Civil War Living History - Civil War Reenactment in Jefferson, Texas
While Sherri was surfing around the Internet, she discovered that Civil War Living History, a Civil War reenactment, would be taking place in Jefferson, Texas in May. Never one to pass up the opportunity to watch a battle, I immediately agreed to go and we headed off to East Texas for an overnight trip.
About Jefferson, Texas
In the 1800s Jefferson was a thriving port town on the Big Cypress Bayou, and was described as the Riverport to the Southwest. In 1873, the US Army Corps of Engineers made changes in the Mississippi River that lowered water levels in the bayou to the point where reduced shipping to the town was possible. That, coupled with the expansion of the railroads in East Texas, ended Jeffersons reign as a major shipping community. The city went into a great decline, but more recent years have seen a resurgence as a bed and breakfast community with tourist appeal for families, antique hunters and people just wanting to get away from a big city atmosphere. As the Marion County Chamber of Commerce describes it:
Today, Jefferson is a quaint small town featuring tour attractions reminiscent of its heyday. Its streets are lined with antique and gift shops stocked with unique treasures. Horse-drawn carriages and trolleys tour along the original brick streets. Just one block away from downtown are riverboat tours of Big Cypress Bayou, the same waterway once traveled by stern-wheelers. Evenings in town offer live theater productions, as well as a variety of dining choices. Retiring for the night in Jefferson offers the opportunity to experience any of the over 60 Bed and Breakfast establishments, including the Excelsior Hotel.
Jefferson does a terrific job of appealing to tourists with local lakes, tours and other fun activities, and a long list of fun events scheduled throughout the year.
The event that appealed to us, of course, was Civil War Living History, a three day celebration of the blue and gray (mostly gray, this IS Texas) and featuring a Civil War reenactment called the Battle of Port Jefferson. According to the folks I talked with, this event has gone on for more than ten years, and based on the crowd I saw, I imagine theyll be doing it for many more years to come.
Visit the website for Jefferson, Texas to learn more about the family vacation opportunities in this community.
About Civil War Living History
Jeffersons Civil War Living History is different than other events Ive attended, like Liendo and McKinney. Jefferson doesnt consolidate all the activities in one place; instead, there are various events in different places in town and the reenactment is held a few miles outside of town. For an outsider, this got to be pretty confusing. You can see the schedule for Saturday's events below to get a sense of what I'm talking about.
|Sutlers Open||Downtown Jefferson|
|8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.||Registration of Reenactors, Civilians & Horses||Chamber of Commerce 101 N. Polk|
|8:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.||Reenactors’ Shuttles are available||Town to Battlefield|
|9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.||Parade line-up||Lions Park, Jefferson|
|10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.||Parade / Town Skirmish||Jefferson|
|11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.||Pilgrimage: Tour of Homes||Jefferson / Excelsior|
|4:00 p.m.||Battle||Tuscumbia Ranch|
|5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.||Encampments Open to Public||Battlefield & Downtown Jefferson<|
|6:00 p.m.||Reenactor / Civilian Dinner||Battlefield|
|8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.||Southern Heritage Grand Ball
Period Attire Required - 1850 Historical
|CVA Building, Jefferson|
|8:00 p.m.||Pilgrimage: Diamond Bessie Murder Trial||Jefferson / Excelsior|
This was much more confusing to us than was an event like Liendo, where you pay an admission fee, enter one location and the events are all listed out and scheduled within that one spot.
Further, outside of a few sutler tents on the edge of town and one stand selling sodas at the reenactment site, there wasnt a concession area or ongoing displays that I saw. I was hoping to find people selling hot dogs or burgers or whatever at the reenactment, but there was nothing. I finally saw someone with some t-shirts, but a few decent souvenir stands at the reenactment site probably would have been pretty popular as well. I think Jefferson is missing the boat on this one youd think they could make some more money from the event by selling space to dealers who sell things at these types of activities, like they do in Liendo. Doing this would also consolidate the events into one spot, where a family could go and spend the day doing and watching a bunch of things.
The flip side of that is youll find yourself wandering around the town more at Jefferson than you would at Liendo, which may be their intention in the first place. And thats fine too Jefferson is a really nice community for window-shopping and walking about. I am not someone who particularly likes the bed and breakfast scene, but I can see why people would enjoy a weekend in Jefferson to just relax. Ill talk about a few of the places we discovered in Jefferson further along in this trip report to give you some ideas about what we found.
