Heritage, 2010, Volume 4 Page: 4
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From farming to business, especially in the East Texas lumber industry, the influenceofthis
entrepreneurial family was broad and far-reaching, and their legacy is still remembered today.
By Nancy Thompson and Rene Hart Wells
On May 10, 1913, a crowd of
5,000 gathered in Tyler County
in East Texas to dedicate Peachtree
Village Hall. The red-brick chapel
with its bell tower and arched
windows was built to honor the , .
memory of John Thomas Kirby
and Sarah Payne Kirby, a couple
whose lives represent the pioneer
The Kirbys came from
Mississippi to Tyler County in
1850 to establish a farm and raise
a family. The oldest child, James }
Lafayette, was six years old when ,
they arrived. In Texas, the family "
grew to include three girls and
another son, John Henry, born in 1860. John Thomas Kirby
was elected sheriff but resigned in 1862 to follow his con-
science and enlist in the Confederate cause.
After the war John Thomas worked to restore the family's
farm. The household of Sarah Kirby, a hardworking pioneer
mother, was marked by her loving ways. Since her husband
had little regard for education and felt that working the land
was more important, it fell upon Sarah to educate the chil-
dren. In addition, the hospitality of the Kirbys made their
home a social center for Peachtree Village.
In 1866, son James Lafayette and his bride Martha estab-
lished a home in Woodville, where he was deputy sheriff and
a successful businessman. The couple would later build a
grand home in Kountze. After Martha's death in 1906, James
sold the house to his daughter Lucy and her husband A.M.
Hill, Sr. Known as the Kirby-Hill House, it is now on the
National Registry of Historic Places. The Kirby sisters also
married and established homes locally.
The youngest son John Henry wed Lilia Stewart of
Woodville. He dreamed of capitalizing on East Texas timber-
land, but he needed money. According to his brother James,
"I owned a saloon in Woodville when my baby brother John
Henry came to me with the idea of buying land to sell the
timber. In 1890, I loaned him the money to dress up and go
to Boston to talk to investors. He returned with letters of
credit for 10 million dollars." During
the next few years, John Henry Kirby
would establish Kirby Lumber
Company, Houston Oil Company,
and many other businesses. In the
i' process he became a wealthy philan-
, ; thropist, earning the esteem of states-
g men and industrialists. Even after
bankruptcy in the Depression, John
Henry never lost his optimism and
continued in business.
John Thomas and Sarah Kirby
pioneered a settlement in Peachtree
Village, Texas, to give
their family a better life.
Their children, especially
John Henry, building on
S..the basic values of their
w a A , parents, expanded the
vision, reaching far
-V *-! beyond the tiny commu-
nity. The 1913 dedication
of the chapel in memory
of the elder Kirbys
brought dignitaries by the trainload to Peachtree Village for a
tribute that will never be equaled in that place.
The village is mostly gone now, replaced by a youth camp
and retreat called by its Indian name, Ta ku la, but the gen-
erosity and values of the Kirby family live on.
Nancy Thompson is a writer and professional research librarian
who lives in Port Neches. Renee Hart Wells, of Lumberton, is a
member of the Hardin County Historical Commission and
author of Hardin County, Texas: A Pictorial History.
Photograph above: Sarah Payne Kirby and John Thomas Kirby,
seated; standing, from left, John Henry Kirby and James
Lafayette Kirby. Image courtesy of Kirby Museum at Peachtree
Village. Inset photo: Thousands of people, including the Texas
governor, attended the dedication in May 1913 of Peachtree
Village Hall. Image provided by Renee Hart Wells and taken from
a book printed after the historic event.
HERITAGE Volume 4 2010
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2010, Volume 4, periodical, 2010; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254219/m1/4/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.