Joseph A. Kemp

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Joseph Alexander Kemp
Joseph A. Kemp (c. 1917).jpg
Kemp as appointee to the University of Texas regents (c. 1917)
Born(1861-07-31)July 31, 1861
DiedNovember 16, 1930(1930-11-16) (aged 69)
Austin, Texas
Resting placeRiverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls
ResidenceWichita Falls, Texas
Alma materClifton High School
OccupationGrocery wholesaler
Railroad executive
Oilman; Public official
Political partyDemocrat
Spouse(s)Flora Anderson Kemp (married 1882-1930, his death)
ChildrenEmma Sibyl Kemp Maer

Mary Jewell Kemp Langford
Flora Charlotte Kemp
Joseph Anderson Kemp, Sr.

Berthamay Kemp Booth Parker
Parent(s)William T. (1840-1885) and Emma Stinnett Kemp (1839-1932)
RelativesBrother-in-law Frank Kell
Formerly a library donated to the public as a Christmas gift for his wife Flora Kemp, the Kemp Center for the Arts is located on Lamar Street in Wichita Falls across from the Times Record News.
Kemp's former Wichita Falls Motor Company building, located on Arthur Street off Kell Boulevard, now houses the Wichita Energy Company.

Joseph Alexander Kemp, sometimes known as Jodie Kemp (July 31, 1861 - November 16, 1930), was an entrepreneur and investor who along with his brother-in-law Frank Kell is considered one of the modern founders of Wichita Falls, Texas.


Kemp was born in Clifton in Bosque County in Central Texas. He was the second of eight children of William T. Kemp (1840-1885), originally from Tennessee, and the former Emma Frances Stinnett, a native of Missouri. William Kemp arrived in Clifton in 1856, where he became a prosperous merchant and served as the Bosque County tax assessor. The senior Kemp died in Clifton at the age of forty-four. The third Kemp child, William Clinton Kemp (1865-1871), died in early childhood.[1]

In 1878, Joseph Kemp graduated from Clifton High School and took over operation of his father's general store. Within two years, Kemp sold his interest in the store at a profit to a partner. While Kemp moved to Wichita Falls in 1883, Frank Kell and his wife Lula, Kemp's sister, both of whom were also born in Clifton, did not relocate to Wichita Falls until 1896.[2][3]

Business interests[edit]

Kemp established a small wholesale and retail business that furnished supplies for area residents and ranchers as well as the Indian reservation at nearby Fort Sill in the then Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. He sold that business in 1887. In 1890, Kemp launched the J. A. Kemp Wholesale Grocery Company, with headquarters in what is now Depot Square in downtown Wichita Falls. He established branch stores throughout West Texas. This enterprise helped to make Wichita Falls into an important regional trade center. In 1903, Kemp sold controlling interest in the grocery company but maintained the title of company vice president.[2]

From 1891 to 1914, Kemp was president of the former City National Bank, founded in 1890 in Wichita Falls. Frank Kell played a similar role with the American National Bank and Trust Company, which maintains a downtown branch at 719 Scott Avenue. In 1894, Kemp chartered and assumed the presidency of the Wichita Falls Railway. After the sale of $20,000 worth of stock and $250,000 in bonds, construction began to link Wichita Falls with the tracks of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, often called the Katy, at Henrietta in Clay County some twenty miles to the southeast. Missouri-Kansas-Texas officials then built in Wichita Falls a station, offices, a roundhouse, and three switching tracks.[2]

In 1906, Kemp chartered the Wichita Falls and Northwest Railway Company of Texas and constructed a rail line into the wheat-producing region of Oklahoma, when it became the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway. Kemp organized the Wichita Falls and Southern Railroad, which connected Wichita Falls with the coal fields around Newcastle near Graham in Young County, Texas. He also established the Wichita Falls and Wellington, which linked Wichita Falls and Wellington in Collingsworth County, Texas. Kemp served as president of each of these rail companies. In 1911, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas purchased Kemp's remaining lines, including the eighteen miles of the Wichita Falls Railway. Kemp hence helped to make Wichita Falls the hub city of northern and western Texas railroads.[2]

In 1918, Kemp and two partners established the K-M-A Oil Company. He subsequently became a major shareholder and vice president of the Texhoma Oil and Refining Company, later a corporation now based in Tishomingo in Johnston County in southern Oklahoma. In 1910, Kemp's Wichita Falls Traction Company established an electric rail line. He also founded and served as president of both the Wichita Falls Glass and the Wichita Bottle Manufacturing companies.[2] He established the Wichita Falls Motor Company, which manufactured and sold the durable Wichita trucks throughout the United States and Canada from 1911 until the company closed in 1931. The plant was located on Arthur Street and is now inhabited by the Wichita Energy Company.[4] These Kemp endeavors as a whole worked to establish Wichita Falls as a manufacturing center.

