Guided With a Steady Hand: The Cultural Landscape of a Rural Texas Park
This is, at one level, simply the story of Mother Neff State Park, one of the smallest in the Texas park system. It is a historical account of how people decided that a particular tract of rural farmland was worthy of preservation as a place of refuge and recreation for the public. But pull back from the fundamental history of a place and you soon find other dimensions to the story -- the complexities of people, the uncertainties of nature, and the significant elements of politics, architecture, and social change. And through it all, there are the perspectives, the individual frames of reference that drive decision making -- both those of the powerful politicians and those of the men who built the roads and the benches.
Mother Neff State Park is everything a park should be: naturally, it is an oasis; culturally, it represents a continuum of civilization that reaches from prehistoric times to the present; and historically, it was at center stage in the debate about the meaning and purpose of parks. Balancing the historical equation was a personality as strong and complex and contradictory as the land itself. Pat Morris Neff was farm boy, lawyer, Baptist, Texas governor, college president, state parks board founder, park superintendent, and devoted son.
Drawing from oral histories, and extensive archival records including CCC camp newspapers, correspondence, historical photographs, vintage drawings, and archaeological surveys, Utley and Steely tell the unique story of a New Deal era park and the grand vision of a governor who was also the park's donor, benefactor, and promoter.
This book merges the authors' complementary perspectives: one, an architectural historian who had come toappreciate Mother Neff Park through his research regarding park architecture and New Deal policies, was instrumental in listing the park in the National Register of Historic Places. The other, a social historian, became involved in the park's history when he assisted with a cultural resource management, assessment for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Both authors realized from the vantage of their different perspectives -- from archaeology to architecture and from social change to recorded memories -- that Mother Neff State Park was the ideal place to tell the microcosmic story of the CCC in Texas. Most of the "boys" of Company 817 of the Civilian Conservation Corps are gone now, but this is essentially their story. Once people have heard the CCC story, it is impossible to visit the parks -- one of the most visible reminders of the organization's existence -- without thinking about the boys.
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