The following article is presented for entertainment purposes. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject.
It’s Freaky Friday once again. It’s been two weeks since we last had a discussion on ghosts. How about some haunted history?
Jefferson, Texas has been known by many names. Riverport to the Southwest and Gateway to Texas are two of those names. The Bed & Breakfast Capitol of Texas is another. My favorite name for Jefferson is The Most Haunted Little Town in Texas.
Jefferson is way out in the middle of nowhere, deep in the land of towering pine trees. The Big Cypress Bayou flows only a few blocks from downtown. A significant effort has been made by the citizens to preserve Jefferson’s historic charm. Visiting is truly like taking a step back in time. It’s easy to see ghosts roaming among those old buildings and antebellum homes.
Founded around 1840, Jefferson was one of the most important ports in Texas between 1845 and 1872. Steamboats traveled up the Mississippi River, into the Red River, through Caddo Lake, and up Big Cypress Bayou. There, they entered the “Turning Basin” where the steamboats loaded and unloaded cargo.
During the Civil War, Jefferson’s port was integral in supplying troops with anything from meat to munitions. In the years following the Civil War, Jefferson was the sixth largest town in Texas. It was second only to Galveston as a port city.
The Great Raft (AKA The Red River Raft) was a hundred mile long log jam located north of present day Natchitoches, La. This log jam raised the water levels in the Big Cypress Bayou to navigable levels and played a large part in Jefferson’s success as a river port.
In 1873, the U.S. Corp of Engineers began to remove the Great Raft. Without the Great Raft, water levels dropped in Big Cypress Bayou. Shipping to Jefferson was no longer convenient. With the advent of the railroads, merchants no longer needed to depend on waterways to transport goods.
Jefferson went from the sixth largest city in Texas to a present day town of under 3,000 in population.
My husband and I decided to visit Jefferson for a photography expedition. That the city was supposedly very haunted appealed to me. We stayed at the Claiborne House.
Claiborne House dates back to 1862. It was built as a single family residence. We stayed in the Yeats Room, which was beautifully furnished with antiques. And, yes, the house had some ghost stories associated with it.
One of the ghost stories has to do with a guest who was staying in the Browning Room. She was awakened by a loud conversation outside her room. She opened her door a crack to see what was going on.
In the sitting area, she saw a woman wearing an old fashioned dress. The woman was carrying on a conversation with someone the guest couldn’t see. A boy approached the woman and said something about taking a bath. The woman sent him on his way.
The guest went back to bed, thinking this family must have arrived after participating in some sort of historic re-enactment. The next morning, though, she noticed none of the other guest rooms had been slept in. At breakfast, she learned no such woman had been checked in.
The Browning Room is home to another occurance. Despite the efforts of the owner and the housekeeping staff, the bedspread was often found rumpled. A picture taken by the owner showed a shadowy figure sitting on the edge of the bed.
Another time, guests of the Claiborne House returned after staying out late in Jefferson. The drove up to the house and found it–as expected–dark and quiet. Parking is around the side of the house, so the visitors drove around and parked their car. When they walked to the front of the house, all the lights were blazing. They got inside and learned everyone in the house was in bed asleep.
I’d like to say I had a ghostly encounter at the Claiborne House, but I can’t. A few times, I woke up at night with the intense feeling of being watched. Our room was cold the entire visit, and we couldn’t get warm. Other than that…nada.
The owner of the Claiborne House serves an exquisite breakfast. It was large enough that we rarely ate more than breakfast and supper. The accommodations were clean and comfortable–other than our room being cold.
Jefferson, Texas is home to a ton of stuff to see and do. There is a Historic Ghost Walk. Author Mitchel Whitington opens his home, The Grove, for ghostly tours. The Jefferson Railway hosts a Ghost Train excursion during certain times of the year.
The House of the Seasons is a gorgeous example of architecture of a bygone era. Caddo Lake, which is home to the world’s largest cypress forest, is nearby. The best restaurant we ate at in Jefferson was The Hamburger Store (website plays music–click with caution).
A word to the wise travler: a lot of stuff in and around Jefferson is only open on the weekend.
Despite not seeing a ghost in Jefferson, we took some fantastic photos around the city and at Caddo Lake. Perhaps I’ll share those in another blog post.