CHARLES BIRK, president of the First National Bank at Iowa Park, Wichita county, is one of the self-made men of North Texas. “There is no education like adversity,” and truly in the school of “hard knocks” Mr. Birk passed his early days, but as his life has approached its season of maturity in years, so likewise have the strenuous efforts of the past reached a generous fruitage of material welfare, wealth of honor and respect from his friends and associates and a well-builded character.
Born in the village of Sasbach, in the grand duchy of Baden, Germany, in 1844, he lost his father, Jacob, and also his mother when he was in infancy. Only a few years later, when still a child, he began by manual work to earn his living, and throughout youth and youth manhood necessity was the goad that inspired him to effort, and his mental training was meager indeed. But that home of his early boyhood, though so devoid of personal comforts and advantages, remains still in many ways a beautiful memory to him. His home was in one of the most picturesque parts of all Germany, about twelve miles from the magnificent Rhine river, near the Black Forest with its legends and history, and the people among whom he was reared were mainly engaged in the cultivation of small farms and raising of high-class fruits. In such environment he at least learned the noble lessons of industry and simplicity, and despite the ever-broadening horizon of his later years the “simple life” has always appealed to him and been a composite part of his nature.
He spent some time across the borderland in Switzerland, and in 1865, when twenty years old, he entered the German army as a member of the Second Infantry of Baden. He served in the war between Prussia and Austria, and altogether served two years in the military. In 1868 he came to the United States, landing at New Orleans on the 28th of November, remaining in that city about three months. He had only a very slight knowledge of the English language when he arrived, but he was very apt in acquiring it. From New Orleans he went to Franklin, Louisiana, and remained a year in this center of the sugar industry. His next destination was up the Mississippi to Washington county, Mississippi, where he was employed for three months in the warehouse of a general merchant, and then in the latter’s store, where he acquired valuable business experience. After about two years spent in Washington county he went to Summit, in the same state, where for the following seven years he was by this time, thoroughly equipped in practical business experience and with knowledge of American life and customs, in 1878 he came to Texas and after a short sojourn at Dallas located at Ferris, in Ellis county, and went into business on his own account. He was highly successful, and at this place laid the foundation for his financial prosperity. He was numbered among the successful men of Ferris for thirteen years, and in 1891 he arrived in Iowa Park, Wichita county, where he has since lived. For the first few years he gave his attention to no active business, but in 1895 he started a grocery store, later adding dry-goods and making it a general store, which he managed very profitably until February, 1903, when he sold out.
Mr. Birk was one of the influential men who organized the First National Bank of Iowa Park, in 1900, and he has been president of this prosperous and reliable moneyed institution throughout its history. The bank has always been in a very flourishing condition, having a capital stock of twenty-five thousand dollars, and while its deposits are now over ninety thousand they have run as high as one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. Mr. Birk owns, in the vicinity of Iowa Park, six rich farms, aggregating over eighteen hundred acres and the source of a very large annual income, and he has also valuable business property in Iowa Park. Mr. Birk is one of the old Odd Fellows of this part of the state, having joined the order at Summit, Mississippi, in 1873.
Mr. Birk was married in 1891 to Miss Lucy Kilbourn, of Dallas county, this state. She belongs to one of the old and influential families of the state. Her father, Dr. Gustavus Adolphus Kilbourn, was a native of Ohio, and in Sagamon county, Illinois, was married to Miss Fannie Lance. She was a native daughter of Kentucky, and her father, Otway Bird Lance, was a historical character in Dallas county, Texas, where he located as a pioneer in 1851, only a few years after the Mexican war and at a time when the country about Dallas was just opening up to settlement. In 1853 Dr. and Fannie Kilbourn also located in Dallas county, this state, and they too were among the earliest residents there. Dr. Kilbourn continued active practice of medicine for a number of years at Lancaster and in that vicinity, and was greatly esteemed in all circles. Mrs. Birk has thus been identified with Texas life and environments during all her life, and has the charm of manner and warm-hearted characteristics for which the women of Texas are so noted. Mr. and Mrs. Birk have four children, Ralph, Eunice, Ernest and Frances.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 174-175.