Vintage photos show early days of Texas State Parks as it celebrates 100 years

Gov. Pat Neff persuaded the state legislature to create the State Parks Board in 1923

The Texas State Parks system has grown into a network of scenic destinations and landmarks that attract millions of visitors each year, but vintage photos show it had humble beginnings.

Photos provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department show the evolution of the Texas State Parks system as it celebrates 100 years in 2023.

It all started in 1923 when Texas Gov. Pat Neff persuaded the state legislature to create the State Parks Board. Before then, Texas only had the Fish and Oyster Commission to regulate fishing (though it later turned into the Game and Fish Commission).

The State Parks Board’s task? Search for places where people can camp.

The first State Park Board, 1924 (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

Neff later said that creating the board was “his most important achievement as governor,” according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

“But Neff’s vision couldn’t have been more different than the Rooseveltian impulse that spurred the creation of the national parks,” the commission’s website states. “Neff was less interested in purple mountains majesty than in building campgrounds for Texans who, like himself, loved to travel by automobile.”

In the 1930s, enrollees with the Civilian Conservation Corps expanded the system by transforming undeveloped land into actual parks for people to use.

Palo Duro Canyon and Garner are among the state parks built by the CCC in that decade.

Palo Duro Canyon SP, 1933-1937. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

In 1963, the State Parks Board merged with the Game and Fish Commission to become the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Fast forward to today and Neff’s persuasion has resulted in 89 state parks that span more than 630,000 acres. The CCC went on to establish 29 of those sites, including Inks Lake, Blanco, Lockhart and Lake Corpus Christi state parks.

To celebrate the centennial year, TPWD has released some vintage images that will be published in an upcoming special in the Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine. See those images below.

State parks will also have a series of special events to celebrate 100 years. To learn more, click here.

CCC Workers, Indian Lodge, 1937. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Picnic and camp set-up, Inks Lake State Park, July 1970 (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Abilene State Park, June 1943. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains, undated. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
School Lunch Workshop at Huntsville State Park, June 23, 1955. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Visitors from Georgia arrive at the entry portal to Bastrop State Park, January 1954. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Cabin, Garner State Park, circa 1940s. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Inks Lake State Park, 1941. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Two CCC enrollees stand in front of a Garner State Park sign, undated. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Bastrop State Park, undated. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Lockhart State Park, circa 1950s. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Caddo Lake State Park, circa 1960-1970. (Courtesy, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

About the Author

Rebecca Salinas is an award-winning digital journalist who joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.

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