is a good place for a weekend getaway or short
vacation. Located in East Texas just north of Marshall, and only about
3 hours from Dallas, it's the place we (Ray & Georgia) chose for mini-vacation in September,
2004. Lake o' the Pines and Caddo Lake are nearby. Although
there were a few rude people, most were very nice. With
Bayous and Cypress Trees, it looks more like Louisiana than Texas. We
had a great time and plan to go back. Following are our opinions.
Please keep in mind when you visit: You're in East Texas. They
won't be in a hurry, and they won't expect you to be in one, either.
This is their world; just enjoy the pace and let your blood pressure
drop. You'll enjoy it.
is our "Jefferson Page" -- our opinions and observations of our visit;
yours may certainly differ. Prices and other information can obviously
go out of date, so check with each vendor for updated info.
Don't miss the
Plantation Restaurant or
Turning Basin Riverboat Tours. They were the highlights of our
Jefferson is a community of older homes and
tourist attractions. While there are many seniors there, younger people
were enjoying it as well. Tours of homes are available, as well as
natural scenery (we loved the river), rides, and a museum.
Most vendors were very gracious, although a few sounded as if they were
ready for a vacation. As business owners ourselves who seldom get
away, we understand the need for a vacation. One word of warning:
They roll up the streets around 4:30, and if you don't eat dinner by 8:00 p.m., you'll have to eat at Burger King, the local nightclub, or go to
Marshall. For a tourist destination, this seemed a little silly, and
it's a shame the local merchants don't support the restaurants by staying
open a little later.
For a really nice guide, The Jeffersonian,
call the Historic Jefferson Foundation at 903-665-7064. They'll mail
it to you free of charge. We found it very useful.
A LITTLE HISTORY
According to history, locals, and rumors:
In the late 1800's, Jefferson's river port was the 2nd only to Galveston in
tonnage shipped from Texas. (Steamboats would travel up the
Mississippi River, into the Red River, through Caddo Lake, and up the Big
Cypress Bayou.) A natural logjam (probably centuries old) in the Red
River in the vicinity of Shreveport had caused the waters to backup into
Caddo Lake and into the river into Jefferson, allowing steamboats to bring
in needed materials while ferrying their biggest export, cotton, to foreign
markets. Jefferson was a very large city.
A rich railroad man, seeing the
value of seaport and rail transportation meeting in one city, approached Jefferson about
putting a railroad hub there. Jefferson turned him down, so he
allegedly put a curse on
the town ("bats will fly in your belfries and grass will grow in your
streets") as he took his idea to a small city west of there, which welcomed
The Corp of Engineers had tried for several
decades to get funding to blow-up the logjam, and shortly after the railroad
man left, they received funding to do so (coincidence?). Clearing the logjam dropped
the water level 20 feet, reducing Caddo Lake to an average depth of 4
feet, and making the river non-navigable to steamboats. Residents
walked away from their homes, and Jefferson almost became a ghost city.
The railroad man's curse had come true.
The small city to the west that welcomed
the railroad? Dallas.
Jefferson is home to many
bed & breakfasts, as well as two motels. As we like to "disappear" in
our room at night, we looked only at the motels. (We called one B&B in the downtown area, only to receive a recording saying their front desk
had closed at 4 p.m., and to call back the next morning ... we didn't.
We're evening people and felt our schedules would conflict.)
The Budget Inn:
Hwy. 59 as you enter town going north; 903-665-2581
The Budget Inn was about 1/2 the price of the other motel ... we paid about
$42 a night, including taxes, for a king room. It was an
older facility, but recently remodeled. A closed restaurant is on the
premises; it appeared it was being remodeled, as well. The room
was not plush, but it
was clean and comfortable. It had a 25" color TV with cable,
including several movie channels. The manager brought us a
refrigerator and microwave at no extra charge. Parking was excellent.
We saw the manager on the property several times during our stay; he
was always polite and courteous. We reported a sink that didn't drain
well; it was fixed when we returned several hours later. We
brought our own toilet paper, but in all fairness, we do that when we visit
Embassy Suites, as well. When we return to Jefferson, we will stay at
the Budget Inn again. (It should be noted that we desire nice
accommodations, and this is the only Budget Inn we've ever enjoyed.)
