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James Barnes - Centennial History of Barnesville

James Barnes The Founder of Barnesville

extract from
History of Belmont and Jefferson Counties, Ohio
J.A. Caldwell (1880)

It is well to premise the history of Barnesville, with a sketch of the man who not only gave it a name, but made it a place of no mean importance.


It affords a pleasure to the inhabitants of great empires, states, or kingdoms to be able to trace the origin of their founders up to noble sources, and it is alike agreeable to the residents of cities, towns or villages to do the same. The citizens of Barnesville have reason to congratulate themselves that in this respect their town stands in an advanced rank.

The ancestors of James Barnes were of English origin, and the pedigree of the family may be pursued back very distinctly to the troublous days of Charles I. At that time the parental progenitors of Mr. Barnes resided in the north of England, held high positions under that unfortunate monarch, and throughout the vehement and boisterous contentions between that sovereign and the Parliament remained rigid adherents to his failing cause. During the Commonwealth of necessity they sank into obscurity, but at the Restoration were again advanced to place and power.

The Bairns, as the name was then spelled, possessed large landed estates, and the various lucrative offices filled by them added much to their great wealth. Shortly after the Restoration the Bairns became converts to the religious opinions of Fox, Penn and Barclay, and, abandoning the allurements of public office, retired to the privacy of their landed estates, to be the better prepared to carry on that spiritual communion with the Most High, so greatly desired by the " Seekers," as the " Friends" were then called. Their influence at court still continued to be powerful, out of consideration for their ancient attachment to the Crown, and to the Bairns is due much of the honor for the liberal enactments toward the Quakers in the subsequent reigns of William and Mary and George I.

The English law of descents as to real estate has the effect, however, of making a few of a family rich, while the larger number are thrown off on the world inI moderate circumstances, or poor and penniless. By this means the great bulk of the aristocracy of the kingdom, as far as property is concerned, are forced to the lowest levels of society, to be again elevated to distinction by services to the state, success in business, or by the commanding influence of talents. It is to this perpetual revolution of pecuniary position that much of the stability and tenacity of the British government is to be attributed.

The rule of primogeniture -had its usual effect on the Bairns family, and the immediate ancestry of Mr. Barnes were of those reduced by it to slender fortune. So about the year 1758 three brothers of the family determined to try the mutations of life in the New World. They took ship at Liverpool, and, on arrivat New York, one of them settled in that colony, another in Pennsylvania, and the third, David, the father of James Barnes, selected Maryland as his future home. He located in Baltimore county, purchased a small plantation, and in a year afterward was married.

James Barnes, a son of this marriage, was born in that county in the year 1772. His father being a man of feeble constitution, his health failed him, and the maintenance of the family fell upon his sons. So when James arrived at his majority, he had not one cent with which to begin the battle of life. But he rented farms of others on the shares, and raised crops during the summer, and in winter made shoes for the neighbors, having taken up the trade of cord-wainer without the assistance of a regular apprenticeship. In a few years he married Elizabeth Harrison, whom our readers of middle age will well remember as the old Quaker lady who used to blow the dinner horn at the front door of Mr. Barnes' residence in the long ago, regulating by the punctuality of its occurrence, the time-pieces of the little village. In the year following his marriage, he rented a mill, but still continued his shoemaking during the winter. But a short time elapsed before he was able to buy a farm in Montgomery county, Maryland. On this farm, he laid out a town called Barnesville, which name it still bears.

In this village he opened a little store, his wife acting as clerk, while he made shoes. The Indian troubles in the Mississippi valley having ceased, and the flood of emigration setting in for that region, Mr. Barnes concluded to remove to the West. He arrived at St. Clairsville, in 1803, and immediately opened a tavern on the present site of the Frasier House. This business was carried on by him for a year or so, when he commenced a dry goods trade near the southeast corner of Main and Marietta streets, where he remained until he removed to Barnesville in 1812.


In the year 1806 he entered the lands then entirely in woods, on which Barnesville now stands. In 1808 he associated himself with Rev. James Rounds in the tanning business, and Mr. Rounds removed to the lands to open up the tan yards. On November 8, 1808, Mr, Barnes laid out the town of Barnesville, and at once offered all the lots for sale, except the first block east of Chestnut, fronting on Main and Church streets. That block he reserved for himself and family.

Mr. Barnes in 1809 caused to be erected on "lot No. 18" a frame storeroom and dwelling under one roof, and in 1810 opened out a mercantile establishment under the supervision of William Philpot, the first in the village. Mr. Barnes with his family removed from St. Clairsville to Barnesville in 1812. The first house occupied by him in the town, was the front part of the present residence of Robert Harper, on lot No. 42. In 1813 or 1814, he removed to lot No. 17, on which he resided till his death.


