House, the Jefferson Playhouse, and Jay Gould’s Private Railroad Car, The Atalanta.
Take a Tour
I loved the Historic Jefferson Walking Tour, strolling past memorable homes, churches, and nearly 100 historical landmarks on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Take the Historic Jefferson Railway, a gas-powered train that leads you along the wetlands, affording river views and scenes of Big Cypress Bayou in open-air cars.
Make reservations for a Carriage Ride by the Sacred Spur Carriage Company and clip-clop along the brick streets of downtown Jefferson, exploring the charming features of the town.
Turning Basin River Tour takes you along the bayou, exploring the historic steamboat turning basin.
Walk the grounds of the most haunted house in Texas at The Grove and see where the Lady in White and other visions have appeared over the years.
Visit the Jefferson Carnegie Library, built with money donated by Andrew Carnegie, and one of only five remaining Carnegie Libraries from the original 32 in Texas.
Visit a Museum
Housed in the former 1890 federal courthouse, Jefferson Historical Museum boasts Caddo Indian artifacts, early pioneer tools, implements, Civil War relics, and more. Note the magnolia tree on the grounds planted as a seedling by Lady Bird Johnson from the White House lawn tree.
Behind the museum, the 1900s-era train depot houses a detailed scale model of the Texas & Pacific Railway.
The Museum of Measurement and Time displays a variety of surveying instruments and other measuring devices, including scales, barometers, and meters. You’ll see changing displays of more than 500 American clocks and 1500 sets of salt and pepper shakers, plus recent additions of mechanical music instruments, telephone systems, and vintage computer systems.
Bobbie Hardy invites you to Scarlett O’Hardy’s Gone with the Wind Museum, featuring the most extensive private collection of memorabilia from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell. See full-sized figures of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh from the 1939 film, as well as photographs and other modern-day collectibles.
Places to Eat
Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich & Pie Bar serves The Big Foot Cheeseburger, made with double beef patties, cheese, tomato, and onion between two slices of cornbread. Save room for a slice of pie! My favorites include chocolate pecan, key lime, turtle cheesecake, pecan, or old-fashioned apple. Call ahead if you want to take a whole pie home.
Savor Colorado lamb rack, grilled breast of duck, Alaskan halibut, or filets at the Stillwater Inn, established in 1984 by co-owners Chef Bill and Sharon Stewart. Enjoy overnight accommodations in the private cottage on the grounds.
Jefferson is the place to be for a historic weekend or getaway. Stay in a boutique hotel or bed-and-breakfast, shop antiques, meet friendly people, and eat Southern comfort food. Enjoy events like Mardi Gras, Historic Haunts and Legends, Independence Day, Taste of Jefferson, or the Candlelight Tour of Homes.