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Mother Neff's Park

Mother Neff, as she is often referred, was born Isabella Eleanor Sheppard in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1830. She was the youngest of 12 children. She married Noah Neff in 1854, and after a few days of marriage, they decided to move to Texas. Because they did not drive on Sundays, it took them 52 days by carriage to drive from Roanoke to Belton, Texas.

They lived in Belton for three months, eventually moving into a small log cabin near Eagle Springs. There they reared a family of nine children, who later bore them 18 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The Neffs were very proud of their youngest son, Pat Morris Neff, who became a school teacher, lawyer, governor of Texas in 1921 and president of Baylor University. In 1882, Noah Neff died before seeing his son in the governor’s mansion; Mother Neff lived with her son in the mansion until her death in May of 1921.

The Neffs owned the six acres of land that originated the park. Often groups would call Mrs. Neff requesting the use of her land for meetings and gatherings.

One specific group, the Woodsmen of the World of the Whitson community, would gather every year for a picnic and celebration. Since 1905, they have used the grounds. Many times the Woodsmen offered Mother Neff payment for the use of the grounds, but she wouldn’t have it. Mrs. Neff told them, “As long as the Woodsmen of Whitson maintain a lodge, the picnic grounds shall be free to them, and they shall be open for song fests, revival meetings, and other meetings that have a moral and spiritual community uplift.”

Historical photo of people gathered at a pavilion

After the death of Mother Neff, Pat Neff fulfilled the wishes of his mother and deeded the land to the public. In 1934, Gov. Neff donated another 250 acres adjoining the original six donated by his mother.

Oftentimes forgotten, a gentleman by the name of F.P. Smith donated three and one-third acres to the park, and the state is very grateful for his contribution. TPWD acquired an additional 142 acres on the western edge of the park in 2012. All of this makes up the present 399 acres of Mother Neff State Park.

In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps set up a camp at the park until 1938. They developed the park as you know it today. They built the rock tabernacle, rec hall, roads throughout the park, the stone water tower that held 11,000 gallons of water at the time it was built, the park residence and the drainage system. Keep in mind, bulldozers and backhoes weren’t a part of the technology of the 1930s. It was all done by hand and by the sweat of their brows.

Beginning in the 1950s, a series of disastrous floods have overwhelmed the bottom of the park, resulting in lengthy closures. Tent sites and three group picnic pavilions in the lower half of the park often remain closed due to flood damage.

In 2015, a new cut-limestone headquarters and interpretive center opened. This new building was designed to complement the architecture of the early CCC structures throughout the park. A full cabin and group campsite can accommodate up to 16 people. There are also 20 full hookup campsites in the upper portion of the park.

Thanks to the generosity of the Neffs and the efforts of the CCC, Mother Neff State Park is affectionately known as Texas’ first state park.