In 1915, Kemp constructed a model dairy barn and introduced Guernsey cattle into North Texas.[2]

Civic contributions[edit]

From 1883, when he arrived in Wichita Falls, until 1885, Kemp served on the board of the Wichita Falls Independent School District. He was then appointed Wichita County treasurer and won election as a Democrat to two consecutive terms in that position. Kemp was a regent of the University of Texas in Austin from October 1917 through May 1921 under appointment of Governor William P. Hobby, Sr., of Houston.[2]

In 1917, Kemp and his wife donated a library building and books to Wichita Falls,[2] now the Kemp Center for the Arts located on Lamar Street across from the office of the Times Record News. The Wichita Falls Public Library today is located a few blocks north of the original Kemp building.

In 1887, Kemp proposed a bond issue to finance the construction of a dam and a reservoir on Holliday Creek. However, the Texas Constitution of 1876 then prohibited such bond issues. When lobbying trips to Austin and even Washington, D.C., failed to secure backing for a constitutional amendment, Kemp moved to establish Lake Wichita through the Lake Wichita Irrigation and Water Company, which with a partner from Galveston, privately financed the construction of a dam and a reservoir just south of Wichita Falls.[5]

In 1923, voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit the use of bonds to finance irrigation projects. In time more than $4 million was spent to establish two dams on the Wichita River for dual purposes of irrigation and flood control. Lake Kemp, located near Seymour, Texas, in Baylor County forty miles west of Wichita Falls, is named in his honor.[2]

Personal life[edit]

In 1882, Kemp married in Clifton the former Flora Ann Anderson (1861-1957). The couple had five children, all born in Wichita Falls: Emma Sibyl Kemp Maer (1884-1961), the wife of William Newton Maer (1883-1970), Mary Jewell Kemp Langford (1887-1939), wife of William Smith Langford (1876-1961), Flora Charlotte Kemp (1890-1910), who died of typhoid fever at the approximate age of twenty and whose grave marker seems to depict a weeping young bride,[1] Berthamay Kemp Booth Parker (1894-1983), and Joseph Anderson Kemp, Sr. (1904-1959).[6]

Son Joseph Anderson Kemp, Sr. was divorced from Anna Elizabeth (Bess) Gilbert Kemp-McFarland (1906-1955); his second wife and surviving spouse was Aula Mefford Kemp (1905-1979). From the first marriage, the younger Kemp had a daughter, Joanne, and a son, Joseph, Jr. (1930-2014).[7] Constance Kemp Booth Hamilton (1922-2013), widow of Woodrow Hamilton (1917-2003), from St. Louis, Missouri, and daughter of Berthamay Kemp Booth Parker, was at the time of her death in 2013, one of three surviving grandchildren of Joseph and Flora Kemp.[8]

The Kemps resided in a house at Tenth and Grant streets in the Floral Heights section of Wichita Falls. The Kells resided at The Kell House on Bluff Street. Joseph Kemp died in Austin in 1930 at the age of sixty-nine. He is interred beside his wife and other family members at Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls. His epitaph reads, "If ye would seek my monument, look around ye," meaning that one could survey his legacy by examining the surrounding city he helped build.[1]

Because of Kemp's activism in the Masonic lodge, the Joseph A. Kemp Lodge No. 1287 was chartered in 1944; it is the third fraternal affiliate in Wichita Falls.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Flora Charlotte Kemp". Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Brian Hart, "Joseph Alexander Kemp"". Texas State Historical Association online. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  3. ^ The Texas State Historical Association online bases its article on Joseph A. Kemp from these sources: Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans, 5 vols., ed. Eugene C. Barker and E. W. Winkler (Chicago and New York City: American Historical Society, 1914; reprinted 1916); Louise Kelly, Wichita County Beginnings (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982); Jonnie R. Morgan, The History of Wichita Falls (Wichita Falls, 1931; reprinted, Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1971); Times Record News, May 15, 1957
  4. ^ "Wichita Falls Motor Company, 1911-1932". Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  5. ^ B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas, Vol. 2 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), pp. 444-445.
  6. ^ "Joseph Alexander Kemp". Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  7. ^ "Joseph Anderson Kemp, Sr". Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  8. ^ "Constance Hamilton". Times Record News, March 5, 2013. Retrieved April 16, 2013.