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Jefferson,  Texas,


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.


This 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  Prices and other information can obviously go out of date, so check with each vendor for updated info.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 trip.





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.





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 his railroad.


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.)



Best Western 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.





Watch for hours on the restaurants -- most close at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.


Plantation Restaurant:  400 S. Walcott, which is Hwy. 59;  903-665-2131, just south of the Best Western Inn


Robert & Barbara Davidson, behind their cash register stand from an old post office and in front of a grandfather clock from 1779 ... three years after our independence.


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.



Jefferson Old 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."



Burger King:  (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.



Old Tyme 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 Sun.



Licea's Mexican Restaurant:  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.  Ray 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.



El Chico:  (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.



Caddo Pie 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.





Turning Basin Riverboat Tours:  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 Plantation 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.




Jefferson & 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, $8 each,  info@jeffersonrailway.com.  Thursday and Friday at 2:20;  Sat. and Sun. at 12:30 and 2:30, depending on season.  Credit cards accepted.)



Caddo Lake Steamboat Company:  They are in Uncertain, about 25 minutes from Jefferson;  see their website (http://caddolake.com/steamboat.html) for details.  903-789-3978, 888-325-5459



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.)



Caddo Outback Backwater Tours:  They are in Uncertain, about 25 minutes from Jefferson;  see their website (http://www.caddooutback.com/ for details.   903-789-33384, 903-679-9138)




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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 our camcorder.


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.)



Jefferson 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.   903-927-0062, 903-665-6400


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.)



Museum:  (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.


The 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.



Jefferson 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!)



Antique Store on Polk St. we prefer not to identify:

We arrived shortly before closing (4:30, we 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."  Ray 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.




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(Jefferson "Antique" Gas Station, Butterfly at Turning Basin Riverboat Tours, Lake o' the Pines)

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