Inn at Jefferson: 400 S. Walcott; 903-665-3983,
adjacent to the Plantation Restaurant
It appeared from the outside to be a nice place. They quoted us
$69.95, plus taxes, for a king room. Saturday nights were $79.95, plus
taxes. From the lack of crowds at the attractions, this didn't appear
to be the "high" season, so we couldn't understand the premium for Saturday
night. That irritated us, so we stayed at The Budget Inn.
hours on the restaurants -- most close at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.
400 S. Walcott, which is Hwy. 59; 903-665-2131, just south of the
Best Western Inn
Robert & Barbara
behind their cash register stand from an old post office and in front
of a grandfather clock from 1779 ... three years after our
Absolutely our favorite place to
eat, and owned by the nicest people, in Jefferson. A "family restaurant"
with unbelievable service, great prices, good food, and a friendly, country
atmosphere. We ate 4 meals here in 5 days. Their sausage omelet had so
much sausage we thought they made a mistake, but Ray had one later in the week
and it was similarly loaded with sausage. The chicken fried steak was
very, very good. But the service and personal atmosphere make it a
"must see." Owned by retired TxDOT employee Robert Davidson,
and his gracious wife, Barbara, we were greeted each time we came in.
After the first time, we were recognized, taken to the "very non-smoking"
section, and Ray was brought a glass of water with lemon (they remembered
from our first visit).
As you enter on 59 going North, the
Plantation Restaurant is on the right, just as the speed limit drops, and
before the first traffic light. (Just before the Best Western Inn.)
They're closed Mon. and Tue. They're open Sat. and Sun. from 7 a.m. - 8
p.m., Wed. - Fri. 11:00 - 8:00, but they're usually there by 9:30 or
10:00. If the "OPEN" sign is on, they're open. They close at 8
p.m., but if you come in before 8, you'll still get served. (They told
us this, but we also saw it. We saw a group come in at 7:50 p.m., and
they were served and were not rushed. We left about 8:10, and the
group was still enjoying their meal.)
You won't believe the friendly atmosphere.
You'll love seeing the antiques. Eating here was
worth the 3 hour drive it took us to get to Jefferson, even if we hadn't
done anything else. Don't miss it.
Fashion Hamburger Store:
101 Market St.; 903-665-3251, "caddy-corner" from the museum.
Very convenient, with good hamburgers and
friendly service, but overpriced and overrated. Locals talked about
burgers that were "to die for," so maybe our expectations were a little too
high ... again, everyone's opinion can be different. We ate there
twice, and would go back.
They have a reputation for great pies, but
we didn't try any. A sign on the wall says there's a surcharge for
credit card charges under a certain amount (sorry, we don't remember;
$5 or $10, we believe.) While we understand their sentiments (due to
fixed transaction charges), it's a violation of credit card policies to
charge more for credit card transactions than for cash, and, besides, it's
not very "customer friendly."
(S. Walcott, which is Hwy. 59)
Just past the
Plantation Restaurant at
the light; they're part of a gas station. We found them to
be friendly and courteous, and grabbed a breakfast sandwich on Tue. and Wed.
when the Plantation Restaurant was closed.
Restaurant and Market:
316 N. Polk, 903-665-1400
Cozy and casual, very friendly hosts.
We had the fried catfish, and it was very good. They have a "special
board," but you'll have to ask for a menu. 11 - 8 Mon. - Sat., 11 - 3
301 Polk St., 903-665-8363
One of the few restaurants open late.
The food was fairly good, but we enjoyed the El Chico in Marshall more.
They to have an "all you can eat," but it appeared it was a specific plate
with specific items that perhaps they thought would fill you up.
ordered it, and it filled him up, but we didn't consider that an "all you can eat."
There was live entertainment -- a man with a guitar singing 70's hits, and
we thoroughly enjoyed it. (We expected "La Cucaracha," but heard
"Aquarius" instead ... our kind of music!) Our only problem was when the waitress brought
our check, she stood there and waited for Ray to fill in the credit card slip
(and tip). She actually leaned over to watch him write down the tip.
Ray asked if
she were going to stand there until he filled it in, and she replied, "yes."
He lowered the tip. Georgia thought the young lady was going to sit in
Ray's lap -- she was only inches from Ray's face. We considered this not only
rude, but a violation of "personal space." Warning: Some of the
literature shows this restaurant in their old location.
(Hwy. 59 in Marshall, on the north side of town)
Most El Chico's tend
to run about the same; this was no exception. We always
enjoy El Chico's, and this one is only about 20 minutes south of Jefferson.
