The Neches River rises just east of Colfax in eastern Van Zandt County and flows southeast for 416 miles to its mouth on Sabine Lake, on the north-eastern edge of Port Arthur. The purpose of this article is to explore the Neches River as a boundary stream, forming the county lines between Henderson and Cherokee county, Cherokee and Anderson county and Cherokee and Houston county. In Cherokee county one major reservoir is located on the Neches; Lake Palestine just north of Cuney.
The Neches River basin has long been the site of human habitation. Archeological excavations have discovered evidence of all stages of southeastern Indian development beginning with the 12,000-year-old Clovis culture. Indian development reached its peak after the arrival of the Caddos about A.D. 780. The early Caddoan period, lasted until about 1260. During this period we saw the development of Mound Prairie in Cherokee County, the southwestern most example of the Mississippian mound-building culture. When the first Europeans entered the area in the sixteenth century, they found various tribes of Hasinai Indians of the Caddo Confederacy living along the upper reaches of the stream which was called Snow River. In the late 1680s, the river is supposed to have been given its present name by Spanish explorer Alonso De Leon. He named the river Neches after the Neches Indians, one of the southern Caddoan tribes he encountered. Some of the earliest bridges built in Texas, were a result of the swollen Neches River because of high water during the raining seasons. (1)
Large numbers of Europeans did not enter the Naches basin until the late 1820s, when Anglo-Americans from the southern United States began to settle there.Numerous hand-propelled ferries established along the river during the 1830s and 1840s helped open the area for settlement. On his first trip to Texas, Stephen F. Austin recognized the potential of the Neches as a means of transportation. In 1821 he wrote in his journal that he came to the “River Neches-This river…affords tolerable keel boat navigation…”. During the 1830s and 1840s flat-bottomed barges were used to float cotton and other agricultural produce down river to Sabine Bay, where it was loaded on larger ships for transport to New Orleans, Galveston and other ports. The first steamships began to ply the river in the 1840s, when Robert and Moses L. Patton purchased the steamer Angelina. Because the upper reaches of the Neches were usually too shallow for steamers during the dry season, farmers had to haul their goods to Bunn’s Bluff on the lower part of the river. By the 1870s and 1880s the railroads had begun to replace steamboats as the most important vehicle of trade. (1)
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the upper Neches River basin was the site of intensive logging, and numerous sawmill towns such as Fastrill. They were built along the banks of the river and its tributaries due to the abundance of timber in the area. The river served as a source of water for the railroad steam engines and a Sunday afternoon swimming hole for residents.
Along the upper reaches, the best areas for recreational activities are found below the Lake Palestine Dam. Sufficient water releases from the dam result in adequate conditions for recreational use of the river downstream. The best sections are: (1) a 24.5 mile section between US 175 crossing (10 miles northwest of Jacksonville) and (2) a US 84 crossing (14 miles west of Rusk). The 32 mile section of the
Neches forming the partial boundary between Cherokee and Houston County is a scenic and popular waterway. (2)
In 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge (NRNWR), with the acquisition boundary along 32 miles of the beautiful Neches River in Anderson and Cherokee Counties in East Texas. Today the NRNWR consists of 4,000 acres of pristine hardwood and pine forest, protecting unmatched habitat for the wildlife of East Texas. (3)
Bridge 111140AA0169001 carries County Road 1155 over the Neches River Relief in Houston County. Constructed in 1910, it is a one-span Warren pony truss with an overall structure length of 100 feet. It has a polygonal top chord with six slopes in a camelback configuration and one set of verticals. The bridge has shop-riveted and field-bolted members. As one of 14 extent examples, the bridge is significant as an example of a rare type- the Warren only truss with a polygonal top cord. (4) It was the Neches River that influenced the need for this bridge.
The Neches River provides many benefits. In the earlier years, it provided food for the African-American community of Corinth (Hill, Hackney, Harvey, Johnson, Scott, etc.). All of these families fished there. The Neches River supplies water for Lake Palestine, along with all of its fishing and recreational activities. The city of Palestine takes its water from the Neches River below the dam. Chief Greg Sinkfield, the chief of police for Cuney stated that the town of Cuney never benefitted economically from the Neches River but, hopefully in the future that will change with proper planning and leadership.
Monty Shanks, General Manager, Upper Neches River Municipal Water Authority states, 67 cubic feet per second of water is released to maintain the sufficient water flow in the Neches River. The city of Palestine takes its water from the Neches River below the dam. The Upper Neches River Municipal Water Authority is responsible for the section of the river from Van Zandt County of East Texas to Houston County line.
The Neches River is untamed, because its purpose is to flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Neches River has served many significant purposes in Cherokee County. It is a valuable asset and should be maintained and supported.
1. An Analysis of Texas Waterways (Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1974). Glen Broussard, “Sabine-Neches Waterway-Gateway to East Texas.”
2. An Analysis of Texas Waterways
3. Friends of Neches River, National Wildlife Refuge
4. Janis Hillin, Environmental Specialist, TxDot Lufkin District