THE POWER OF PRESERVATION
Few towns possess the architectural heritage of Jefferson, which boasts more than 100 state and nationally recognized historical structures. In the mid-20th Century, the local Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club began sparking interest in preservation and heritage tourism. The club restored and runs the 1850s Excelsior House, one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Texas. Other restorations by local individuals followed, such as the Greek Revival Freeman Plantation, a Louisiana-style raised cottage built in 1850, and the 1872 Italianate Victorian “House of the Seasons,” featuring a frescoed dome and original furnishings.
Jefferson is the designated “Bed and Breakfast Capital of East Texas,” with more than 40 properties offering accommodations. Walk the historic downtown streets and browse art studios and antiques stores and a variety of places with a past, including the 1912 Marion County Courthouse. Visit the restored 1907 Carnegie Library, one of the few funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie that still serves its original purpose. Outside the library is the 1912 bronze Sterne fountain, graced by a statue of the goddess Hebe who pours water in three levels--for horses, people and dogs. The restored 1888 former federal courthouse and post office now is home to the Jefferson Historical Society Museum, where displays reveal the opulent world of the town’s most prominent citizens, the daily lives of the working class, and the importance of steamboats and railroads to the area. And though Jay Gould’s railroad didn’t stop here, his elegantly appointed 1888 private railroad car, the “Atalanta,” is a local attraction open for tours. The coach was restored after serving as a residence during Jefferson’s 1930s oil boom. The Ruth Lester Memorial honors a pioneering local preservationist. Built about 1860 as a private residence, it served many functions over the years and today is used for local theatrical productions.