Jefferson, at one time, was known as the River port to the Southwest. Goods were shipped from the Port of New Orleans to Jefferson during the 1800's. The story of Jefferson is a pageant of Texas history portrayed by remarkable characters-Harriet and Robert Potter, steamboat entrepreneurs, railroad tycoons, Jay Gould, Diamond Bessie, Vernon Dalhart, and loyal townspeople who sought to restore the golden era of the state's leading river port. Still today, stately homes from the mid-1800's, antique shops, museums, steam train, Big Cypress Bayou reminisce days of long ago though not forgotten. A true sense of Southern gentility and elegance still linger. Rich with history and wonder, Jefferson remains a haven for those seeking the solitude and grace of a time and place long ago.
Jefferson, the county seat of Marion County, is at the junction of U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 49, on Big Cypress Creek and Caddo Lake in the south central portion of the county. It was named for Thomas Jefferson when it was founded in the early 1840s by Allen Urquhart and Daniel Alley. In the late 1830s Urquhart, who immigrated to Texas from North Carolina, received a headright on a bend in the creek; he laid out a townsite there around 1842. At about the same time Alley obtained a 586-acre parcel adjacent to Urquhart's survey and laid out additional streets that became known as Alley's Addition. In contrast to most other town planners of the time, who arranged their plans around a central square, Urquhart laid out the town along Big Cypress Creek, with its streets running at right angles to the bayou. Alley's streets, on the other hand, followed the points of the compass. The intersection of the two plans gave the town its distinctive V-shaped layout. As the westernmost outpost for navigation on the Red River, Jefferson quickly developed into an important riverport. The first steamboat, the Llama, reached Jefferson in late 1843 or early 1844. A post office was established in 1846, and the town was incorporated in March 20, 1848, though because of various delays a city charter was not adopted until 1850. In the same year the town adopted the aldermanic form of city government. In 1846 Jefferson became the county seat of Cass County, upon that county's separation from Bowie County, and served as such until Linden became county seat in 1852. A Methodist church was organized in 1844, followed by the Presbyterian church between 1846 and 1850 and the Baptist church in 1855. The first newspaper, the Jefferson Democrat, was printed in 1847, and the following year the Jimplecute, the town's longest-running and most influential paper, made its appearance.
During the late 1840s efforts were made to clear Big Cypress Creek for navigation. Within a few years steamboats were regularly making the trip from Shreveport and New Orleans, transporting cotton and other produce downstream and returning with supplies and manufactured goods, including materials and furnishings for many of the early homes. By the late 1840s Jefferson had emerged as the leading commercial and distribution center of Northeast Texas and the state's leading inland port.
Among the persistent legends that have grown up around the town was the belief that Jeffersonians had shunned the railroads. While much of the city's wealth during the antebellum and early postbellum years derived from the river trade, city leaders recognized early the importance of rail transportation and made efforts to build a railroad linking the town with Shreveport and Marshall. Construction of a line began in 1860, but only forty-five miles of road was completed by the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1860 Jefferson became county seat of the newly established Marion County. After Abraham Lincoln was elected, Marion County voted unanimously for secession. Jefferson men volunteered for military service in large numbers, and during the Civil War a meat cannery was established there, as were factories for boots and shoes.
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