The rich and diverse history of Jefferson, Texas is told through numerous factual and romantic accounts, including those that describe its dramatic rise to prosperity during the mid 1800’s, as the states’ largest and most significant riverport. This period of prosperity has come to be known as “The Golden Era”. Jefferson erupted into a mid-19th-century boomtown with the help of a genteel, graceful society of successful and well-bred families, a host of nefarious opportunists and a rich assortment of eclectic individuals, while offering a supply point and doorway to settlers and immigrants looking for a new life. She was and remains, The Queen of the Bayou.
No one knows for certain exactly when Jefferson was founded. Many descriptions place the town’s birth date in 1836, however, further research points to the early 1840s as the first time Jefferson was mentioned as a new settlement. Named in honor of the third President of the United States, the town appeared on an 1844 map of Bowie County. Recognized as the fifth oldest town in Texas, it is now the seat of Marion County.
There are two men who are widely credited as co-founders of Jefferson. Allen Urquhart was a professional land surveyor and ferry owner who acquired a significant tract of land between Big Cypress and Black Cypress Creek. As a surveyor, he had the foresight to recognize the potential of this land as an ideal place to grow a new town. Its navigable river system, Big Cypress Bayou, could bring boats eight miles further into land than previous ports allowed and its location at the bend of the bayou gave it another unique advantage: enough width in the stream to enable steamboats to turn around. In his plans for the growth, Urquhart designed the streets within Jefferson’s business district to face the water for easy cargo access both in and out.
While Allen Urquhart is recognized as the founder of Jefferson as a commercial center, it was real estate developer Daniel Alley who made his mark on the residential area of the town. Alley invested in a tract of land just outside the business district that he felt was perfect for developing a genteel, residential neighborhood. Alley established a real estate office in Jefferson and began plotting out the neighborhood he envisioned, later dubbed the Alley Addition. His residential streets ran along the compass points – north, south, east and west – in stark contrast to Urquhart’s streets that angled toward the wharf. A quick glance at a current map of Jefferson shows that the distinct angles of the street layouts remain the same today as those established by its co-founders.