They had an "all you can eat" dinner where they'd bring you as much as you
wanted of certain menu items. We enjoyed the food more than Licea's, but we
did enjoy Licea's singer.
Company and Cafe Nostalgia:
(903-679-9090, Karnack or Uncertain)
Go south on 134 about 10 miles to the stop
sign and turn right. About a mile on the right is a small restaurant.
The food is good, and the service is great.
200 W. Bayou. From downtown, go south over the Polk St. bridge and
turn right; they're on the right. 903-665-2222. $7.00
adults; $4.30 for children under 13.
These people rival the
Restaurant for friendliness. We arrived about 15 minutes early for the
last tour of the day. Georgia was taking pictures of the butterflies
in the front of their establishment when the batteries in her camera died.
We asked one of the guys inside if there were any stores in town where we could
buy a camera battery. He checked the battery to see if it matched the
one in his camera -- he was going to loan us his battery for the tour. When it
didn't match, he said we could run to Brookshire's, told us how to get
there, and said he'd hold the tour until we got back. After we
returned with new batteries, we were the only two people on the tour, but
they ran it, anyway.
The tour is of the Big Cypress Bayou, and
lasts about an hour. The riverboats are from the Arlington amusement
center ride of yesteryear. They run 7 days a week, at 10:00, 12:00,
2:00, and 4:00. Visit their
website and read the
"Top 10 reasons ..." section ... it is hilarious!
Side note: This community produces a
special jelly called "Mayhaw." You can sample here free, and
we paid less for it here than what we saw it for at the Jefferson General Store.
Cypress Bayou Railway:
400 East Austin St. They're across the railroad tracks on the east
end of town. 903-665-6400
These people are extremely nice, and the
train ride was a lot of fun. The cars are open-air with plenty of view
of the wildlife and beautiful woods. Special theme trains run for
Halloween and Christmas. This was a great! Don't miss it!
(3.5 miles, 1 hour,
email@example.com. Thursday and Friday at 2:20; Sat.
and Sun. at 12:30 and 2:30, depending on season.
Credit cards accepted.)
They are in Uncertain, about 25 minutes from Jefferson; see their
Ride a real steam-powered paddleboat on
Caddo Lake. Ask them to blow the steam whistle -- it's a real 3-tone
steamboat whistle; the sound is unbelievable. There's a
restroom on board, and the boat is covered. They have free drinks
(water, lemonade), but they left them on the dock on our trip. The
boat is very comfortable and looked much better than my impression of it
from the picture on their website. (Our picture doesn't do it justice,
either.) The upper deck is larger and gives
a new view, but the lower deck gives you a feeling of being closer to the
water ... which, of course, you are. We looked for Huck Finn the whole
time -- the trip was amazing. Look for the house on stilts, completely
surrounded by water.
(1.5 hours, $10 each. Hours vary, depending on temperature
and season. Reservations
suggested. Credit cards accepted. Directions from Jefferson:
Take 134 East for about 12 miles, go straight at stop sign onto 2198,
continue for 4 miles, turn left at the "Steamboat Tours" sign, go 1 mile,
turn right at the "Steamboat Tours" sign, go 6/10 mile, turn left at the
"Steamboat Tours" sign; they are 1/4 mile on the right.)
Outback Backwater Tours:
They are in Uncertain, about 25 minutes from Jefferson; see their
for details. 903-789-33384, 903-679-9138)
(click on thumbnails to
view full-size picture)
John has a "standard" tour of Caddo Lake,
where you'll get an up-close view of this amazing lake (more like a
Louisiana swamp). He will also
custom-design a tour for you. We took the standard tour one day, then
came back the next and took a tour up the river toward Jefferson, seeing
sites only available by boat. Most of the Caddo Lake pictures on this
page were taken during these tours, plus we took some very good video with
We found John to be very accommodating, as
well as extremely personable.
Personalized scenic tours, photo tours,
nature tours, gator tours, and romantic tours, by day - twilight - night.
(Small boat, you may bring your own ice chest, but there's no restroom after
you leave his dock.)
($40 for two people for 1.5 hours;
$75 for 3 hours. By reservation only. No credit cards.)
Carriage and Trail Rides:
The carriage rides may be caught on Austin St, just west of downtown, across from the museum, in the afternoon.