Back to the event. As I said, you dont have a single spot to go and enjoy a series of presentations, displays, etc. so you need to get there early and get the schedule to find out what is going on. They have things like a Saturday night dance, Sunday morning church service, raising the flag, a reenactment of the Diamond Bessie murder trial and a tour of homes I was a bit disappointed that there didn't seem to be as many different activities to experience in Jefferson as there was at Liendo or even McKinney.
BUT . . . the big event, the Battle of Port Jefferson, made up for the lack of focused activities elsewhere. It was terrific!
First the way the battlefield is set up, spectators are very close to the action, much closer than at Liendo or McKinney. At times I literally had to cover my lens to protect it from the dirt thrown up by horses that were galloping past me thats how close we were. I really felt like we were part of the battle.
Second standing ovation for the pyrotechnics! When the first cannon shot exploded and set off every car alarm in the parking lot, I knew it was going to be good. They did an awesome job of setting up charges to simulate the landing and detonation of cannon shells and they had LOTS of them. The ground shook with the explosions, they were so powerful. The only downside was that they kicked up a lot of dirt into the air, which made it tough to keep your lens protected. That was a small sacrifice though; the explosions and the close proximity to the battle were fantastic.
They had a great turnout from the reenactors as well. I think there were more participants at Liendo, but Jefferson still had a large number of soldiers and cannon on each side. Now that weve been to three of these reenactments, were starting to recognize some of the soldiers, even though they keep switching uniforms. The wife of one reenactor was explaining that her husband would suit up as both a Union and a Confederate well, I think thats what she meant when she quipped, he swings both ways. Hope so!
Third The crowd was not as packed in as at Liendo or McKinney. People stretched out the length of the battlefield, so everyone was able to sit close to the action.
Fourth Like at Liendo and McKinney, everyone at Jefferson was extremely friendly and fun to talk to. Its just nice to go chat with decent, regular people. Props to the people of Jefferson for hosting the event as they do.
We watched the Battle of Port Jefferson both days. It lasted for a good hour each time and the battles were well worth the trip. Parking was easy (and free) and admission was cheap. All in all it was a terrific weekend, and well be back next year!
Family Travel Tips at Jefferson, Texas
#1 - Never go to any reenactment without bringing chairs or a blanket to sit on. We failed to do this and ended up with butts full of stickers because we sat on the ground. Bring chairs, bring a blanket, bring sunscreen and an umbrella and at Jefferson, bring your own food. Or go to one of the restaurants Ill discuss below before the battle these places were excellent.
#2 - Attend the reenactment battle each day and not just once. They dont do it the same way twice!
#3 Be sure to talk with the reenactors before and after the battle. These people spend a lot of time and money putting together the uniforms, traveling to reenactments, etc. Theyre passionate about what they do and they enjoy talking about it. Just be sure to use the word uniform and not costume they consider what they do as recreating history and they definitely dont like the word costume.
#4 - Visit the Jefferson General Store. You will find many places to shop in Jefferson, but one place you have to visit is the General Store at 113 E. Austin Street. The place is jammed to the rafters with toys, gifts, collectibles, foods and candies and everything else you can imagine. The store harkens back to the nostalgic old general store of the 1800s. You'll find a working soda fountain and a wide assortment of retro items . . . imagine finding toys like paddle balls, bird whistles, sock monkeys - even old fashioned whoopee cushions and a rubber chicken. If you are in the 40+ age group, you will find yourself saying "I remember THAT toy" or "I used to play with those!" over and over as you walk through the jammed aisles. Same with the candy - you will find cherry sours, lollipops, jaw breakers, candy necklaces, pixie sticks, even those politically incorrect candy cigarettes . . . candies that you haven't seen in 30 years.
The merchandise is heavy in Texas collectibles and a big selection of jams, jellies and barbecue sauces and seasonings. There are tons of T-shirts and hats, books, signs, and more. You can easily spend an hour or two just looking at all the different types of gifts and foods they have on sale.
Restaurants in Jefferson, Texas
Joseph's Riverport Barbecue - 201 N. Polk St., Jefferson, TX 75657, 903-665-2341
When we go to another town we always try to find local restaurants - I can eat at Chiles or Olive Garden at home, so there is no reason for me to go to those places when I'm on vacation in another city. I want to find a local restaurant to enjoy something different. In spite of that, I'm not particularly adventurous when it comes to dining out or trying different foods, so when I have a chance to try out a local place that has something I trust, like barbecue, I'm all for it.
