Kirbyville is on Trout Creek, U.S. Highway 96, and the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway, eighteen miles south of Jasper in east central Jasper County. It was first named Kirby, for John Henry Kirby, by W. C. Averill, then treasurer of Kirby's railroad, the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City line between the Neches and Sabine rivers. The town was established and laid out by R. P. Allen of Galveston in 1895, when the railroad reached the site where Kirby planned to develop a community to facilitate marketing lumber from his extensive timber holdings. The first lots were sold on May 1, 1895. That year a post office was established, and the name was changed to Kirbyville when postal officials discovered another town called Kirby. In 1896 the local schools had seventy-five pupils and one teacher, and the community had four general stores, a hotel, and a population of 300. Kirby sold his railroad to the Santa Fe (see ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND SANTA FE RAILWAY SYSTEM) in 1900, and after 1904 the town served as the Texas terminus of the Jasper and Eastern Railway. In 1905 the local White school had 320 pupils and one teacher, and the local Black school had sixty-five pupils and one teacher. By 1914 the community reported 2,900 residents, two banks, five general stores, and the Kirbyville Banner, founded in 1902.
Although a downtown district developed on the east side of town near the railroad station in the early 1900s and shifted settlement away from the sawmill site, Kirbyville became a typical company town after Kirby formed the Kirby Lumber Company in 1901. The founder's public charities included provision of teachers' salaries for a night school program for children of the poor and lots donated for the building of a church. At the peak of the company's lumber manufacturing and exporting trade activities, between 1910 and 1920, the firm had twelve operating mills, five logging camps, and about 16,500 employees. Though the city became part of an area of timber conservation in 1926 and State Forest No. 1 was established three miles east of town in the mid-1920s, the 1920s and 1930s left much of the area cut over, with stumps visible for miles.
Because of local farming, the community came to be known as the "home of the Satsuma oranges" and grew into a cotton market and trade center for the central parts of both Jasper and Newton counties. In 1928 Kirbyville had a planing mill, two branches of the Santa Fe line, the Magnolia Natural Gas Company gas plant, and a population of 2,000 engaged in cattle raising, dairying, and other diversified farming in addition to lumbering. The main offices of the Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative Association were in the town, and three local sawmills had a combined daily capacity of 40,000 board feet and shipped fifteen cars of pulpwood monthly. The town reported a low of 1,088 residents and forty-one businesses in 1944 and a high of 2,161 residents and ninety-two businesses in 1982. In 1990 it reported sixty-six businesses and a population of 1,952 and served as a trade center for Jasper and Newton counties. Residents were self-employed in small businesses or commuted to out-of-town jobs at the Evadale papermill, the plywood mill at Fawil in Newton County, or the chemical and petrochemical plants in the Beaumont and Orange areas. By 2000 the population reached 2,085 with 186 businesses.