Ghost Hunting in Jefferson, Texas
by Marilyn Loeser
It’s no wonder so many ghosts are said to call Jefferson, Texas home. Its short- lived boom and bust left behind a glorious remnant of Texas history.
The fifth oldest community in Texas, Jefferson was incorporated on March 20, 1848. Pioneers first settled on Big Cypress bayou in 1836 and soon after, when obstructions were removed from the bayou, steamboats were able to navigate through the bayou and Caddo Lake into the Red River and on to the Mississippi.
A 150 mile long natural log jam on the Red River raised the water level enough for steamboats to navigate all the way to Jefferson, making the town the furthest inland port in the state and the second largest behind Galveston.
Jefferson even started its own rail line in 1860. The vast majority of cotton from North Texas, Southern Arkansas and Oklahoma arrived by rail in Jefferson to be shipped to ports far and wide by steamboat.
The downfall of Jefferson came in 1885 when the US Army Corps of Engineers dynamited the “great raft” on the Red River; the water level dropped and navigation by steamboat was no longer possible.
Walking the streets of Jefferson in the 21st century, admiring the mansions and smaller antebellum homes and storefronts, it’s easy to imagine a busy port where moneyed men and women attended to business, social obligations and running their households.
A visit to Jefferson can last a day or a week. Several homes are open for tour, beautifully appointed hotels and bed and breakfasts welcome guests, and other local attractions await the history lover in all of us.
The Ghosts of Jefferson
Even with its significant history, life in Jefferson wasn’t much different than any other place at any other time: there were the haves and the have-nots; the lucky and the unlucky.
And, it could be said; maybe the haves don’t want to leave Jefferson because of their prosperity and fond memories while the have-nots have a score to settle before heading for the great beyond.
Whatever you believe, Jefferson is known for its ghosts. If this part of the town’s lore interests you, make sure and arrange to tour The Grove.
The small, unpretentious house was built in 1861 by Frank and Minerva Stilley.
Other than the addition of a room to join the detached kitchen to the house in 1870 and another change in the 1930's when an indoor bathroom was added and the side porch enclosed, little has changed since 1861.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Parks Service and designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission, the house is said to be one of the most haunted locations in the entire state.
Luckily for visitors to Jefferson, hour-long tours are offered. In addition to learning about the history of the house and its many occupants, you’ll hear about the paranormal sightings and experiences of residents and visitors alike.
For example, Miss Louise Young: at first she told her friends about the haunts, but as time went on the ghost stories took a dark turn. In her later years, she was terrified of the spirits and had a security light installed in the garden because she would see people outside walking around and when she turned on the porch light, they disappeared.
Along with sightings from another time, tour guests are also seeing, hearing and photographing strange occurrences in the house.
The Grove, located at 405 Moseley Street, is a must-see for anyone interested in “the other side.”
One of the best ghost tours I’ve ever been on was in Jefferson. Sponsored by the Historic Jefferson Railway Company, the tour is free and precedes scheduled evening train rides.
Our small group gathered across the street from the Jefferson Historical Society and Museum, 223 West Austin Street.
Just after the sun set, our guide began by explaining a little about the community before offering tour participants the use of tape recorders to try and pick up electronic voice phenomena (EVP), an electric field meter (EMF) and a thermometer, as areas where ghosts linger often are colder than other areas nearby.
We began the tour by walked along Austin Street to Jay Gould's Private Rail Car. After a short story about the railroad magnate, we were invited to try out the ghost hunting technology and take digital in hopes of capturing evidence of lingering spirits.
From here we walked along Vale Street toward Bateman Alley, thought to be the notorious Murder Alley of local legend. Some listened intently to our tour guide while others shouted at the night air hoping for an answer that would show up on a recording and took into the dark alley.
I got lucky. When I downloaded my , I discovered several orbs along with buildings and hovering over parked cars.
We continued our tour through a park, past two historic hotels and into a deserted area along Dallas Street where a lot of paranormal activity has been reported.
The sounds of night, crickets and bull frogs, the rustling of leaves and hushed conversations along with the expert narrative from our guide made this a experience to remember — for the believer and the non-believer.
The Historic Jefferson Railway Company
After the ghost tour, it was time for the Ghost Train, but this time it was all make-believe style and especially fun for children.
The Jefferson and Cypress Bayou is a live steam, narrow gauge railway. In the dead of night when your only illumination between man-made scary scenes is moonlight and starlight, the train makes its way along the Big Cypress bayou into the pine forest. Urban legends were told as costumed ghouls roamed the woods — and train — adding to the fun.
The train has been making this run for more than 20 years. The train was bought from the defunct Six Gun Territory amusement park in Florida. The town cleared the right-of-way for the track, built the railroad and moved the town’s original depot to the railway property at the end of Austin Street. The city of Jefferson operated the train for about ten years before it was sold to a series of individuals. In the late ‘90’s, maintaining the locomotive and track became too great a task for the owner and the train was shut down, seemingly for good.
In the spring of 2002, Destry and Karen Brown were looking to re-locate from Oregon to Texas. Destry’s mother and stepfather, Don Rainey and Francene DePrez, were driving through Jefferson and happened to notice an old depot and steam train for sale. Working throughout the summer, the family brought the train, its tracks and the depot back into operation.
On Labor Day weekend 2002 the railway celebrated its inaugural weekend by carrying more than 350 passengers.
Daytime trips are also scheduled offering a glimpse of the native wildlife found in the piney woods region.
If you go:
Jefferson is a great destination for shopping, relaxing and visiting the past.
For more information on The Grove, check the website at www.thegrove-jefferson.com.
For more information on the free ghost tour and Historic Jefferson Railway, check the website at www.jeffersonrailway.com.
Information on additional attractions, restaurants and lodging can be found at www.jefferson-texas.com/ or www.jeffersontx.com/index.htm.