Jefferson, Texas is the county seat of Marion County. Jefferson was founded in the early 1840s, by Allen Urquhart and Daniel Alley. The town is named for Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father and principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). Thomas Jefferson was elected the second Vice President of the United States (1797–1801) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). Marion County was formed by the legislature from Cass County in 1860. The county is named for Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War general from South Carolina who was nicknamed the “Swamp Fox”. In the late 1830s, Urquhart received a headright on a bend in the creek and laid out the town around 1842. During this time, Alley laid out streets adjacent to Urquhart’s area. It was known as Alley’s Addition. Instead of arranging the streets around a central square, Urquhart laid out the town’s streets at right angles to Big Cypress Creek. Alley’s streets were laid out North/South and East/West. The result is the town’s V-shaped layout. Jefferson became an important river port and the first steamboat, the Llama, reached Jefferson in 1843. The town was incorporated in March 20, 1848. In 1846 Jefferson became the county seat of Cass County (separated from Bowie County) until Linden became the county seat in 1852. The first newspaper, the Jefferson Democrat, was printed in 1847. The second newspaper, the Jimplecute, began in 1848. In the late 1840s, Jefferson was Texas leading inland port and Northeast Texas leading commercial and distribution center. In 1860, Jefferson became county seat of the newly established Marion County. Almost the entire business section was destroyed by a fire in 1866. The business section was rebuilt in the following few years. In 1867 Jefferson became the first town in Texas to use natural gas for artificial lighting purposes. In 1868, ice was first manufactured on a commercial scale in Jefferson. In 1870, Jefferson was the sixth largest city in Texas with a population of 4,180. Jefferson was reported to have a population of 7,297 in 1872. Around 1841, there was a log jam more than 100 miles long on the Red River north of Natchitoches, Louisiana. This log jam was known as the Great Red River Raft and the Indians said that it had always existed. The Red River Raft (or Great Raft) acted as a dam on the river and raised the level of Caddo Lake and the Red River several feet. This rise of Caddo Lake and the corresponding rise in the Big Cypress Bayou at Jefferson permitted commercial riverboat travel to Jefferson from ports such as St. Louis and New Orleans via the Mississippi and Red Rivers. Many attempts to remove the raft and permit the normal flow of the Red River were unsuccessful. With the discovery of nitroglycerin, the Army Corps of Engineers was able to use nitroglycerin in 1873 and finally clear the raft from the Red River. This lowered the level of Caddo Lake and Big Cypress, which inhibited riverboat traffic to Jefferson. This contributed to the decline of Jefferson as a commercial site. Also in 1873, Jefferson’s importance was decreased with the completion of the Texas and Pacific Railway from Texarkana to Marshall, which bypassed Jefferson. Later, in 1874, another line or the Texas and Pacific Railway reached Jefferson. By 1885, the population of Jefferson fell to 3,500. This decrease was due to the increase of railroad commerce and the decrease of river commerce. One of the most famous murder trials in Texas occurred in Jefferson in the late 1870s. It was the murder trial of Diamond Bessie Moore. Moore, who worked as a prostitute for a time, arrived in Jefferson with Abraham Rothschild in January 1877. She was found murdered in the woods by a single gunshot to the head a few days later. Rothschild was charged with the crime and found guilty. The evidence against Rothschild was solid, but his conviction was reversed on appeal, and he was acquitted in a second trial in 1880. In the late 1930s, the economy improved with the discovery of oil in the county. Currently, Jefferson is known for its places of historic interest, including numerous mid-nineteenth-century homes, churches, and other structures. In 1971 a roughly forty-seven-block area containing fifty-six historic structures was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, some ten other buildings have been accorded National Register status, including the antebellum Excelsior Hotel and Planters Bank and Warehouse. Every year Jefferson sponsors a three-day spring historic pilgrimage to view these sites. Since 1955 the festivities have also included a reenactment of the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial.
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