Day Trips

Marshall, in the northeast corner of the state, has one of the most colorful histories of any Texas city

Marshall Pottery
Marshall Pottery (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Marshall, in the northeast corner of the state, has one of the most colorful histories of any Texas city. More ideologically tied to the Deep South than the American West, the county seat of Harrison County still exudes a Southern charm.

The Congress of the Republic of Texas established the town in 1840 as an entry point from Shreveport, La. Many of the early leaders came from or settled on the fertile lands around Marshall.

By the beginning of the Civil War, Marshall was Texas' largest and wealthiest city. Not only was it an industrial center, but it also became the seat of civil authority for the Confederacy west of the Mississippi River after communications were severed with the capital in Richmond, Va. It was also the wartime capital of the state of Missouri.

After the war the Union Army made the city their base for operations in the western districts. Former slaves of the area's plantations swarmed into Marshall seeking government protection. Guided by moral and religious convictions, several religious organizations followed the troops and established aid societies for the freedmen.

It was recently announced that director and Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington was in Texas scouting locations for his next movie, about the 1935 debate team from Wiley College in Marshall. Founded in 1873 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Wiley College is often called the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi River. (Paul Quinn College, established in Austin in 1872 but relocated to Waco and then Dallas, also competes for the title.)

Herman M. Sweatt, a graduate of Wiley, sued the state in 1947 for admission into the UT Law School. The suit eventually led to the establishment of Texas Southern University in Houston and the integration of the law school in Austin. During the 1960s, students from Wiley College were leaders in Texas in nonviolent protest against segregation. A sit-in at a local Woolworth's lunch counter received national headlines.

A good place to begin a visit to Marshall is the Old Harrison County Courthouse in the center of town, which is now a history museum. The ornate courthouse, which is the centerpiece of the town's Christmas lights display from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, is worth a visit even without the historical artifacts.

The original town site for the county seat was a mile square around the courthouse. The center of town boasts one of the largest collections of pre-Civil War and turn-of-the-century homes. The state parks department maintains the 150-year-old Starr Family Home State Historic Site at 407 W. Travis. To immerse yourself in the Victorian era, stay in the Rosemont Cottage Bed and Breakfast on the historic-site grounds. To make reservations, call Parks & Wildlife's central reservation number at 389-8900 or e-mail them at customer.service@tpwd.state.tx.us.

No visit to Marshall would be complete without visiting Marshall Pottery and Museum at 4901 Elysian Fields Rd. One of the largest manufacturers of glazed pottery in the U.S., the factory has been turning out pots since 1896. Not only does the museum exhibit the history and processes of making pottery, but the gift shop offers aisle after aisle of gift-giving delights.

While you're in the area, don't miss the opportunity to visit the town of Jefferson, 16 miles north of Marshall. Once Texas' largest port of entry, the village maintains a strong resemblance to its historic past. You can stay in the Excelsior House, where luminaries from Ulysses S. Grant to Lady Bird Johnson have slept, or take trolley, mule-driven wagon, or riverboat tours.

One sight not to be missed is Caddo Lake State Park. Texas' only natural lake is a treasure chest of exotic vegetation and meandering sloughs outside the door of cabins built during the 1930s. The first state park project of the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, the park will host a reunion of CCC veterans on Sept. 24-25.

Filled with thick stands of pine trees and rolling hills, the area around Marshall is an interesting and scenic region to visit, especially in the fall when the foliage begins its colorful changes. For more information on the area, contact the Marshall Chamber of Commerce at 903/935-7868 or at www.marshall-chamber.com.

693rd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Marshall, Wiley College, Herman M. Sweatt, Marshall Pottery and Museum, Excelsior House, Civil Conservation Corps

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