Map of Wichita Falls in 1890
Kemp-Kell Building, circa
1910, now known as the Holt Hotel, was one of the first five-story office buildings in the city.
The Choctaw Native Americans settled the area in the early 19th century from their native Mississippi area once Americans negotiated to relocate them after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. American settlers arrived in the 1860s to form cattle ranches. The city was officially titled Wichita Falls on September 27, 1872. On that day, a sale of town lots was held at what is now the corner of Seventh and Ohio Streets – the birthplace of the city. The
Fort Worth & Denver City Railway arrived in September 1882, the same year the city became the county seat of Wichita County. The city grew westwards from the original FW&DC train depot which was located at the northwest corner of Seventh Street and the FW&DC. This area is now referred to as the Depot Square Historic District, which has been declared a Texas Historic Landmark.
The early history of Wichita Falls well into the 20th century also rests on the work of two entrepreneurs, Joseph A. Kemp and his brother-in-law, Frank Kell. Kemp and Kell were pioneers in food processing and retailing, flour milling, railroads, cattle, banking, and oil.
A flood in 1886 destroyed the original falls on the Wichita River for which the city was named. After nearly 100 years of visitors wanting to visit the nonexistent falls, the city built an artificial waterfall beside the river in Lucy Park. The recreated falls are 54 ft (16 m) high and recirculate at 3,500 gallons per minute. They are visible to south-bound traffic on Interstate 44.
The city is currently seeking funding to rebuild and restore the downtown area. Downtown Wichita Falls was the city's main shopping area for many years, but lost ground to the creation of new shopping centers throughout the city beginning with Parker Square in 1953 and other similar developments during the 1960s and 1970s, culminating with the opening of Sikes Senter Mall in 1974.
Wichita Falls was once home to offices of several oil companies and related industries, along with oil refineries operated by the Continental Oil Company (now Conoco Phillips) until 1952 and
Panhandle Oil Company American Petrofina) until 1965. Both firms continued to use a portion of their former refineries as gasoline/oil terminal facilities for many years.
A devastating tornado hit the north and northwest portions of Wichita Falls along with Sheppard Air Force Base during the afternoon of April 3, 1964. As the first violent tornado on record to hit the Wichita Falls area, it left seven dead and more than 100 injured. Additionally, the tornado caused roughly $15 million in property damage with about 225 homes destroyed and another 250 damaged. It was rated as an F5, the highest rating on the Fujita scale, but it is overshadowed by the 1979 tornado.
An F4 tornado struck the heavily populated southern sections of Wichita Falls in the late afternoon on Tuesday, April 10, 1979 (known locally as "Terrible Tuesday"). It was part of an outbreak that produced 30 tornadoes around the region. Despite having nearly an hour's advance warning that severe weather was imminent, 42 people were killed (25 in vehicles) and 1,800 were injured because it arrived just in time for many people to be driving home from work. It left 20,000 people homeless and caused $400 million in damage, a U.S. record not topped by an individual tornado until the F5 Moore-Oklahoma City tornado of May 3, 1999.