Other Views from 1872

Where is Jefferson?

Above: Herman Brosius (active 1870s). Bird’s Eye View of Jefferson, Texas, 1872. Lithograph (hand-colored), 20 x 27.5 in. Lithographer unknown. Marion County Historical Society, Jefferson.

Jefferson in 1872

As the bird’s-eye-view phenomenon coursed through the country, three additional artists arrived in Texas in the 1870s and produced views of more than a dozen different cities. Herman Brosius, the first bird’s-eye-view artist to follow Drie into the state, probably arrived in Jefferson in the spring of 1872 by steamboat from nearby Shreveport, Louisiana, where he had done a bird’s-eye view of that city. Jefferson was then one of the largest mercantile cities in the state and the second largest port; Brosius produced a bird’s-eye view of Jefferson before moving on to Dallas, Waco, and Victoria.

The Jefferson that Brosius depicted was at its height in population and commerce, second only to Galveston as the leading port city in the state.[1] The great raft on the Red River, a natural dam made up of logs, roots, moss, silt, and growths of weeds and vines, caused water to back up in its tributaries, creating swamps and a series of lakes on the lower, western side of the river. It also deepened Caddo Lake between Jefferson and Shreveport, raising the water level in Big Cypress Bayou and making steamboat navigation to Jefferson possible. When Allen Urquhart laid out the original town site around 1842, he placed the streets at right angles to the bayou, rather than around a central square. At about the same time, Daniel Alley obtained an adjacent 586-acre parcel and laid his streets out according to the points of the compass. The intersection of the two plans gives the city its V-shaped layout, which Brosius illustrated from the east-southeast.

The print was made a year before the railroad arrived, and the busy bayou is its focus. The Lota No. 3 is among three boats that are docked in the bayou, with the Charles H. Durfee steaming away and the Maria Louise churning up the water as it arrives. Across the bayou from the docked boats is the dredge boat Lone Star, which the city had purchased in 1871 to deepen the channel and clear stumps. [2] Brosius incorporated several aspects of landscape into the view as well, with the wooded area a few stumps and cut trees in evidence in the foreground, but he suffered the same shortcoming as Drie in that his view is more of an axonometric than an isometric projection.

For several decades, Jefferson served northeast Texas as the primary shipping point for cotton, but as the railroads from both north and south connected to neighboring cities such as Dallas and Marshall, the number of cotton bales shipped by water from Jefferson precipitously declined. Then, in 1873, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared the raft from the Red River, and the water level of Cypress Bayou dropped to the point that steamboats could no longer reach the city on a regular basis. Brosius had documented the city’s high point.