And so we went to Joseph's Riverport Barbecue in the heart of downtown Jefferson. Riverport BBQ looks like your typical barbecue place with wood tables and a rustic decor. You'll find a heavy emphasis of railroad signs and pictures decorating the place, so train buffs will have yet another reason to enjoy their visit.
I was pretty hungry after the reenactment so I ordered the two meat platter, opting for brisket and sausage. Sherri was pretty hungry herself so she went for the chopped beef sandwich. Riverport not only has the full range of barbecue meats - they also sell catfish and burgers.
The food came out quickly and we were very happy with our orders. The brisket was terrific - very tender and not chewy at all - and the sausage was extremely good. Sherri loved her sandwich; I had a bite of it myself and I thought it had an excellent flavor. The prices were in the $6 - $12 range for most items, which was comparable to what we typically spend for comparable meals in Dallas / Fort Worth. However, the portions at the Riverport were more generous than what you normally get in DFW, so we thought the meals offered excellent value as well as quality. The employees were very nice as well - we chatted with the owner for awhile, who gave us a verbal history of Jefferson while we dined.
We've got some great barbecue places in Dallas / Fort Worth so I have pretty high expectations when I go some place for brisket. Joseph's Riverport Barbecue met and exceeded those expectations. If this place was close to my house, I guarantee we'd be going there regularly.
Kitts Kitt's Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar- 125 N. Polk St., Jefferson, TX 75657, 903-665-0505 - Monday - Friday, 11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.; closed Wednesdays - Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon - 3:00 p.m.
Once we saw the words "Kornbread Sandwich" on the sign for Kitt's, we knew we had to try this restaurant. I've eaten at countless places from coast to coast, and I have never seen cornbread sandwiches on a menu.
On Saturday when we stopped by, Kitt's was closed - take that as a tip, to pay attention to their hours of operation and get there well before the scheduled closing time. It worked out find because we ended up going to Riverport BBQ that day and returning to Kitt's on Sunday.
The interior of Kitt's has a comfortable diner feel, although there are some nicer, more upscale touches to the decor. We were waited on by a lovely young lady who took great care of us as well. I ordered the combo of the turkey and ham sandwich and the Texas chile. Sherri ordered the chicken and dumplings. (Check out their website to see their full menu.)
Man, the sandwich was terrific. Normal cornbread tends to be somewhat crumbly and has a sweet flavor, which wouldn't be suited to sandwiches. Kitt's cornbread has replaced the sweetness with a buttery flavor and a less crumbly texture, and it makes for fantastic sandwiches. The Chile was excellent as well. Sherri thought the chicken and dumplings were great, with a real home made flavor.
Along with the sandwiches, Kitt's has an excellent assortment of pies for dessert. The selection of pies includes buttermilk, coconut buttermilk, very berry, apple, pecan, chocolate pecan, key lime, cherry, lemon layer meringue, chocolate meringue, double chocolate cream, banana cream, new york cheesecake, turtle cheesecake and sugar free cherry berry. I went for the sugar free cherry berry; Sherri opted for lemon layer meringue. The pies were as good as the sandwiches - even the sugar free pie was terrific.
You can figure on spending $8 - $15 for your meal at Kitt's. The servings aren't huge so don't go when you're famished, or just order a second sandwich to take with you.
If you go to Jefferson, Kitt's Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar is an absolute must-visit restaurant. This is one place that serves a truly unique menu, and one that you will find unforgettable.
Baymont Inn #18093 - Longview, TX - 903/757-3663 - Jefferson is very much a bed and breakfast community, but we found there were few hotel rooms available in the immediate area. We decided to save some money and get a hotel room about 25 miles away at the Baymont Inn in Longview.
I'm going to make this write-up very short. Our first impression of the room was that it was extremely spacious and nice. As we settled in, however, we noticed that there appeared to be vomit smeared on one wall and the toilet did not flush very well. Then, that evening we had a mob of 20-something kids partying in our parking lot. We called the front desk at around 11:00 p.m. and were told they would take care of it - the girl at the front desk knew what I was talking about halfway into my comment, so it was clear the hotel knew there was a situation. The problems continued on and off for several hours - finally at 4 a.m. I called to complain again and things seemed to clear out around 4:30.
