Jay Gould’s estate was valued at between $72 and $77 million when he died. That was really Donald-Trump-big money in 1892. It is said that Gould died friendless. He was considered a robber baron because he learned how to control the cost of the stocks he bought. He was said to be one of the main causes of the 1869 “Black Friday” market panic. Any one with his kind of market control would make money and he did, but his main business was railroads. By 1874 he was in control of the Union Pacific. He is still considered to be the 9th richest American in history.
Jay travelled in style. In 1888 he had an elegant train car built for his personal use that he named Atalanta. He named his boat Atalanta too. Atalanta was a fierce hunter and speedy runner in Greek mythology. Made mostly of wood, including curly maple and mahogany, his 88 feet-long train car was the 19th century version of a private luxury jet. It had silver bathroom fixtures. The most sumptuous stateroom was his actress-wife’s bedroom. His son used it after Gould died of tuberculosis. By 1953 it was an abandoned derelict in a field near Kilgore. A Jefferson ladies’ garden club bought it for $1,200, brought it to Jefferson the next year, and restored it. It remains there and can be toured.
Although he lived in New York, Jay Gould had a connection to Jefferson during his lifetime. According to legend, when it was larger than Dallas and an important riverboat port, he came to town and stayed at the Excelsior Hotel. Now known as Excelsior House, it’s still a Jefferson landmark and thought to be the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi. Gould, like Trump, came to town in search of a deal. At one point in the early 1880s he owned 15% of all U. S. tracks. He wanted to connect his trains to Jefferson’s port facilities. Their harbor crowded with steamboats, the town’s rich didn’t think they needed a railroad and declined the offer. Angry, Gould predicted that Jefferson would eventually have bats in it belfries and grass growing in its streets. Many decided this was a curse on their city. The travel Channel calls Jefferson the most haunted small town in Texas. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you if Gould’s predictions came true.