Excelsior House Hotel

Ruth Lester Memorial House

The Ruth Lester Memorial, built in 1860 as a private residence, was sold in 1869 to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church as a convent, hospital, and St. Mary’s Private School, and subsequently as home to the rabbi of the Hebrew Sinai Congregation. 

Father Jean Marie Giraud had arrived in Jefferson in 1867. After receiving $6,000 from his diocese in France, he purchased the residence. He established the private school for his  parishioners when six nuns from St. Louis, Missouri, agreed to Ruth-Lester-House-Exteriorstaff the school and the hospital. The sisters traveled down the Mississippi River into the Red River to Shreveport, Louisiana where they caught a train to Marshall, Texas. After hopping on an awaiting stagecoach, they arrived in Jefferson five long days after beginning their journey in Missouri.

The convent was not quite ready for occupancy, so the sisters spent two nights at the Excelsior House Hotel, which had been established in 1858. St. Mary’s opened three days later, and the sisters operated the school from that day in 1869 until 1875.

In 1875, the residence was sold to The Hebrew Sinai congregation, as the home for Rabbi Aaron Suhler. Rabbi Suhler and his congregation built an adjoining synagogue on the property in 1876, which served the Jewish Community in Jefferson until the early 1950’s. As the community dwindled and moved away, the synagogue was eventually deconsecrated to be rented for secular purposes.

On April 22-23, 1955, the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club, founded in 1939, held the first performances of the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial in the former synagogue. The garden club purchased the property and both structures in 1966. Renovations began in 1970, and the home was dedicated as the Ruth Lester Memorial in memory of Ruth Graham Lester, a long-time member of the garden club and an energetic promoter of Jefferson.  The synagogue is now known as the Jefferson Playhouse.