I don't hold the hotel responsible for what guests and visitors do there, but I do expect the hotel to resolve problems once they've been notified. This went on for five HOURS. We were completely dissatisfied by the hotel's response. We filled out customer surveys and received a very tepid, mediocre psuedo-apology that was obviously a form letter . . . it was even addressed to someone named Sue Heidenreich, who apparently was ANOTHER unhappy guest.
The hotel was a disaster, and based on this experience I will probably not stay at another Baymont Inn. In the past, we had several nights' worth of points built up with their rewards program but after the hotel chain went through a series of ownership changes those points seemed to have disappeared, so I have a bone to pick with them anyway. Then we gave them another chance and they responded with a nasty room and chaos in the parking lot all night long.
Just my opinion, but my recommendation is to avoid Baymont Inns.
Dallas Texas / Fort Worth Texas Travel Photographs
NEW APRIL 19, 2014! Medieval Times in Dallas Texas - For years I've talked about shooting pictures of the bluebonnets and wildflowers and for years I never got around to it. This year I was able to carve out a little time, although not nearly enough. After visiting Scarborough Renaissance Festival, we cut over to Ennis and spent a little time on its renowned driving routes through the countryside around that town to see the bluebonnets. There were several spots that were packed with bluebonnets, paintbrushes and other wild flowers. The weather was pretty good for shooting and I came back with a few good pictures. Later this year or next season, I'm going to dedicate a full day to these trails.
PHOTOS ADDED APRIL 19, 2014! Scarborough Renaissance Festival - Waxahachie Texas - One of the biggest festivals in the Dallas / Fort Worth area is Scarborough, a renaissance festival in the town of Waxahachie, Texas. Ryan and I went to check out the knights, royal courts, jesters - even a troll and a lute-playing fairy. You'll enjoy the shots of the knights jousting and sword fighting in particular - those turned out well. In April 2014 I spent a lot of time at the birds of prey show and got some nice shots there. This is a compilation of several visits to Scarborough Renaissance Festival.
Medieval Times in Dallas Texas - In 2009 we went to Medieval Times Dinner Theater in Dallas, Texas. Our seats' view was obstructed by a safety net for part of the show, but I was able to get some neat shots anyway. Then, in 2013 several friends wanted to check out Medieval Times and so I returned there with them, Q and my brother. I used the lessons learned from the last time - that is, don't sit in a section behind a net - and a camera with a higher ISO and the results were vastly improved photos. This is a tricky photo setting; I literally used daylight, tungsten, florescent, shady and cloudy light settings when editing to get the colors right - and the photos were all taken from the same spot!
Alliance Airshow in Fort Worth Texas - In October, 2009 we took the boys to the Alliance Airshow in Fort Worth, Texas. Pretty much like any other airshow you've gone to, with the Blue Angels as the headliners. We saw demonstrations by the A-10 tank buster and the F16 fighter as well as various stunt pilots. The Blue Angels' C-130 did a demonstration before the jets wowed the crowd. The weather was mostly cloudy, unfortunately, but we still got some good shots.
Carswell Airshow in Fort Worth Texas - The Alliance Airshow in Fort Worth, Texas is pretty much like any other airshow you've gone to, with the Blue Angels as the headliners. We didn't have as good choice for seats, but we still managed to enjoy the aerial acrobatics and the static displays.
Louisiana Air Museum - OK, this isn't Texas but it was still a day trip. They had some cool aircraft on display including the Vulcan bomber and the B-52, well worth photographing.
Carrollton Indian Festival in Carrollton Texas - I don't know a great deal about this event but it did provide a fun opportunity to shoot pictures of some truly dazzling American Indian attire and dancing.
Chihuly Exhibit July 2012 in Texas - The Chihuly glass exhibit is spectacular. It was set up at the Dallas Arboretum and this was an awesome shooting opportunity. You gotta see these photos - what a beautiful display.
Spring Blooms at Dallas Arboretum in Texas - I love the Dallas Arboretum. These shots capture Spring Blooms at the arboretum.
Autumn Scenes at Dallas Arboretum in Texas - These shots capture the Fall pumpkin and flower display at the arboretum. I've never seen so many pumpkins in one place before!
