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A Look Back at the Rich Historical Past of Wichita Falls, Texas [VIDEO]

Wichita Falls then now
Wichita Falls Then and Now

By Keandra Davis

Although Wichita Falls is a small city, it has huge cultural and historic significance. For example, did you know the very first Zales diamond store opened its doors right here in Wichita Falls, or that the smallest skyscraper in the world can be found on 7th street and Ohio? Here is a look back at the city’s rich historical past and how it benefits and affects its present.

Watch the video below as Julie Coley, historical tour guide and author of ‘How Did They Die: Murders in Northern Texas 1892-1927,’ gives commentary of her knowledge on the amazing history of Wichita Falls.

Wichita Falls has grown and changed over the years. New places are being built while old buildings are being torn down. The city’s affluent historical past has shaped its presence today.

Downtown Wichita Falls was once the focal point of the city. During this time, there were no houses in the area other than downtown. The main road for residents at the time was on Indiana road where the Wichita Theater still stands today.

“This was the main hub of downtown,” Julie Coley, author and tour guide said. “This is where all of the shopping took place.”

Downtown is also home to the First Baptist church. The church was first located on Indiana street, but then relocated to its present location on 9th street. It was one of the first churches to settle in town.

The Kell House Museum sits to the right of the First Baptist Church. The museum is the former home to the family of Frank Kell. Frank Kell married Lula Kemp, sister of Joseph Kemp. Kell and Kemp were entrepreneurs who invested in the wealth of Wichita Falls.

“Frank Kell and Joseph A Kemp were two of our founding fathers. Without them, Wichita Falls would not be here today,” Coley said. “On Kemp’s headstone it says ‘if you look around you will see me,’ and that is true. If you look all around Wichita Falls you will see what he has done for this town.”

Past the Kell House Museum there once stood the First General Hospital. Built in 1915, The General hospital was one of two hospitals in the town. General hospital went on to merge with Bethania Regional to create United Regional Health Care System in 1991. The General hospital was demolished in late 2013.

“I know that there are a lot of people here in town who were born at the general hospital and they hated to see it go. It was heartbreaking for them,” Coley said.

Amongst other historical facts, one of the most interesting is the story on how the “littlest” skyscraper came to be.

In 1919, contractor J.D. McMahon proposed the idea to build a skyscraper that seemed to be grand and beneficial to the community.

“What he didn’t tell his investors was that the scale of the blueprint was in inches instead of feet,” Coley said.

McMahon reportedly collected $200,000 and left town, with no word on his whereabouts.

The first Zales Jewelry store in the world once called downtown home, located on the corner of 8th and Ohio. Currently, plans are being made to renovate and preserve it as part of Wichita Falls history.

The significance and historic features of old downtown Wichita Falls is what defines and makes the city valuable today.

“Downtown was the beginning of Wichita Falls,” Coley said. “The littlest skyscraper, the area along Indiana Avenue and the original Zale’s store are probably some of the most significant places in the downtown area. That’s where our city began.

Check out the Wichita Falls, Texas History FaceBook page if you want to know more cool and historical facts about Wichita Falls.

NEXT: Take the Wichita Falls Then and Now Quiz

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