The History of Wichita Falls, Texas

Wichita Falls, located in north Texas along the Red and Wichita Rivers, has a rich and storied history dating back to the 1860s. From its early beginnings as a small frontier settlement to its rise as an economic hub in the region, Wichita Falls has seen its fair share of change over the past 150+ years. In this local guide, we’ll explore the major events, people, and developments that have shaped this city into what it is today.

Founding of Wichita Falls

The area that is now Wichita Falls was first inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Wichitas, for whom the city is named. White settlers began arriving in the 1860s, establishing small ranches and farms along the Wichita River.

In 1870, John A. Scott acquired 160 acres of land for a town site along the Wichita River. He named this initial settlement Wichita City. In 1882, the Wichita Falls & Southern Railroad established a division point in Wichita Falls, connecting the city to national markets and spurring growth. That same year, the city was incorporated and renamed Wichita Falls.

Key Figures in Wichita Falls’ Early Days

  • John A. Scott – Founder of Wichita City, the origins of what would become Wichita Falls
  • Joseph Alexander Kemp – Entrepreneur who capitalized on the arrival of the railroad, plotting east Wichita Falls
  • Frank Kell – Banker and oilman who invested heavily in downtown Wichita Falls in the early 1900s

Turn of the Century: Population Boom

Around the turn of the 20th century, Wichita Falls experienced rapid population and economic growth, driven in large part by the arrival of railroads. In 1880, the population was just 221, but by 1890 it had soared to over 3,000 residents.

Key events that fueled early growth in Wichita Falls include:

  • 1906 – Discovery of oil transformed Wichita Falls into a boomtown
  • 1907 – Wichita Falls is incorporated as a city
  • 1910 – Population swells to over 8,000 as the city becomes a railroad and manufacturing hub

This period saw the development of many iconic downtown buildings, including the Wichita Falls City Hall, Wichita County Courthouse, and Kemp and Kell Buildings.

World Wars Bring Military Investment

Wichita Falls played an important role supporting American military efforts in both World Wars in the 20th century. This brought significant economic investment and development into the city.

World War I

  • 1917 – Wichita Falls selected as a military training site for Sheppard Field, home to one of the nation’s first primary flying schools
  • 1922 – Camp Wichita permanently established as an Army and Air Force training post

World War II

  • 1940s – Sheppard Field expanded and numerous aircraft manufacturers set up shop, including North American Aviation
  • Wichita Falls became a major manufacturing center for the war effort

Post-War Growth in the Mid 1900s

After World War II, Wichita Falls continued to grow steadily, diversifying its economy while retaining its military ties.

  • 1953 – Population reaches 100,000
  • 1963 – Midwestern State University is established
  • 1964 – Sheppard Air Force Base remains active, ensuring a military anchor for the local economy

During this time, the city also invested in culture and recreation, building the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at Midwestern State University in 1967.

Recent Developments

As Wichita Falls moves into the 21st century, it continues to balance its traditional role as a hub of commerce and transportation with emerging industries.

  • In 2014, the city opened a Multi-Purpose Events Center downtown, demonstrating continued investment.
  • The healthcare sector has become increasingly important, led by United Regional Health Care System.
  • Wichita Falls’ population has stabilized around 100,000 residents, maintaining its status as an urban anchor in north Texas.
  • Sheppard Air Force Base remains central to the local economy and community.

While the future is always uncertain, Wichita Falls has proven resilient and adaptive over its 150+ year history. The city will no doubt continue to transform, as it balances its rich past with new opportunities. But the independent, pioneering spirit that drove its founding remains very much alive today.

Key Historic Events Timeline

  • 1860s – First settlers arrive in the area
  • 1870 – Wichita City founded by John Scott
  • 1882 – Railroad comes through town, Wichita Falls incorporated
  • 1900 – Population tops 3,000 as oil discovered
  • 1910 – Population of over 8,000 as city becomes manufacturing hub
  • 1917 – Sheppard Field area established for military pilot training
  • 1920s – Downtown Wichita Falls expands with new investments
  • 1940s – Manufacturing booms in WWII and Air Force presence grows
  • 1953 – City reaches population of 100,000
  • 1960s – Midwestern State University established
  • 1980s – Healthcare sector expands significantly
  • 2014 – New multi-purpose events center opens downtown

Historic Areas and Attractions

Wichita Falls has numerous historic areas and attractions that provide insight into its heritage:

Downtown Wichita Falls

Downtown features many buildings from Wichita Falls’ founding era and early 20th century boom, including:

  • Wichita County Courthouse – classical Revival styled courthouse built in 1913
  • Kemp and Kell Buildings – twin eight-story buildings constructed in 1909
  • Wichita Falls City Hall – Originally Union Depot train station, rebuilt in 1937
  • Wichita Theatre – beautifully restored 1927 vaudeville and movie house


  • Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas – Has 7,000 works, including long-term exhibits surveying Lone Star art history
  • Museum of North Texas History – Profile the region’s natural and cultural history, from the Wichita people to pioneers

Sheppard Air Force Base

The active Air Force base has museums and historic sites providing insight into its long legacy training pilots:

  • Sheppard Military Museum – Artifacts tracing the base’s role in aviation history since WWI
  • Historic District – Homes from the 1940s-60s Opportunity Village provide a glimpse into past base life

Lucius D. Wichita House

Built in 1909, this prairie-style home is now a museum operated by the Wichita County Heritage Society, dedicated to the city founder.

So in summary, Wichita Falls has a storied history still very much in evidence across its museums, neighborhoods, buildings and community anchors. Exploring the city provides a true window into the frontier spirit, entrepreneurship, perseverance, and pride of place that have defined this North Texas city for over 150 years.


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  • Start out heading north on I-44 W. Take exit 1A to merge onto US-277 N/US-281 N toward Wichita Falls. Drive for about 13 miles then use the right 2 lanes to take exit 1A for TX-240 Loop/Kell Fwy toward Downtown/Sheppard AFB. Continue on TX-240 Loop W for 4 miles then use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto Kemp Blvd. In 0.6 miles, turn right onto Dunbarton Dr. The destination will be on the right in 0.3 miles.
  • Begin on US-277 N in Burkburnett. Drive north for approximately 11 miles and take exit 46 for TX-240 Loop W/Kell Fwy toward Downtown/Sheppard AFB. Stay straight to continue on TX-240 Loop W for 4 miles. Use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto Kemp Blvd. After 0.6 miles, make a right onto Dunbarton Dr. 4500 Dunbarton Dr will be on the right side in 0.3 miles.
  • Head west on I-44 W and take exit 46A to merge onto US-277 N toward Wichita Falls. In about 12.5 miles, take exit 1A to get on TX-240 Loop W/Kell Fwy going west. Stay on TX-240 Loop W for 4 miles then use the left lanes to turn left onto Kemp Blvd. Drive 0.6 miles and turn right onto Dunbarton Dr. The destination will soon be on the right after driving 0.3 miles more.