Located in the piney woods and hardwood forests of Northeast Texas, Jefferson was incorporated by the Texas Legislature in 1848, thus making it one of the oldest cities in Texas. First settled many years before on the banks of Big Cypress Bayou, its location made it desirable as a river port, taking advantage of the high waters caused by the presence of a large natural rift in the Red River.
At one time, Jefferson was the largest inland port in Texas. Freight and passengers traversed Big Cypress, then eventually south to New Orleans via the Mississippi River. Goods and materials from the western parts of Texas were shipped to Jefferson by wagon for the voyage south, and the return trip brought supplies to settlers who had begun to occupy the Texas plains. Although Jefferson was a prosperous city, its leaders realized early on that railroads were a method of transportation that would eventually connect all parts of the state and eventually the young nation.
The Texas and Pacific Railroad arrived in Jefferson in 1873. This line was acquired by Jay Gould in 1881. Gould had previously acquired the Union Pacific, along with many other lines. Jefferson was no stranger to railroads, however, having made plans as early as 1854 to connect a Jefferson railroad with the Vicksburg and El Paso or with the Missouri and Pacific. Plans for $300,000 in bonds were authorized by commissioners for building the International Railroad, $200,000 for the East Line and Red River Railroad, and $125,000 for the Texas and Pacific. In addition, right of way was donated to the T&P and Missouri & Pacific.
As a tribute to its history and love of trains, Jefferson celebrated its first Jefferson Train Days in 2012. A proclamation recognizing that history was presented by the mayor, a tour of Jay Gould's private rail car, The Atalanta, was conducted, rides on an authentic steam engine train were planned, and the unveiling of the R.D. Moses T&P Model Railroad Layout was held. This nationally renowned exhibit was acquired by the Jefferson Historical Society and Museum and is housed in a replica T&P Railroad depot building constructed solely for that purpose. That construction was made possible by the donation of monies and materials by area citizens. Jefferson intends to celebrate its train connection yearly. Union Pacific trains roll through Jefferson many times daily, and they, along the Union Pacific employees who live here, are a constant reminder of Jefferson's history and its love of trains.