JOSEPH ALEXANDER KEMP, president of the City National Bank at Wichita Falls, became connected with the commercial affairs of this growing town over twenty years ago, being thus an old citizen though not an old man; made a success of merchandising, and then embarked in wholesale grocery trade, with which he is still identified; has been president of the City National since 1891, at the same time acting as a conservative and substantial figure in financial circles in this part of the state; has taken the lead in agricultural development, and in the years to come his career will be especially noteworthy for what he has done in promoting irrigation facilities and at the same time opening up countless acres of fine soil for diversified husbandry. An energizing pioneer and one who blazes the way for new enterprise must always bear the weight of responsibility and doubts alone, and his reward only comes when success has smiled on his efforts and proved his judgment and foresight to have been well directed. Thus, while Mr. Kemp is now looked upon as one of the benefactors of the entire region about Wichita Falls, only a few years ago his position was that of one who embarks upon an untired sea of possibilities and who must endure, if not ridicule, at least the doubting silence of the wary ones who hold back from the sea of high and bold emprise. But no venture in this new country can be valued more highly than that of Mr. Kemp which has added immeasurably to the material wealth of this part of the country, and what in him men formerly esteemed rashness will always henceforth be considered the acme of good judgment and industrial foresight.
Mr. Kemp is a native son of the Lone Star state, and was born in the town of Clifton, Bosque county, in 1861, a son of W. T. and Emma (Stinnett) Kemp. His father, a native of Tennessee, came as an early settler to this state in 1856, locating at Clifton, where he was a prosperous merchant for many years, was also tax assessor of Bosque county, and died at Clifton, aged forty-eight years. His wife is still living, making her home at Wichita Falls. She was born in Missouri, but was reared in Texas, and was married at Clifton.
Mr. Kemp received a good education in the public schools, and grew up in the mercantile business with his father. When he was eighteen years old he went into business on his own account in Clifton, and prospered and laid the foundation for his future success. After reaching his majority, in 1883, he came to Wichita Falls, in which town then small in size but with boundless possibilities his ambition and energy would have full scope. He engaged in the retail dry-goods and grocery business, his store being located on Ohio street about where Thatcher’s hardware establishment now stands. In 1888 he sold out the retail business, after five years of excellent success, and in the following year bought out the wholesale grocery which had been established by C. C. White. He organized the J. A. Kemp Wholesale Grocery Company and became president of the firm. Under his control the business prospered exceedingly for a town of the size of Wichita Falls, and for several past years its business ran as high as a million dollars, while 1904 will see the trade reach the million and a half mark. In the latter part of 1903 Mr. Kemp sold his controlling interest in this establishment, but he still is connected therewith as vice president.
Mr. Kemp became president of the City National Bank of Wichita Falls in 1891, and has held this position ever since. The bank was organized in 1890, and is has ever since been the conservator and supporter of the commercial and industrial prosperity of Wichita Falls and the immense agricultural territory tributary thereto.
The Lake Wichita Irrigation and Water Company as an industrial enterprise of great pith and moment had its inception and its successful working out through Mr. Kemp. The carrying out of this undertaking required “nerve,” for everybody discouraged him, or tried to, and it was due to his indomitable will and confidence and perseverance that his labors in the end bore fruit. It was some three years ago that this project took definite shape in his mind. He personally explored Holliday creek for many miles and figured out the prospects for water in every detail. Then with the indubitable facts and figures in support of his contentions, he enlisted the aid of outside capital, a large amount of which was contributed by his partner, M. Lasker, a well known capitalist of Galveston. The Lake Wichita Irrigation and Water Company was formed, a large dam was built across Holliday creek forming one of the largest artificial lakes in the country, three thousand acres in extent. The lake is situated five miles south of Wichita Falls. The company owns four thousand acres, which it is selling, with water rights, for seventy-five to one hundred dollars an acre; altogether at least ten thousand acres can be bought under cultivation through irrigation from this lake. Thus soon the effect of the enterprise has been felt on the commercial status of Wichita Falls, and for all years to come the city and surrounding country will receive wealth from the soil watered by Wichita Lake. Experienced agriculturists have begun the raising of all kinds of vegetables and fruits on this land, where cantaloupes especially thrive, and the city is thus becoming noted as a shipping center. Similar irrigation plants, following the successful outcome of this one, have been established, and will continue to enrich the city and territory hereabout.
Mr. Kemp is a large owner of business property in Wichita Falls and also of large farming tracts and is thoroughly identified with the business affairs of city and county. He has made a remarkable success from small beginnings, and takes front place among the forceful and enterprising men of affairs in North Texas. Fraternally he is affiliated with the Masonic fraternity.
He was married at Clifton, in 1882, to Miss Flora Anderson, a native of this state. They have five children: Emma Sibyl, Mary Jewel, Flora Charlotte, Bertha May and Joseph Anderson, all at home.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 444-445.