Some time in 1809, Mr. Barnes had ten acres of land cleared up for an orchard. The work of clearing was performed by John and Thomas Shannon, to whom Mr. Barnes paid fifty dollars in cash for the labor. These ten acres extended from the road in front of Kelion Hager's residence, east beyond the mansion house of Adam Bentz. The orchard was planted in 1810, with fruit trees consisting of the best varieties then known, and occupied the grounds upon which Hager's first addition to the town of Barnesville is situated

How many of our readers have sported in the shade of that old orchard, regaled themselves on the odors of its sweet scented blossoms, and in the transports of childish delights, have feasted on its fruits? But the old orchard is gone, and hard beaten streets and stately mansions now occupy its place.


As soon as Mr. Barnes had located himself permanently in the town he began efforts to make it a prominent business place. He erected on lot No. 20 a house for clearifying ginseng, and entered very largely into its purchase. Some years he bought, clearified and shipped as high as thirty thousand pounds of this article. In 1814, he set on foot a joint stock company to erect a flouring mill and woolen factory, and succeeded in having them built under one roof. They were erected in 1815 and went into operation. In a few years the company failed and the entire pressure of its indebtedness fell on Mr. Barnes and so damaged his fortune that he never recovered from its effect

The woolen mill was kept running until about 1835. when the machinery was removed and a saw mill attached to the flouring mill in its stead. The saw mill has long since disappeared, and the flouring mill a few years ago succumbed to the devouring flame. The woolen factory was the largest and did the greatest variety of any similar manufacturing establishment ever erected in Belmont county. Its machinery consisted of six carding machines, two spinning jennys, two pickers, one power loom and six hand looms, dressers proportioned to the looms, falling stocks and press.

The work made by it embraced every kind of cloth, Kentucky jeans, satinetts and cassimere's, beside all the country work for the surrounding region to the distance of ten to twenty miles. Mr. Barnes operated it at a constant loss, for the competition of custom and imported fabrics prevented profits.


As there had to be a simultaneous assembling of the operatives of the factory, there was placed on the summit of the mill a little belfry and a bell weighing about forty pounds, suspended to it. That jolly little old bell was an institution in its day. Its coming was greeted with an excitement commensurate with its importance. Crowds of men, women and children gathered to see it and give it welcome. And on the day it was suspended in the belfry, a multitude equally as large as that brought together at the advent of a menagerie now, stood then about the old mill, with upturned faces, anxiously awaiting the first outburst of its pealing sounds.

So fascinating were its notes to the juveniles of the town that for years afterward hundreds of urchins and lasses would perch on the stumps and fences around just before the time for calling the hands together, to catch the dulcet chimes of the little old belt of the mill.


About 1823 or 1824 Mr. Barnes commenced dealing in the leaf tobacco trade. For a year or two he packed his tobacco in a large barn which stood precisely where the present mansion of Kelion Hager is situated. In 1826 he erected a large tobacco house on the present site of the Presbyterian church, at which he managed the business until 1842. The old packing-house was subsequently purchased by Henry T. Barnes, a nephew of James Barnes, and was removed to a site west of the Presbyterian Church.

James Barnes bought great quantities of leaf tobacco each year, and some years packed as many as eight hundred hogsheads of it, thereby furnishing the farmers with means to pay for their farms, to build their dwellings, and increase in wealth. He sustained heavy losses on that article in the years 1828 and 1832, and suffered an immense one in 1838, which finally ended in his bankruptcy.


Mr. Barnes was a member of the Society of Friends, and contributed largely to the building up of that denomination of Christians in Warren township. When the disastrous schism occurred between Elias Hicks and the Church he rejected the opinions of Mr. Hicks, and continued till his death to commune with the Friends. Although Mr. Barnes was a rigid adherent to the tenets of his ancestral faith, he was no bigot, but was liberally munificent to all other divisions of Christians in the neighborhood. He not only donated the two acres of ground on which the old Methodist Church stands, but also aided generously in its erection.


When the National road was about to be located Mr. Barnes used all his influence to obtain its passage through Barnesville, but other counsels ruled. "Never mind, gentlemen," said Mr. Barnes, "thee have refused to put the pike on the natural route, but let me say to thee, that after awhile a railroad will come through Belmont county, and then thee'll see that it will pass right through my big meadow." And so it did.


The personal appearance of Mr. Barnes was very commanding. He was over six feet in height and of portly build. His complexion was slightly florid, with auburn hair, blue eyes and a very benevolent countenance. He always dressed in drabcolored clothes, cut to the precise pattern of the Quaker costume, and always wore a broad-brimmed hat. His voice was very strong and sonorous, and so powerful in compass that he could be heard, when in ordinary conversation, at a distance of a hundred yards. He walked slowly, with a deliberate and measured step, and if once seen would never be forgotten by the beholder.

