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The John Henry Kirby Family Collection - Peach Tree Village

Kathleen Chandler Kirby Young

Silent | 1969

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  •  A woman walks through the Kirby Memorial Chapel  
  •  Peach Tree Village Hall 
  •  A man pulls the bell chord 
  •  Peach Tree Village Historic Marker 
  •  Kirby Memorial Museum 
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Shot in either 1969 or 1970, this home movie shows the Kirby family visiting Peach Tree Village in Tyler County. John Henry Kirby, a famous lumber man during the turn of the 20th century, grew up in Peach Tree Village. After moving to Houston he built a memorial chapel in his old farm town to honor his deceased parents. The film shows a woman walking through the Memorial Chapel. She then walks outside with a young girl and an older man. They visit the Peach Tree Village historic marker and observe a sign pointing towards the Kirby Memorial Park.
Peach Tree Village is a small farming town located near the Neches River, about two miles north of Chester in Tyler County. The Village was the largest and most prominent village of the Alabama Indians. 
During the Texas Revolution, the Alabama Indians declared neutrality at General Sam Houston’s request. They fed and housed white settlers who came through and raised a white flag to fleeing Texans. 
When Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836, and influx of settlers arrived at Peach Tree. Eventually, the community transformed into a frontier town with the introduction of stores, the cotton gin, saloons, a church, a school, and a post office.
In 1883, the Trinity and Sabine Railway built tracks in Chester, causing Peach Tree to lose its appeal. 
In 1912, Houston businessman John Henry Kirby built a red, brick chapel to honor his parents and childhood in Peach Tree. Today, the area is under the trusteeship of Tyler County Commissioners Court.  
Born in 1860, John Henry Kirby was a famous entrepreneur and timberland owner in Houston, Texas. Known to his peers as “The Prince of Pines” and “The Father of Industrial Texas,” Kirby became one of the leading lumber manufacturers in East Texas. 
Kirby’s parents raised him with minimal means in Peach Tree Village, a small town in Tyler County. He spent s short period of time studying law at Southwestern University in Georgetown before practicing law in Woodville, Texas. There he met his wife Leila Stewart, and the two had their daughter Bessie May. Kirby and his new family moved to Houston, where they spent the rest of their lives. 
Throughout his life, Kirby managed numerous businesses, some of which prospered and others of which floundered. Along with a group of Boston investors, Kirby founded the Texas Louisiana Land and Lumber Company and the Texas Pine Land Association. Both companies provided Kirby with a small fortune, which eventually enabled him to build the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railway in 1896. 
In 1901, Kirby tried his luck in the oil industry and created the Houston Oil Company with Patrick Calhoun. The two also founded the Kirby Lumber Company in the same year. Although the relationship eventually deteriorated, the Kirby Lumber Company controlled more than 300,000 acres of East Texas pinelands. 
John Henry Kirby died in 1940, but his legacy and name live on. The John Henry Kirby State Forest in Tyler County, Kirby Drive and Upper Kirby in Houston, and Kirbyville in Jasper County are all named after him.