GREAT CITIZENS - JOHN HENRY KIRBY
Like Jim Hogg , John Henry Kirby has a state forest reserve named for him. Lawyer, lumberman, oil man and "Father of Industrial Texas," John Kirby was born on November 16, 1860 in Tyler County, Texas, to Sarah (Payne) and John Thomas Kirby. His only formal education was at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, which he attended for a time until his funds were exhausted.
Kirby became a clerk in the Woodville, Texas law office of Samual Bronson Cooper, a senator in the Texas legislature. Between 1882 and 1884, he served as a clerk in the Senate. On November 14, 1883, Kirby married Lelia Stewart of Woodville.
He studied law privately and in 1885, Kirby was admitted to the Texas state bar. After impressively representing Eastern landowners in a case, he became general manager of two of the largest timber companies in Texas, the Texas and Louisiana Land and Lumber Company and the Texas Pine Land Association. He moved to Houston in 1890, and joined the Houston law firm of Hobby and Lanier. Always interested in marketing and developing the timber of southeast Texas, Kirby initiated the construction of the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railroad. This railroad, which later became part of the Santa Fe Railroad system, ran between the Neches and Sabine rivers. Kirby also invested in timberland and, in 1896, constructed his first sawmill at Silsbee, Texas.
The Kirby Lumber Company was established on July 5, 1901 to manufacture and transport lumber. At its peak, between 1910 and 1920, Kirby Lumber had some 16,500 employees and included twelve operating mills and five logging camps. In the early 1900's, Kirby became president of Southwestern Oil Company of Houston and in 1920 founded the Kirby Petroleum Company.
A member and officer of several lumber trade and government organizations, Kirby was elected twice to the Texas House of Representatives. In 1923, he received an honorary law degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. In 1929, he donated part of what is today the 626-acre John Kirby State Forest. Located in Tyler County in southeastern Texas, it is the smallest state forest in Texas. Kirby died shortly before reaching his eightieth birthday, on November 9, 1940.