Stephen F. Austin State University

The Jefferson Road (April 2013)

The Jefferson Road
By Jeff Campbell

Before there was an Interstate 30 and before the railroads came to Texas there was an overland route from Jefferson to the Dallas- Fort Worth Metroplex. These were days when Jefferson, Texas was as much of an economic hub as today's large Texas cities; Houston, Dallas and Austin.

From about 1843 to 1873 Jefferson was a Steamboat trading partner with New Orleans. Steamboats from New Orleans came up the Mississippi River, veered off on to the Red River, passed through Caddo Lake and then finally arrived at their Jefferson destination on Big Cypress Bayou.

Jefferson was a distribution hub for Texas. Products were coming to Jefferson to be sent by Steamboat to New Orleans and goods coming from New Orleans were being distributed across Texas. The overland route that these products were moved on was the Jefferson Road.

The route of the Jefferson Road started in Jefferson, and then proceeded west to Dangerfield, through Mt Pleasant & Mt. Vernon, then arriving in Bright Star. At Bright Star the road forked with the northern route passing through Bonham and Sherman and the southern route passing through Greenville and Denton.

The Steamboats that arrived in Jefferson brought sugar, coffee, salt, clothing, shoes & boots, tobacco, whiskey, medicine, and farm implements. These were dispersed by wagons across East Texas on the Jefferson Road, with the Dallas-Fort Worth area as their final destination.

The Jefferson Road was used as a cattle trail, while wagons brought wheat, corn, and cotton to the ports of Jefferson. These goods & products were loaded on to the Steamships, heading south to New Orleans.

There are many factors that led to the demise of the Jefferson Road. The removal of the Great Raft (log jam) on the Red River lowered water levels in Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou, making the route impassable for Steamships. The Texas and Pacific Railway connected New Orleans to Dallas-Fort Worth, bypassing Jefferson and instead traveling through Marshall, 15 miles to the south.

Today's "Jefferson Road" is the Interstates 20 and 30. Still today though the curious traveler can get off the beaten path and find remnants of this historic thoroughfare, the Jefferson Road.