HON. JESSE KENNEDY, or Judge Kennedy, as he is known by his friends and business associates, is one of the young-old men of North Texas, where he has been identified with real estate operations for the past fifteen years or more. Iowa Park is one of the most thriving towns of Wichita county, has a prosperous and progressive population, and is at the center of a beautiful ant; extremely fertile agricultural and stock-raising district. This community, both commercially and agriculturally, looks to Mr. Kennedy as one of its founders and chief promoters, and, in fact, ever since identifying himself with the place he has been a mainspring of activity which has kept in motion the varied industries and enterprises of Iowa Park and vicinity.
Judge Kennedy, the later years of whose life have thus so worthily been associated with North Texas, was born eighty years ago, in 1824, in Perry county, Pennsylvania, a son of William T. and Susannah (Peck) Kennedy. His father was also a native of Pennsylvania, being a son of a native Irishman. His mother was born in the Keystone state, and both parents, died there. Judge Kennedy has had a distinguished public career, both in his native state and in Iowa, where he lived for ten years before coming to Texas. Born and reared in Perry county, he spent a great part of his life in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. In 1861 he represented Perry and Cumberland counties in the state legislature, and for a number of years before had been among the most prominent men of that part of the state. During the war three of his brothers enlisted and served throughout the conflict as Union soldiers. During Lincoln’s administration Judge Kennedy was assistant internal revenue collector for Perry county. For ten and a half years he was principal and proprietor of the State Orphan School, at Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. He also served as burgess, or mayor, of that town, and in Many other ways took a conspicuous part in public affairs. Before the war he was second lieutenant in Captain W. R. Fetter‘s company of Pennsylvania State Cadets.
In 1878 Judge Kennedy decided to come west, and in that year he located at Ida Grove, in Ida county, Iowa, where he turned his attention to farming. Here, too, his abilities as an organizer and man of affairs brought him into prominence, and in 1884 he was elected to the legislature, during which session he introduced and fathered through the lawmaking body the famous prohibitory law of the state of Iowa. Although thus allied with the cause of prohibition, he is and has always been a stanch Republican in fundamental political beliefs.
While in Iowa judge Kennedy was also elected president of the Iowa State Farmers’ Alliance, which office he held for five or six years, and in that capacity promoted important railroad legislation through the legislature. Also he was president of the State Wool Growers’ Association, was one of the vice presidents of the Iowa Fine Stock-Raisers’ Association and president of the Ida County Agricultural Society.
In 1888 Judge Kennedy came to Wichita county, Texas, and, with David C. Kolp, also of Ida county, organized and became president of the Iowa-Texas Land Company. This company bought several thousand acres of land about eleven miles west of Wichita Falls on the line of the Fort Worth & Denver Railroad started the town of Iowa Park. On account of the prominence and known reliability of the organizers and by extensive advertising a colony of progressive and capable Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota farmers were brought to this locality and sold tracts of land about Iowa Park, which has been one of the most successful of such colonization schemes in this state. Nearly all the farmers who came here at that time and persevered and remained in spite of natural discouragements, have now attained wealth and affluence, and the agricultural regions tributary to Iowa Park are noted for their lamp per capita wealth, there being many notable examples of men who began here with nothing and have become well-to-do, not-withstanding several severe droughts.
Judge Kennedy has continued to make Iowa Park his residence ever since 1888, although he has sold out all his own farms. But he is still engaged in the real estate business, which has occupied his attention ever since coming here. With his Pennsylvania and Iowa political experience, he naturally became a leader and man of weight in public affairs, and through loyalty to party, but with no hope of individual success in such a Democratic state as Texas, he was drawn into politics, and twice accepted the nomination for state assemblyman, being successful in carrying one county—Jack county—against his opponent. He was also nominated for the state senate, and has been strongly urged to run for Congress. Judge Kennedy is a very pleasing public speaker, is a man of great address and force of character that impresses itself at once on his hearers, and throughout his career has made himself a power in affairs in every community of his residence. He has known and been associated with many prominent men in Pennsylvania and Iowa. He has been a member of the Church of God and a Mason for forty years, and an Odd Fellow even longer, having joined the order a half century ago. Judge Kennedy has two children: Mrs. Eulalia T. Clift, of Point Loma, California, and William Kennedy, of Ray, Colorado.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 567-568.