Adapt to Change
Jefferson, TX is a small east Texas town. I learned an important lesson about adapting to change as I took a guided tour of the city.
Jefferson is the fifth oldest city in the state of Texas. It is located on the Big Cypress Bayou which eventually empties into the Mississippi River. In the 1800’s the city was a strategic site for steamboat travel and was one of the larger towns (population about 30,000) in the state.
In the early 1870’s, railroad tycoon, Jay Gould, approached the leaders of Jefferson with the idea of bringing his railroad through the city. The problem was that the city fathers had invested heavily in the steamboat industry, and they thought the railroad would hurt their business. Therefore, they denied Gould’s request. Local folklore says that Gould stormed back to his room in the old Excelsior Hotel, threw a temper tantrum and proclaimed, “One day grass will grow in your streets and bats will roost in your belfries.” He wrote in the hotel registry, “The end of Jefferson.” [Disclaimer: some historical facts do not match local folklore. For example, one expert on Jay Gould says the signature in the registry is not authentic, and the registry is dated 1882.]
In 1873, the Army Corp of Engineers blew up what was known as the Great Raft (a log jam approximately seventy-five miles long that was located on the river just below Shreveport). With the log jam gone, the water level in the Big Cypress Bayou dropped to a point that made steamboat travel through Jefferson extremely difficult, if not impossible. The city began to decline.
One might wonder what happened to Gould’s railroad. Instead of going through Jefferson, Gould chose a small town about 200 miles to the west. The town’s name was Dallas!
What might have been? History cannot answer that question. But the story teaches some important lessons. When we refuse to embrace transition we may look back and ask sadly, “What might have been?” When we blindly reject new solutions in favor of outdated methodologies we may have to ask later, “What might have been?” How many opportunities do we miss each day because of flawed human wisdom, selfish personal interests, or insensitivity?
What might have been? Our guide in Jefferson suggested one possible scenario. If the city fathers had received Gould’s railroad in the early 1870’s, today we all might be excited about the World Champion Jefferson Cowboys!