Namesake for nature center, once a slave, became successful land owner
John Dolford "Bob" Jones was born a slave in 1850, the son of white slaveholder Leazer Alvis Jones and his slave girl, Elizabeth, known as Lizzie. Leazer left his white wife and four children in Arkansas before the Civil War and traveled with Lizzie and their mixed-race children to Texas, where he bought land in northern Tarrant County.
As a young teen, Bob worked his father's land as a slave. At the end of the Civil War, Leazer freed him and returned to his white family in Arkansas, leaving Lizzie and her children behind. Bob and his brother, Jim, bought the 60-acre farmstead from their father. Bob started buying more land, amassing more than 1,000 acres, one of the largest holdings in present-day Southlake, according to the Southlake Historical Society.
In 1874, Bob married Almeady Chisum, the mixed-race daughter of Texas cattleman John Chisum and his slave, Jensie.
The couple had 10 children and built a log house that was eventually expanded to a two-story structure with a balcony and wraparound porches.
A successful farmer and rancher, Bob hired black and white sharecroppers and workers for his operation. He built a family church and the one-room Walnut Grove School for his children and other nearby black children, who were banned from attending white schools.
"He hired teachers from Dallas during the summer to come teach at the school," recalled his grandson Bobby Jones, who grew up on the farm and became an epidemiologist for Tarrant County.
After Bob's death in 1936, his children intended to carry on the family tradition of farming and ranching the Jones land, but that was not to be. First the landmarks Bob created began to disappear: Mount Carmel Baptist Church and the family home burned down, and the school closed and eventually fell apart.
After that, most of the land was lost to the construction of Lake Grapevine, which began in the 1940s, Bobby said. Some Jones family descendants held small plots until the 1990s, but most of the heirs were forced to go elsewhere for work.
"They needed to figure out some other way to make a living," Bobby said. "So my daddy [Emory Jones] and uncle Jinks [Jones] opened an auction barn."
Auctions were held several times a week on a dusty site at White's Chapel Boulevard and SH 114 from 1947 until 1984. The brothers' wives ran a caf to feed the many auction-goers, passers-by and truckers who hauled rocks to Grapevine for the lake dam. It is regarded as the first integrated caf in Texas.
"It was a caf for anyone who wanted to come," Bobby said. "Segregation was not something we were really aware of other than the fact that we couldn't go to school with white kids."
Besides the park and the nature center and preserve, the Carroll school district named its newest elementary school Walnut Grove in tribute to the legacy of Bob Jones.
"Bob Jones was truly an American success story," said Debra Edmondson, president of the board of the Bob Jones Nature Center and Preserve. "And I'm proud to say that we continue to tell that story."