There are many ways to tour historic Jefferson, Texas, a pre-Civil War town with scenic streets, charming restaurants, quaint bed and breakfasts, historic hotels, and picturesque landscapes. The town was founded in Marion County in the late 1830s to early 1840s and named in honor of the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson’s historic vibe is palpable all around the downtown area -- below are a few must-see locations for those who like to explore the details.
House of the Seasons
Historic Home Tour
House of the Seasons is a historical home in Jefferson that offers bed and breakfast accommodations in its carriage house, and tours are available of the home and gardens. The original owner was Colonel Benjamin H. Epperson, a Texas lawyer and confidante of Sam Houston who built the home in 1872. Richard H. Collins acquired the home in 1973, and spent three years restoring it. It is now owned by the Collins Family Foundation. Guests have included President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush; Former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson; singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett; movie star Karl Malden, and authors Pat Conroy and Fannie Flagg.
The architecture of the house is an example of the transition period between the Greek Revival and Victorian style. The most unique features are the cupola and the murals. The cupola — a dome on the top of the house — features four walls, each containing a different colored stained glass that creates the illusion of the seasons of the year.
Construction of a Victorian garden on the north lot of the property at House of the Seasons includes native plants, a pergola, gazebo, birdbaths, and more. A crushed granite walkway allows guests to explore the landscape. Architecture featured in the garden was designed to reflect the 1872 design of the house.
House of the Seasons is located at 409 S. Alley, and tours are scheduled daily at 11 a.m. for $15 per person. Tours must include a minimum of four people, and people should call ahead to make sure the time they want is available. For more information, call (903) 665-8000 or visit houseoftheseasons.com.
Excelsior House Hotel and Jay Gould Railcar Tour
Named County Line Magazine’s most recent Best Hotel in the Upper East Side of Texas, The Excelsior House has welcomed travelers to Jefferson since the late 1850’s. Famous people registered at the Excelsior House included Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, Rutherford B. Hayes and Lady Bird Johnson. The hotel features Southern charm and elegant decor with rich rosewood, cherry, and mahogany furnishings and the outside is constructed with brick, timber, and lacy iron work. The Excelsior House is an antique lover’s delight. It has a beautifully appointed ballroom and dining room and manicured grounds, and excels in southern elegance and taste, including the World Famous Orange Blossom Muffins served on the weekends at breakfast. It is also within walking distance to downtown Jefferson’s retail shops and entertainment venues.
Across from the Excelsior House Hotel on Austin Street is Jason "Jay" Gould’s private train car, "The Atalanta," named for the Greek Goddess of Speed. Gould lived from 1836 to 1892 and was a leading American railroad developer and speculator. His private parlor car has a luxurious interior with four staterooms, lounge, dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry, and ballroom. It is ironic the train car ended up in Jefferson, because the town rejected Gould’s bid to pass his railroad through the town. After his rejection, he wrote in the hotel guest register "the end of Jefferson" and now the trophy car is owned and operated by the Excelsior Foundation.
The Excelsior House Hotel is located at 211 W. Austin. Tours of the hotel and the Jay Gould Railcar Tour are offered daily at 1 p.m., for $8 for the hotel and $5 for the railcar. Call (903) 665-2513 at least a day ahead for reservations, and go to www.theexcelsiorhouse.com for more information.
Visitors can also contact The Excelsior House for information on the nearby Jefferson Playhouse, which was once a Catholic convent, then a Jewish Synagogue, built in 1876. Theater seating, a stage and lighting system have been added to the Synagogue and it is now used as a local theatre and event venue with seating for 92.
Singleton’s Virginia Cross Historic Home Tour
Tours are also available at the Singleton home, built in 1859. It is an excellent example of early Greek Revival architecture that was patterned after 18th Century Virginia houses of the cross plan, hence the nickname "Virginia Cross." This home is located in the older portion of Jefferson, close to the Jefferson Historic District, and an easy walk from downtown.
The Virginia Cross is constructed of cypress lumber and the exterior walls are covered with cypress clapboards. All the floors are original wide plank, heart pine floors. The parlor and central hall are decorated with period wallpaper. This significant example of antebellum architecture is a recorded Texas Historic Landmark, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is recorded in the Historic American Building Survey in the Library of Congress. The home is completely furnished with American empire and Renaissance Revival antique furniture and accessories in keeping with the 1860 to 1885 time period.
Singleton’s Virginia Cross is located at 401 N. Soda Street, and tours are conducted on select Saturdays at 1 p.m. for $7 per person. Call (903) 665-3938 to confirm tour dates and to make reservations. For more information, visit www.virginiacross.com.
Jefferson Historical Museum and R.D. Moses T&P Model Railroad
The Jefferson Historical Museum is housed in a historical building and offers objects relating to the history of Jefferson, Marion County, and Texas. It was constructed from 1888 to 1890 as a federal courthouse and post office, remaining in use until 1961. Then it was purchased in 1965 by the Jefferson Historical Society as the permanent home of the museum. Artifacts are found there from the Caddo Indians which lived at the only natural lake in Texas, Caddo Lake, just east of Jefferson. Also on display are early pioneer implements, art, and antiquities, including the bell from the Mittie Stephens Steamboat which sank in 1869, leading to the loss of life of her 61 passengers.
Along with the museum, there is a depot behind the main building especially built to house the R. D. Moses T&P Model Railroad exhibit. This model train in a 1950’s setting fills the entire depot.
The museum and depot are located at 223 W. Austin. Museum hours are 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. daily except for New Years Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, and the depot is open varying hours. Prices vary. For more information, call (903) 665-2775 or visit www.jeffersonmuseum.com.
Historic Tours of Jefferson and Bicycle Rental
Kennedy Manor Bed & Breakfast offers historic tours of Jefferson on its 15-passenger "limo golf cart." The one-hour narrated tour includes a quick tour of the bed and breakfast which was built in 1860, then on to historic places around Jefferson, including other bed and breakfasts and buildings and places of historical significance.
Kennedy Manor is located at 217 W. Lafayette Street. Tours are offered Saturdays at 11 a.m., 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., Sundays at 11:15 a.m., and weekends and other times by appointment.
They also rent cruiser bicycles -- $10 for half-day, $15 for full-day, and $25 for an entire weekend – for people to ride around town at their leisure and discover all that Jefferson has to offer.
Call ahead for reservations at 903-665-0359 or visit www.kennedymanor.com for more information.
Lonestar Carriage Company
Take a historic narrated tour of Jefferson by horse-drawn carriage down the red brick streets. Learn the rich history of the town as the carriage passes beautiful homes and churches. Lonestar Carriage Company offers historic, adventure and romantic carriage rides weekly.
Starting the first week in October, after 5:30 p.m. it has Halloween rides available. Then starting November 30 through the end of the year, all trips at 5:30 p.m. and later are Christmas light rides.
Lonestar Carriage Company is located at 222 W. Austin Street. Prices vary. Call (903) 926-8216 or visit www.jeffersontexascarriage.com for more information on tours and pricing.
For more information on Jefferson go to www.visitjeffersontexas.com.