Helen Kerr Thompson, founder of an agricultural community, was born around 1875, probably in East Texas, one of five children of Amelia Rutherford (Murray) and John Steele Kerr. The Kerrs were a farming family, and John Kerr was also a well-known horticulturist. Helen spent most of her childhood in Sherman, to where her family moved in 1884. In 1898 she married J. Lewis Thompson, who had studied at Austin College in Sherman and would later become a lumber manufacturer, banker, and member of the Texas legislature. The Thompsons made their home in Houston, and through World War I Helen raised their two sons and was active in civic and social activities in Houston. After the war, however, she was eager to engage in new endeavors. She considered entering politics, but instead, when her husband offered her a gift of 12,000 acres of his forest land in Trinity County, she set out to establish a model working agricultural community there. On her land, which became a part of the town of Woodlake, she grew corn, cotton, and sugar cane, established permanent pastures and continuous forestry, developed a purebred Hereford herd, and founded a commercial poultry plant. Utilizing the acreage in as many ways as possible, Mrs. Thompson developed a system that featured crop rotation and diversification, modern farm homes, and cooperative marketing. A community house and park were also included in the area, and Helen Thompson served as the first postmaster of Woodlake. Her farming community flourished for several years but suffered in the late 1920s and early 1930s from the Great Depression and the removal of the local railroad. The land was taken over by the federal government in 1934 to serve as rehabilitation and relief project for farmers. Despite additional construction and improvements to the community, this effort ended by the time the United States entered World War II. By the late 1940s Woodlake was only a tiny community with few traces of its historic farming experiment. Helen Thompson spent the latter years of her life in Houston, where she died on August 29, 1965. Following her funeral service at the First Presbyterian Church, Houston, she was buried in Kilgore. Her survivors included two sons, two sisters, and several grandchildren.
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Farm and Ranch, July 18, 1925. Patricia B. and Joseph W. Hensley, eds., Trinity County Beginnings (Groveton, Texas: Trinity County Book Committee, 1986). Houston Post, August 31, 1965.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Debbie Mauldin Cottrell,
“Thompson, Helen Kerr,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
July 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 23, 2013
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: