Jefferson (population 2,024) is nestled among the forests of far northeast Texas, and certainly worth visiting for a pleasant escape to the Piney Woods ’ past. In its glory days of the mid-19th century, Jefferson was a burgeoning boomtown containing a kaleidoscope of cultures, from entrepreneurial East Coast shop merchants to newly freed slaves to Westward-moving pioneers. For more than a decade, Jefferson welcomed a steady flow of steamboats bringing worldly influences and people.
In 1870, Jefferson had a population of 4,180 and was the sixth-largest city in Texas. Between 1867 and 1870, steamboats became a tremendous factor in the town’s commercial trade, which grew from $3 million to $8 million. By 1870, only the port of Galveston  exceeded Jefferson in volume.
In 1873 things changed dramatically for Jefferson. The destruction of the Red River raft, a natural dam on the river, lowered the water level of the surrounding lakes and streams, making navigation to Jefferson via steamboat nearly impossible. Also that year, the Texas and Pacific Railway, which bypassed Jefferson, was completed. Without steamboat or railroad access, people started leaving Jefferson in droves.
In the mid-1900s, locals began looking at Jefferson’s distinctive past as a way to preserve and promote the town’s heritage, particularly its remarkable 100-plus state and nationally recognized historic structures. Known as “the Bed-and-Breakfast Capital of Texas ,” tourism is now Jefferson’s economic base.