North of I-20 some 20 miles west of the Louisiana state line, Marshall (pop. 23,561) is one of the older towns in Texas, and was once among its wealthiest. Now a fairly quiet place, in its early years Marshall was the commercial capital of the East Texas cotton country. During the Civil War, two local residences served as the Confederate capital—of Missouri. This anomaly, along with general regional history, is chronicled in the Harrison County Historical Museum (903/935-8417, Tues.-Sat., $6), housed in the supremely ornate yellow Old Harrison County Courthouse on Peter Whetstone Square.
If you have the time and inclination to get a more palpable sense of the varied culture and history of East Texas, take US-59 for 17 miles or so north of Marshall to Jefferson (pop. 2,043), an almost perfectly preserved bayou town that looks much as it did during the 1870s when, with a population of nearly 7,300, it was the busiest inland port west of the Mississippi. Among the most prominent of the hundreds of historic structures here is the 1858 Excelsior House (211 W. Austin St., 903/665-2513, $120 and up), a favorite stopover for President Ulysses S. Grant and later First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. Across the street, if there are guides available, you can tour Jay Gould’s private railroad car, the Atalanta, or simply wander the charming old town, exploring the many good antiques shops, cafés, and restaurants.