The trail rides are adjacent to the train depot, in the mornings.
Ron is your tour guide for the carriage
ride, and he's a nice guy. You'll stroll through the streets of
Jefferson in a horse-drawn carriage while seeing old houses and learning the
history of Jefferson. $35 for up to 5 people. He has a sign on
his carriage saying tips are accepted, but we didn't. We liked the ride,
but we've always heard it's an insult to tip the owner, and he is.
Ron is also your guide for the trail ride.
They were running a few minutes late; he had the courtesy to call me
on my cell phone so we wouldn't sit around and wait. This is a "follow the leader" horse ride through beautiful woods.
Georgia had problems controlling her horse, "Dollar." Later that day at
the steamboat rides she recognized a young couple as having been the ones
who rode horses immediately prior to us. Comparing notes, the young
lady also had problems controlling "Dollar."
($25 per person for 1 hour. By reservation only. No
credit cards. Closed Tue. & Wed.)
(West end of town on Austin St., Daily 9:30 - 4:30)
No pictures allowed by cameras or
camcorders. We assumed it would be related to Jefferson, but very
little was. The manager was extremely nice, but we don't like to
go where we can't take a video record of our visit, although we're not sure
there was anything we would have recorded if we'd been allowed to. However,
Ray typically take pictures of Georgia at each attraction for memories.
Not worth our time nor the price of admission.
Merchants generally fit into one of two categories: those who needed a
vacation, and those who didn't. MOST of the merchants were extremely
cordial and polite; some had public restrooms. (Because of the layout
of this tourist town, most people park their cars and then walk to the
various stores. Restrooms can become very important when your car is
several blocks away.) Many of the stores had "No Public Restrooms"
signs, including one -- The Old Store -- that sold fudge and drinks.
It seemed odd that they sold drinks and fudge, but wouldn't let the public
use their restrooms.
The city maintains a public restroom behind city hall, in a
parking lot, but it, like everything else in town, closes early. (As a
matter of reference, our store,
Reliable Go-Karts, has a public restroom,
and it's equipped with name-brand toilet tissue and paper towels.)
Getting around town is very easy, as the town is extremely small. You
can drive almost anywhere in 5 minutes or less.
antiques were plentiful, but overall we were not impressed with the
merchants. They seemed irritable, and tired of the public. One major exception: The clock store on Polk St. has
a collection of old clocks you won't believe.
General Store and Old Fashion Soda Fountain:
(113 E. Austin)
This appeared to a very interesting place,
but our first obstacle was parking. They have an old Chevy truck
parked outside, but it was parked just far back enough to occupy two of the
very few parking spaces. Another patron could not open their front door
(apparently it was just stuck), so Ray looked for "hours of operation" on the
windows but couldn't find them. Someone else successfully opened the
door, so we entered. We'd been there about 5 minutes when someone
abruptly scorned, "We're TRYING to close." We left, and didn't return.
(Their ad says, "We're glad you're here!" It's our impression they're
even happier when you leave!)
on Polk St. we prefer not to identify:
We arrived shortly before closing (4:30,
believe), but they were nice enough not to run us out. Georgia picked
out something she wanted, but wanted to think about it overnight.
While Georgia was shopping, Ray asked the manager (owner?) why all the stores
closed so early. She went "postal," talking about how they all had to
work 7 days a week and didn't get to take vacation. Georgia chose not
to return. It's sad that they either can't get, or can't afford, extra
help. In a tourist area, it would seem to make sense to have evening
hours, which would also support the downtown restaurants. Other than
this one reaction, the lady was very nice, and the store was quite
enjoyable. There are many, many antique stores in the area.
Bring your groceries with you. The
only grocery store we found was Brookshire's (404 E. Broadway). We
picked up two boxes of granola bars marked $2.19. When we checked-out, they
were $2.99, as we didn't have their "invasion of privacy" shopper card.
A few days later we went back and looked -- the part of the tag with the
"regular" price was folded under the shelf by a box on the shelf below.
We bought a small sewing kit with scissors for an "emergency."
couldn't get the scissors to work -- they just bent. However, they did
have the batteries our camera needed (almost $6 each). Several locals
commented they didn't like the store, either.
(click on thumbnails to
view full-size picture)
(Jefferson "Antique" Gas Station, Butterfly
at Turning Basin Riverboat Tours, Lake o' the
(click on thumbnails to
view full-size picture)
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