Joseph Alexander Kemp- July 31, 1861-November 16, 1930

April 24, 2020 9:42 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Taken with permission from the Wichita County Heritage Society June 2007 Riverside Cemetery Tour book. A big thank you to them once again for allowing us to share their work. If you are interested in the Heritage Society, you can find them at www.wichita-heritage.org

J.A. Kemp was born to William and Emma in Clifton, Texas. He graduated from Clifton High School in 1878 and assumed operation of his father’s general store. He married Flora Anderson in 1882, a playmate in his early boyhood, and they raised five children. He sold his interest in the store to a partner, and moved to Wichita Falls in 1883. He established a retail dry goods and grocery business on Ohio Street that furnished supplies for area residents, ranchers, and the Indian reservation at nearby Fort Sill in Indian Territory. He bought out the wholesale grocery established by C.C. White that became the J.A. Kemp Wholesale Grocery Company in 1890. Wichita Falls soon became known as the trade center of North Texas with Kemp’s business generating over $1 million annually. Late in 1903 he sold his controlling interest in the company but remained vice president.

From 1891-1914 he was president of City National Bank. In 1894 he chartered the Wichita Falls Railway Company and became president. He negotiated with the MK&T Railroad on numerous issues that included building a station, roundhouse, offices, and three switching tracks in Wichita Falls. In 1918 Kemp and two partners established the K-M-A Oil Company to capitalize on the oil boom. He was a major shareholder and vice-president on the Texhoma Oil and Refining Company that became a $6 million corporation. He served as president of the Wichita Falls Glass Company and the Wichita Bottle Manufacturing Company and the Wichita Motor Truck Company that manufactured trucks shipped throughout the U.S., Canada and the world.

Mr. Kemp served on the school board appointed County Treasurer just two years after arrival, serving two consecutive terms. In 1918 he and his wife donated the library building with books to the city of Wichita Falls, which is still used today as the Kemp Center for the Arts. He was a Mason and served on the University of Texas board of regents fro 1917-1921. He sold land six and one-half miles north of town to the Wichita Falls Airport Co. at cost with the stipulation that the new terminal be named for his friend, Frank Kell.

Joseph was a strong supporter of North Texas irrigation systems. In 1887 he tried to issue bonds to construct a dam on Holliday Creek to form a reservoir. The 1876 state Constitution prohibited such bonds and lobbying trips to Austin failed to secure support for an amendment. So Kemp organized the Lake Wichita Irrigation and Water Company securing private financing to construct Lake Wichita, completing it in 1901. They sold water to Wichita Falls and surrounding towns. There were a number of recreation facilities around the lake by the 1920s, making it an area resort. He continued to lobby for a constitutional amendment and in 1917 it passed. Lake Kemp in Baylor County was named for his hard work in promoting water projects. While on a trip to the Rio Grande Valley for his health, he became ill and died at the age of 69.

An aerial photograph of their Floral Heights home on 10th Street between Grant and Tilden is on our “About” page.

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This post was written by Christine Heidebrecht

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