Origin story: Descendant of Mahlon S. Kemmerer visits town while on vacation

Mitch Kemmer holds a copy of the Kemmerer Gazette during a visit from Tennessee with his wife, Joy Kemmer. Mitch Kemmer is a descendant of Mahlon S. Kemmerer, the man Kemmerer is named after. (GAZETTE PHOTO/Mark Tesoro)

KEMMERER — Recently, a descendant from the German family for whom Kemmerer is named came to the city of Kemmerer to visit. Mitch and Joy Kemmer live near Grassy Cove, Tennessee (the largest sink hole in the world) where they own a hunting lodge and Spartan Hunting Preserve in Grandview, Tennessee. 

In a telephone interview with the Gazette, Mitch said the Kemmerer family came to the U.S. as immigrants from Germany in the 1700s. They settled in Pennsylvania, where the family split up in 1806, and half of the family moved to Tennessee. Mitch’s family in Tennessee chose to drop the last “er” from their name to simplify it. The Tennessee family then lost contact with the Pennsylvania group, though Mitch said he grew up hearing about the Wyoming town.  

Mitch and Joy Kemmer said that when they decided to vacation in Wyoming at Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, they planned an extra day to visit Kemmerer.

“I am a history buff and wanted to connect with that side of my family,” Mitch Kemmer said. “The oldest store in my county in Tennessee is named the John C. Kemmer Store and he was a grandson of the man the town of Kemmerer is named after.”  

Histories of Kemmerer are on Wikipedia and WyomingTrailsandTales.com. Both sites state that the naming of the city was done by Patrick J. Quealy, who founded Kemmerer as an “independent town” (in which lots were sold rather than leased from the coal company) in 1897. This allowed independent businesses to be established.

Quealy was vice president of the Kemmerer Coal Company located 6 miles south of the original town site. He named the company and town after his financial backer, Pennsylvania coal magnate Mahlon S. Kemmerer (1843-1925). Quealy was the founding president of First National Bank, established in 1900. Kemmerer Savings Bank was founded in 1909.

Mahlon S. Kemmerer got his start at age 19, when he was employed by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. He rose through the ranks to become a commissioned coal dealer and developed ownership interests in various coal and iron companies in Pennsylvania and Virginia.  He was president of the Wyoming and Missouri River Railroad which served coal mines in the northeastern Black Hills section of Wyoming.  

Mitch Kemmer said he is not sure how far back in his genealogy Mahlon S. Kemmerer is but he does know that Mahlon is an ancestor.   

“My wife and I were disappointed when we got to Kemmerer and the museum was closed on a Wednesday,” Mitch Kemmer said. “We only had the one day to spend as our flight back was on Thursday morning. It was great to see the little town, though, and we met Mark Tesoro, the newspaper publisher there and told him our story,” Kemmer said.

Many notable people were born or raised in Kemmerer, including James Cash Penney who founded his J.C. Penney stores there in 1902. Other notables include John Buck, MLB catcher for the Seattle Mariners; Jerry Buss, late owner of the Los Angeles Lakers; William L. Carlisle, one of American’s last train robbers; and Edgar Herschler, Governor of Wyoming from 1975-1986. Kemmerer was also referred to as “Old Town,” the setting for Phillip K. Dick’s 1959 science fiction novel, “Time Out of Joint.”

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