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Established in 1895 in east central Jasper County, the city is on the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad and is the terminus of the Jasper and Eastern Railroad. Named for John Henry Kirby, who, along with R.P. Allen, laid out the town site.
The town is in the middle of national and state forests, as well as the Big Thicket National Preserve. Birding is popular in the area. Residents salute the forests with the Magnolia Festival each April.