A boy stands next to his mother who is seated for a portrait circa 1880.

Courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Gov. Pat Neff, who established the Texas State Parks Board in 1923, wasn’t the only member of his family who played a crucial role in developing Texas’ parks system. Isabella Neff, the governor’s mom pictured above with Neff, was known for her hospitality to visitors: Chisholm Trail cowboys nicknamed her “Mother Neff” because she offered travelers food and coffee when they passed through her property. Upon her death in 1921, she gifted 6 acres of tranquil land along the Leon River southwest of Waco to the citizens of Texas to provide travelers a place for “religious, educational, fraternal, and political purposes.” Gov. Neff, who had been elected governor of Texas the previous year, and local man F.P. Smith added land to Isabella’s original 6 acres, creating a 259-acre park. Gov. Neff visualized a network of parks throughout Texas that would serve as a “breathing spot for humanity.” With the later help of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, Mother Neff became one of the first official Texas state parks. Now, the state boasts more than 90 state parks, historic sites, and natural areas.

Know of any fascinating vintage Texas photographs? Send copies or ideas to [email protected].

From the May 2023 issue

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