Guided with a Steady Hand: The Cultural Landscape of a Rural Texas Park


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Guided with a Steady Hand: The Cultural Landscape of a Rural Texas Park Authors: , Format: Hardback First Published: Published By: Baylor University Press
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Pages: 192 Illustrations and other contents: b/w photos Language: English ISBN: 9780918954688 Category:

Placing the Mother Neff State Park in its historical, cultural, and political milieu, Dan Utley and Jim Steely tell a compelling story of how people decided a particular tract of rural farmland was worthy of preservation as a place of refuge and recreation for the public. In doing so, the authors provide a microcosmic look at the Civilian Conservation Corps and its work in Texas. Central to the story is Pat Neff, Texas governor and university president, who guided the park’s development, significance, and history with a steady hand reminiscent of the one who had carefully led him “from childhood to manhood.” The story of Mother Neff State Park is one of chautauquas, weekend dances, Mother’s Day celebrations, and religious revivals. Yet it is also one of the Great Depression, the young men and leaders of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and of war and its impact on even a simple little park in Central Texas. In telling this story, however, the authors do not lose sight of the fact that the park has served as a place of rest and rejuvenation, as well as a source of inspiration, both spiritual and natural, for generations of visitors. Drawing from oral histories, and extensive archival records including correspondence, CCC camp newspapers, 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.

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Most histories of communities and institutions examine them in solation from the world around them, but not this one. The two authors have indeed looked in detail into the history of Mother Neff State Park. At the same time, however, they have explored the state and national context for their site-specific study for Texas state parks in general. Only rarely do works such as this consider the highly important broader world in which events unfold on the local level, but here the ideal may be found. -- T. Lindsay Baker, from the Foreword

Author Biography

James W Steely is Historian of Texas Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.