Oozing vintage Southern charm, tiny Jefferson lies in the northeast corner of Texas only moments from the Louisiana state line. A well-preserved Civil War town, Jefferson was once the Lone Star State’s version of New Orleans: the largest river port in Texas from the 1840s to the 1870s, rivaling Galveston in size and importance.
There’s an appreciation for languid living among its 2,000 residents, and you’ll find yourself slowing down simply to admire the brick streets and gaze in the windows of the numerous antiques shops. Or you can take it all in on a narrated riverboat, vintage train, or horse-drawn carriage tour. If you find yourself parched and craving lemonade or an icecream soda, lucky for you, they’re both served at the old-fashioned fountain inside the century-old Jefferson General Store, which also sells homemade pralines, lemon drops, aprons, pocketknives, paddleball games, and books on local history. Visit the history museum inside the old federal courthouse, where exhibits include Civil War artifacts, vintage weapons, and papers of Republic of Texas hero and president Sam Houston.
With an abundance of charming B&Bs, there are plenty of places to stay, but the vaunted 15-room Excelsior House, a gracious 1858 inn where several presidents have slept, is one of those rare genteel places where everyone feels welcome, and many folks come In Jefferson primarily to slay here. Breakfast is a memorable experience, thanks to the inn’s famous orange blossom muffins.
About 15 miles from town, Caddo Lake, a magnificent 26,800-acre expanse of water, is distinguished by its seven-centuries-old cypress trees draped with heavy curtains of Spanish moss for a haunting, ethereal effect. Lest you get lost amid the baffling network of spooky sloughs and canals (and possibly surprise an alligator or two in the process), solicit the help of a Caddo Lake State Park ranger, who can point you to tour operators and canoe rentals, as well as to nine cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. On the lake’s shore, the quirky town of Uncertain offers fishing camps, lakeside cabins, camping supplies, a beer store or two, and plenty of folks with good stories to tell.