According to family legends, James Willis Davenport drove the Gober (a "well to do family" according to one note) wagon in the wagon train traveling to Texas c. 1853. James Willis and Sarah Minerva Gober were married in Wood County c. 1855. They had two children born in Quitman (Zippora Annie and Walter Marion) died as infants and were buried in Wood County.
James Willis served in the Civil War - 22nd Regiment Texas Calvary, for a period of three years. He enlisted at Greenville Texas on 15 Dec 1861 and last appeared on the Muster rolls February 1864. He was a member of the Greenville Masonic lodge #335 from 14 Feb 1871 until his death in 1912
In 1854, James Willis left his family in Wood County to scout the Hunt County area. He returned to Wood county and brought his family back to Hunt County in about 1857.
In 1857, James Willis and Sara moved to Hunt county and acquired substantial acreage of land about six miles south of Greenville. There James Willis (or Uncle Willis as he was known) founded a village he first called Davenport's Mill. In 1890, after applying for a post office, he renamed the community Neola after a friend of his, as there was already a town called Davenport with a post office. James Willis served as postmaster of the Neola post office from 1890 to 1906 when it was removed.
The community consisted of at least six houses (which he owned) two blacksmith shops (one run by Pete Inabinette), a cotton gin and grist mill and a two room mercantile store. James Willis bought the gin machinery from a Mr. Lemmon in Dallas. The mercantile store consisted of a dry goods store in one room and a general store in the other. (The mercantile store was rented by Will and Alfred Wood.) Above the stores was a Woodmen of the World meeting hall for the Woodmen Neola Camp #1088.
James Willis set aside five acres of land behind his house for a community park called Davenport Park. The park had a bandstand and a large pond used for swimming. Each summer there was an annual July 4th picnic with a band, Ferris wheel and merry go round. People from Greenville and surrounding communities would attend. Some spending the night in the grove of oak and cedar trees behind the Davenport home. At other times during the year, there would be tent shows and traveling minstrels at the park.
One house and five acres of land were given to the Methodist Parsonage. Reverend Carey, pastor of Bethel church lived there with his wife. Children of the community attended school at Bethel School, located next to the Bethel Church and Cemetery.
In 1910, James Willis Davenport became ill and moved in with his daughter Belle Davenport Baird and her husband, Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Baird at their home in Neola. James Willis died in 1911; his estate divided among his heirs. Belle Baird inherited most of the village. Jim Davenport inherited one house and some acreage. Frank Baird bought out the interest of others including the Condor home and gin which later burned.
In 1916, Frank Baird bought a small home in Greenville so his children could attend school there, but he retained the property at Neola. . Frank Baird died in 1928 in the house he bought from the Condors in Neola. In 1963, the Baird land that was formerly Neola was sold and was developed into the present day subdivision called Wildwood. Property was also developed into Memoryland cemetery
The old Davenport house was built around 1857 at Neola, Hunt County, Texas (south of Greenville) The north part included two front rooms and a little room behind the north front room, also a breezeway and a kitchen behind the breezeway. A large store room was attached to the kitchen. Thick boards went around 3 sides of the wall where barrels of food were stored such as mackerel (salted fish), flour,sugar, etc. The boards were about 1 foot off the floor. There barrels were hauled from Jefferson, Texas in the early days. When James Willis returned from the Civil War, he completed the house; building the two south rooms and sealed the walls that were only finished half way up in the old part. The house had a little bay window in the south front room. The lumber to build the house was hauled from Jefferson, Texas. James Willis hand dressed some of the lumber including the doors. He made the window sashes by hand that held the small window panes. (There are nine upper and nine lower panes to each window).
Information compiled from notes of Edna Baird Clark, Maurine Baird Fitzgerald, Wilma Baird Baird and Jean Hart Herbst
Note: Tombstone shows the name spelled "Devenport" - - - Edna, Forrest, and Maurine Baird, his granddaughters said that Bernice Devenport (daughter of Thomas Paulnac Davenport) changed the spelling of the name to the "e" when she was at college, but on the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census the name is spelled Davenport, but on the 1900 census, it is spelled with the "e". His son, Thomas Paulnac (father of Benice) adopted the "e" spelling, but James Holder Davenport retained the "a". Thus, brothers spelled their name differently.
The following is transcribed from a document written by Jean Hart Herbst:
"James Willis Davenport came to Hunt County in 1850. He and his father, J.B., mother, Rebecca, and brothers Jasper, Newt and Wash started out for Texas from South Carolina. Somewhere along the way, they met the Gober family from Georgia and he became their wagonmaster. Coming through the cane breaks of Mississippi to get here. They stopped in Wood County and he married one of the Gober daughters, Sara Minerva (about 1855) and they lived there long enough to have two children born to them: Zippora Annie and a Son, Marion Walter. Both died and were buried in Wood County. James' father died while there also and was buried in Wood County.
James, Sara and James' mother, Rebecca and this two brothers Newt and Jasper came to Hunt County. I don't know what happened to Wash. Some of the descendants of Jasper still live in Wieland today. I think the Gobers scattered except for those who started the village of Gober (in Fannin County) and there are still Gober descendants in and around Gober, Texas today.
James and Sara had Tom Davenport, Jim D., Georgia Zelena Davenport Bryand and my grandmother, Safronia Isabelle (Belle) after moving to Hunt County. His mother Rebecca died and is buried next to James and Sara at Bethel Cemetery. James and Sara have a fence around their grave and a wrought iron basket was over Rebecca's grave. Several years ago someone stole the basket and there is no marker for Rebecca now.
My grandmother Belle was born in 1862 in Davenport house. My mother Frankie Zelena Baird was born there in 1897 and I was born there in 1922.
The drawing on the other side is how I remember Neola from my childhood. It was too hard for my parents, Frankie and Carson Hart to get me to school in Greenville so they moved to Greenville when I was about 7 years old.
The information, photos, and map for Neola submitted by Phillip Herbst, great-great-grandson of James Willis Davenport. The map was handdrawn by Phillip's mother.
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