The following is an adapted excerpt from Unexpected Texas – my best-selling travel guide to quirky, offbeat and overlooked places near Dallas and Fort Worth. Check it out if you enjoy learning quirky facts, or are looking for offbeat road trip ideas in north Texas.
Jefferson, Texas aka the Little Easy
With its brick streets, horse drawn carriages, wrought iron railings, and abundance of Greek revival architecture, a visit to Jefferson, Texas can make you feel like you’ve stepped onto a movie set for New Orleans in the late 1800’s.
This town’s resemblance to the “Big Easy” is no mere affectation, but a genuine part of its heritage. In fact, Jefferson has so much in common with New Orleans that it’s sometimes called the “Little Easy.” They’ve even been celebrating Mardi Gras for over 100 years.
Riverport to the Southwest
While it’s a small town now, from 1845 to 1872 Jefferson was a major Texas port, second only to the port of Galveston! Steamboats laden with cotton and other goods powered upriver all the way from New Orleans, thereby earning Jefferson the nickname, “Riverport to the Southwest.” Shortly after the Civil War, Jefferson was the sixth largest city in Texas with a population of 30,000.
Then they Blew it – Literally!
In 1873, the Army Corps of Engineers used explosives to remove a huge raft of logs downstream from Jefferson. As a result, the water level in the bayou dropped so much that big steamboats were unable to make it to town. At the same time, transportation by railway was becoming the norm, and before long, Jefferson’s life as a major Texas port came to an end.
Bed & Breakfast Capital of Texas
Although the population has shrunk to a mere 2,000, this wee little town is bustling and active. At any given time there are between 50 to 80 bed and breakfast inns operating to keep up with the demand for lodging.
Festivals Galore – including a *real* Mardi Gras
Every year, Jefferson plays host to a variety of festivals and community events, including a historic homes tour, the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial reenactment, the History Haunts & Legends festival, an antique car show, Mardi Gras, and much more. (Please note: If you plan to visit during Mardi Gras, book your hotel several months in advance. It’s a big deal here, attracting thousands of tourists every year!)
Most Haunted Small Town in Texas
If you wonder why the SyFy, Travel, and Discover channels all describe Jefferson as the “most haunted small town in Texas” consider taking the Historic Jefferson Texas Ghost Tour to see for yourself.
Led by local historian and self-described skeptic, Jodi Breckenridge, this walking tour takes you by several haunted locations in the historic downtown. Each trip is different, but Breckenridge strives to take participants inside at least one paranormal hot spot on every tour.
Tours last a good 90 minutes and are a great way to stretch your legs after a big meal. The night I attended, there was a crowd of 75+ people.
I must confess that no orbs appeared in the photos I took, nor did our group experience anything anomalous. I was surprised, however, at how many people in the tour were repeat customers. Several of them had eerie tales to share about things they experienced on previous excursions with Breckenridge.
I should add that my husband, Larry, doesn’t believe in anything the slightest bit woo-woo, but he thoroughly enjoyed the ghost tour. He described it as an entertaining after-hours tour of historic downtown Jefferson, and I must agree. Still, the next time I go (and there will be a next time) I hope to see a ghost.
Plan your trip to the Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk
Address: Corner of Austin and Vale Streets, Jefferson, TX 75657
If Jefferson is such a haunted town, then it should be no surprise to find more than one ghost tour available. Not only did several people on Jodi Breckenridge’s tour insist that The Grove is a must-see, but as of this writing it rates as the number one tourist attraction in Jefferson, Texas on TripAdvisor. The Grove has been featured on numerous TV shows, including “William Shatner’s Weird or What?” “If Walls Could Talk,” and “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” as well as being named “one of the top twelve most haunted houses in America” by “This Old House.”
There are a couple of major differences between The Grove and most other paranormal tours. First of all, The Grove concentrates on a single dwelling, the Stilley-Young House which was built in 1861 and is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Secondly, tours of The Grove take place during daylight hours, rather than after dark. This increases your chance of taking ghostly photos because you won’t have to use a flash. Also, if like me, your spouse doesn’t believe in ghosts, The Grove is a lovely tour of a historic home.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to book a tour with The Grove during our research trip to Jefferson, so I cannot report on it firsthand. It comes so highly recommended from other sources, however, that I am including it here, anyway. If you take the tour, let me know what you think.
Since our visit to Jefferson, however, I’ve read Ghosts of North Texas, by Mitchel Whitington. Whitington, it turns out, owns – and lives in – The Grove. After enjoying his well-written book, I am even more pumped up about taking a tour of his haunted home.
Plan your trip The Grove
Address: 405 Moseley St, Jefferson, TX 75657
Steven Spielberg’s Ghostly Encounter
Still don’t believe that Jefferson, Texas is haunted? What if I told you that Steven Spielberg is on record saying that of the two haunted hotels he has stayed in his life, one of them is in Jefferson, Texas? (The full story is pretty long, so I will go into detail in a later post, then link to this page when I do!)
East Texas Bigfoot Sightings
Ghosts aren’t the only mysteries associated with this area. Whether you call them Sasquatch, Bigfoot, or wood apes, the piney woods of east Texas are a hot spot for sightings of big, hairy creatures. If nothing else, this undocumented hominid has captured the local imagination to the extent that several monster movies have been filmed near Jefferson, Texas including the “Creature from Black Lake,” “Legend of Boggy Creek,” and most recentlym east Texas’ answer to “Sharknado,” entitled “Bigfoot Wars.”
Because of this, Jefferson has hosted several Bigfoot Conferences over the years, however there is no set location for this annual event, so keep your eye on the North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC) website for details.
Jefferson General Store
All ghosts and cryptids aside, there is plenty to see and do in this cute little town even if you pop in for a day trip when no festivals are happening. Since Jefferson is highly walkable, I highly recommend an aimless ramble while you are there, as well as a visit to the Jefferson General Store.
Yes, I know. It’s a store. But it’s a fun, old-fashioned store, much like the “five and dimes” that were once a common feature across America.
I enjoyed every inch of the Jefferson General Store, from the bar stools along its soda fountain to its creaky wood plank floors. The store carries everything from homemade pickles and jams, to toys, hats, games, clothing, kitchen wares and more.
The vast candy selection includes a wide variety of long-forgotten brands in vintage style wrappers, to barrels of saltwater taffy and strange new candies I had never heard of. The Jefferson General Store also sells ice cream in waffle cones made on-site, and as of this writing a cup of fresh coffee still goes for a nickel per cup.
Plan your trip to the Jefferson General Store
Address: 113 E. Austin St. Jefferson, Texas 75657
Want to read more like this?
To read about more weird, offbeat, and overlooked places, check out my best-selling travel guide:
UNEXPECTED TEXAS: Your Guide to Offbeat & Overlooked History, Day Trips & Fun Things to do near Dallas & Fort Worth.
For ghost hunting hot spots, check out my best-selling travel guide to haunted places:
PARANORMAL TEXAS: Your Travel Guide to Haunted Places near Dallas & Fort Worth.
For a strange-but-true tale of Texas history, check out this bizarre piece of West Texas history:
The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber
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