Chinese Lantern Festival 2013 in Dallas, Texas - I missed the Chinese Lantern Festival in 2012 because traffic around Fair Park was so bad. In 2013 I got smart and took DART rail to get there. This display is incredible! You'll need a tripod and a remote shutter release to photograph this event, but if you have those with you, this is like shooting sitting ducks . . . or in this case, dragons.
Texas Civil War Museum - Fort Worth Texas - I have driven past this facility literally hundreds of times - it is within 10 miles of our house. Every time I see it, I would think, "I need to check that place out - is it open?" Well, I finally broke down and went for a visit on February 27, 2010. Yes, it is open. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was inside too! Check out the photos from the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.
Rattlesnake Roundup - Sweetwater Texas - This event has been going strong since 1958, so it deserves coverage in our Texas day trip section. I went to the 52nd annual Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas in March, 2010 and shot plenty of pictures, which you can view here.
Josh Groban Concert at the American Airlines Center in Dallas Texas - We attended Josh Groban's concert at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. What a terrific show! I got terrific seats for us at floor level so I was able to get some really nice shots.
Palo Duro Canyon in Amarillo Texas, December 28, 2012 - We decided to slip away from DFW for a couple days and visit the Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo. This is the second largest canyon in the US and it was terrific, even if it was pretty old. Check out these pictures.
Plano Balloon Festival September 2012 - The Plano Balloon Festival is a north Texas tradition. I went on the last day in 2012 and got these shots.
Mesquite Rodeo - Rodeos and Texas . . . they go together like government spending and Washington DC. The Mesquite Rodeo is one of the best in north Texas. Tough shooting situation because of the low lighting and fast action, but I was able to capture some of the action.
Fort Worth Stockyards Rodeo - I've been amazed at how people from Europe are so fascinated with rodeos. We had to friends from Poland come to visit and this is the one thing they asked to see. So, we took them to the grand daddy of them all, the Fort Worth Stockyards Rodeo. Cowtown put on a great show for them, and I was able to get some good shots for them to take home as souvenirs.
Billy Bobs in Fort Worth, Texas - You must have heard of Billy Bobs. Several TV shows have been done there as well as many live albums. Any country singer since 1981 you can think of has performed there at one time or another. It's the self-proclaimed world's largest honky-tonk, situated in the Fort Worth Stockyards. We went to see singer Chris Cagel in 2013 - my friend Leah is a Cagel-head going back to his first album and she wanted us to see him in concert. This was a fun place to two-step and enjoy a concert. Tough for photography though, as is the case with any concert. Leah shot the concert pictures you'll see here and she did a great job.
Star Wars Exhibit in Fort Worth, Texas - One of the museums in Fort Worth displayed a large Star Wars exhibit and we got a chance to go. They had costumes of all the characters and some awesome models of the various ships. I should have taken a tripod though - my pictures would have been better. I got some decent shots though, worth posting here.
Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas - Dinosaur Valley State Park contains some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. The dinosaur tracks are located in the Paluxy riverbed. There are two fiberglass models, a 70-foot Apatosaurus and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex. There isn't a lot to this park in terms of photography, but the kids love the big dinosaurs and you can swim in the river to cool off.
Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas - One of America's most historic places, Dealey Plaza is the place where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The Sixth Floor Museum is a place every American should visit at least once; it's an outstanding museum. Unfortunately you can't take pictures in there. I did shoot some pictures of Dealey Plaza, the grassy knoll, the school book depository and the road where JFK was shot (there are X marks on the road where the shots hit Kennedy) and those are posted here.
San Antonio, Texas - I have been to San Antonio several times. For some reason I have been unable to find most of my photos from there, but I did shoot some in October 2013 while my wife and I were there. I have posted those shots here. You'll enjoy the pix of Dinosaur Quest - imagine life-size dinosaur skeletons and dinosaur models, illuminated with black lights . . . and connected with the fairways of a miniature golf course.
Tuba Christmas - Fort Worth, Texas - Nothing says Christmas like a pedal C. Every year, tuba and euphonium players gather in cities around the country to play Christmas music for delighted - and frankly, astonished - listeners. I once heard someone say they expected a bunch of tubas to sound like buffalos burping at a salt lick; in fact, a tuba-euphonium ensemble sounds great on Christmas carols, and the whole spectacle is fun and free to the public. My son and I are both former euphonium players, so we sat in with the Tuba Christmas 2010 performance in Fort Worth. These are fun pictures to check out..