He was kind, generous and benevolent to a fault. No poor man who asked assistance was refused, if in Mr. Barnes' power to help him; and no person ever approached him for consolation but received the assuaging influence of his compassionate regards. He sold his town lots on easy terms, to secure population, and leased his farms at low rents to enable the industrious poor to prosper. To the needy he parcelled out his lands, that they might have homes, and exhausted his means that the community might grow rich on the aid afforded by the distribution

He throughout life was a man of indomitable energy. When the calamitous accidents of trade had overwhelmed his property, and it was being frittered away by the consuming processes of law and the depreciation incident to mortgaged realty when offered for sale, the unconquerable old man struck out on the sea of life for himself with the will and strength of early manhood. He went to Baltimore and made arrangements with some friends to start a commission business in leaf tobacco. On his way home to make final preparation for removal to that place he died in the mountains of Pennsylvania. He dropped dead in 1844 just as he stepped from a stage coach to take breakfast at a wayside tavern, and so ended the life of the founder of Barnesville and the greatest benefactor the people of that village have ever had.


About the close of the last century the Legislature of the Northwest Territory authorized the opening out of a road from Dillie's Bottom through Belmont county to Smithton-a settlement a short distance south of the present site of Washington, Guernsey county. This road was called the Putney road, or rather Pultney, as was the original spelling, and the blazings pursued the present line of that highway, with only slight deviations. The pioneers in locating their roads always followed the tops of the ridges, or the margins of the creeks, very rarely crossing either.

The Putney, in passing over the present location of Barnesville, followed Main street to Arch; here it deflected a little to the north, passed with the apex of the ridge to where Chestnut and Church streets cross each other; thence with Church street to the residence of William Piper; thence south to Main street, and with it out of town. After Mr. Barnes had entered the lands, private enterprises changed the line of the Putney to the present thread of Main street. These were the only openings made in the woods which covered the site of Barnesville, until 1808, when Barnes and Round had a half acre cleared off for residence and tanyard, the same being lots Nos. 53 and 54. The old house was pulled down by Mr. Mills many years ago, and the logs used in reconstructing his old house on lot No. 53. It too was torn away, but some of the old Round house were piled, till a few years ago, on the lot.


The first tavern kept in Barnesville was on lot No. 57. This house is still standing and occupied. It was kept by Henry Barnes, a nephew of James Barnes. The tavern had as its sign, swinging from a corner to a post beyond the sideway, the important information:


This symbol of good cheer for the traveler and grog for the jolly, was scrawled in lampblack letters, uncouth and straggling, like the "big hand" of the ancient schoolmaster, on a plain board without border. Barnes, the boniface of the humble little tavern, was a shoemaker, and the first one too that ever "plyed" an awl in the village; but on Saturdays he had no time to wax an end, or pound a sole. These days were the balance sheets-occasions tor the jars, discords and troubles of the rustic denizens of the neighborhood. Whisky was three cents a drink, and large tumblers and bountiful supplies occasioned many a blacked eye. As a rule, the quarrels would be satisfactorily adjusted, and at night they parted friends.

To Barnes' tavern, and his good whisky is to be traced the habitude of the residents of the township, to congregate in Barnesville on Saturdays-a custom of universal obligation even unto the present day.


The grounds on which Barnesville stands were, when in woods, much noted for the quantity of ginseng that grew upon them hundreds of pounds being gathered therefrom annually. The ginseng gatherers, when operating on these grounds, carried their dinners with them, and used to eat on the knob where Watt's foundry stands-drinking from a spring that gurgled from the bank at the head of the hollow where the saw mill stands. When the oldest of the party thought it was time for dinner, he called by whooping through his hands, and immediate obedience was give to the signal.

Among the persons who dug ginseng and snake-roots on these grounds were Aunt Rachael Parsons and Governor Shannon, The former dug many hundreds of pounds, dried and then transported it to St. Clairsville, to buy salt and other groceries. She resided near Barnesville several years before the lands upon which it is situated were entered by Mr. Barnes. She was present at the first burial in the old Methodist graveyard; heard the first sermon ever preached in the place, and was a constant and taithful member of the M. E. Church for over sixty years. Governor Shannon, when a little boy in tow-linen pants and shirt, used to dig these roots, and many a day he toiled here, slaked his thirst with the limpid water of the springs, and hurried with honest childhoods' joy at dinner call, to sit under the out-stretching brances of the great trees to eat his humble lunch.

Caldwell, J.A., History of Belmont and Jefferson Counties, Ohio, Historical Publishing Co. (Wheeling WV : 1880)