Lee Jamison

Preserved by Neglect_ Jefferson_ TX - Lee  Jamison

Preserved by Neglect, Jefferson, TX, 2018

Painting oil on canvas  
16 x 20 in

Location: Near the corner of Market and Austin Streets, Jefferson, TX.

At opposite ends, south and north, of old East Texas are cities that are like museum displays on 1890s port centers. On the Gulf there is Galveston. At the head of navigation on Big Cypress Creek from Shreveport, La., there is Jefferson. Both were vital transportation centers in a regime dominated by sail and paddlewheel traffic. Galveston, for its part, stood alone on the Texas Coast as a cosmopolitan center and the state's largest city. Jefferson held a place of similar prominence in northeast Texas. As hubs of transportation on which all regional economic distribution was dependent each was a center to which people came for everything from employment to justice, to religious comfort. Each, likewise, dried up from a regional infestation of rail transportation.

Jefferson preserves the irony of its loss in keeping a rail car once used by Jay Gould, who had sought to build a rail line through town. The city, comfortable with its dependence on river traffic turned the magnate aside. He built elsewhere. The security of river commerce wasn't lightly held. It was so widely believed to be unassailable that expensive turning rail bridges were being built on Texas rivers as late as 1915 to facilitate steamboat traffic. To compound the issue, clearing of rafts of dead trees along the riverways of East Texas and Louisiana reduced back pressure on water flow and, though it had been intended to improve conditions for boats, lowered water levels so much ports like Jefferson could no longer operate reliably.

Looking back, we owe a century of neglect a debt of gratitude for having preserved jewels like Jefferson. Vibrant progress has paved over the architectural heritage of Texas' biggest cities. That's not a bad thing. But Jefferson remembers the fabric of an older economy, pretty much intact. And that's a good thing.

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