By: Stephanie Reeves
A businessman and philanthropist, Joseph Albert Kirven made quite the name in retail for Columbus’ past. It was the only independent department store in Columbus that opened in 1876. It had entrances from three streets spanning 70,000 sq. ft. As Columbus began building it’s retail up, and with the opening of Columbus Square Mall, Kirven’s would now find a second home there in 1975. The department store served as the third anchor for the mall.
Joseph Albert Kirven was one of the representative citizens of Columbus, Georgia, having been born in this City April 24th, 1849 and having spent his entire life of 69 years in this community. He was the son of James Henry Kirven who was born in Fayetteville, N. C, April 10th, 1804 and who moved to Muscogee County, Georgia in 1828 The following year he was married to Miss Thirza Bevers Gray of Columbus, her birth having occurred in Morgan County, Georgia, October 3rd., 1812.
Joseph Albert Kirven received his early education in the Schools of Columbus and was about twelve years of age at the beginning of the War between the States. He was too young to enlist in the Army but rendered aid to the Cause of the Confederacy as a coremaker in the arsenal of Columbus. After the War, he clerked in a book store and one of the high lights in that period of his life was the reading of the books at night that he sold during the day. His education having been limited on account of the War, he later attended school in the evenings, thus showing his ambition for an education.
Mr. Kirven entered the dry goods business August 1st, 1876 and was organizer of the present J. A. Kirven Company. The business prospered under his well directed efforts and today is operating on the sound foundation laid by him and his brother, Richard Kirven. The Store today is managed by his son, James DuPont Kirven who is president and affiliated with him are two sons-in-law and a grandson of Mr. Albert Kirven. They are Wesley Laney, Albert Wade and Kirven Gilbert respectively.
Mr. Kirven was one of the most public spirited men in the community and always took a part in every forward movement. It was while he was in Washington in the interest of the location of the present Fort Benning, that he was stricken with illness which in a few weeks proved fatal. He served several terms as President of the Board of Trade; was a member of the Board of Aldermen three terms; and served fourteen years as a member of the Board of School Trustees of Columbus.
He was a member of the First Baptist Church and served as Chairman of the Board of Deacons for many years. He was Superintendent of the Sunday School for twenty years. He always had a deep passion for the young men and boys of Columbus and was President of the Y. M. C. A. when the present building was erected. This was brought on by philanthropist George Foster Peabody making this a proposal to J.A. Kirven in September of 1901. In part it read from Mr. Peabody: "I beg now, upon behalf of my brothers (Roy Confield Peabody and Charles Jones Peabody) and myself to formally confirm our offer to erect a building to cost not less than $35,000 suitable for occupancy by the YMCA and to be placed upon a lot of ground to be provided and deeded to the association by other friends, free of lien. This offer is conditioned upon the purchase and payment for this land, and upon the raising of as much as $10,000 in cash to be invested and held by the trustees of the association for an endowment fund."
He was one of the promoters and supporters of the project, which resulted in the erection of the Institution and was president of it at the time of his death, having held this office for eighteen consecutive years. He was affiliated with the Royal Arcanum, the National Union, the Ancient Order of United Workmen and Knights of Maccabees. At the time of his death he was president of the Associated Charities and a member of the Board of Directors of the Muscogee County Alms Home.
On November 23rd, 1873 Mr, Kirven was married to Miss Ella Jane Wall, daughter of Cornelius DuPont and lane. Cheiney Wall of Macon and Columbus Georgia. She died July 31st, 1903, leaving six children of whom the following brief record is entered : Alberta, the wife of Thomas Gilbert, Jr.; Margaret, the wife of Wesley T. Laney; Florence, the wife of Will H. Foy; Annie, the wife of Fred Gordy; Eula, the wife of Albert B. Wade and a son, J. DuPont Kirven, who married Elizabeth Fry. Seventeen grandchildren and tour great grandchildren revere the memory of their grandfather.
On March 14th, 1918 Joseph Albert Kirven's life of usefulness came to an end. He was held in unequivocal esteem in both business and social circles. His pleasing personality was one of his marked characteristics and that with his loyalty to all civic and religious enterprises made him one of the outstanding and one of the most beloved citizens of Columbus. SVM