• September 20, 2014

Mother Neff park honors namesake

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Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2014 4:30 am

MOTHER NEFF STATE PARK — In connection with Mother’s Day, Mother Neff State Park honored its namesake, Isabella Neff, with a historical exhibit on Saturday.

The montage of text, photos and maps will be on display again from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today in the breezeway of the recreation hall.

The exhibit was mounted on a quilt, said Park Manager Leah Huth, because it showed “pieces of our life sewed together to make the legend that she left behind.”

In 1854, Huth said, Noah Neff bought property in Texas, went back to Virginia and proposed to Isabella Eleanor Shepherd. “By the way,” Neff told her, “we’re moving to Texas.”

Growing up on a farm in Roanoke, Va., Isabella had heard exciting tales of Texas and the West from travelers who her father put up for the night.

She wholeheartedly accepted the proposal, and the couple left Virginia in a horse and buggy. It took them almost two months to reach Central Texas.

They lived in Belton for three months while they explored Noah’s land, looking for a home site.

One hot day about lunch time, Huth said, they found an oak grove with a lot of wild flowers and a spring.

“Isabella had the perfect spot for her home,” she said.

The only problem was, it wasn’t on their property. But Noah found out who the owner was and bought it. They built a log cabin (about 3 miles north of the park) and set up housekeeping.

This was 1854, and they were among the first settlers in the area.

Isabella’s father had warned her about the Indian attacks in Texas.

When she wrote her mother, she only mentioned positive things, Huth said. It was common in those days to see peaceful Tonkawas moving about, hunting and fishing.

The Neffs had nine children born to them, and adopted three more. “It wasn’t unusual in those days, because of the mortality rate,” Huth said. “Somebody in the area would just pick up the kids and take care of them.”

In 1871, Pat Neff, their youngest child, was born. He became a Waco lawyer, got into politics, and was governor of Texas 1921-1925.

Mother Neff died in 1921, at age 91, in the governor’s mansion. Pat Neff later was chairman of the state parks board 1936-1937.

He wrote of his mother, “To her, who during all these years has lived the simple faith of a simple life, far removed from the world’s ignoble strife, the noblest and best woman in all the world because she is my mother.”

At the 1935 dedication of the park, then-Gov. James Allred spoke of the love of a mother as the “gold chord that binds the earth to God,” and of Mother Neff State Park as “a monument to the motherhood of all Texas.”

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