Judge Joseph Barker House tied to history

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Jack Haessly, left, and Bill Reynolds, right, venture to the front of the Judge Joseph Barker House in Lower Newport Monday to view the state of disrepair. The site is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

LOWER NEWPORT–A testament to forgotten architectural style, the Judge Joseph Barker House’s final days on the southern side of Ohio 7 have mustered a push to save the building and its connection to the area’s history.

The building is on the schedule to be torn down by its current owner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, due to its poor condition and other possible uses for the site.

But on Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Newport Community Building, 38330 State Route 7, a public meeting has been called by local community members to demonstrate support for the building’s preservation.

The house sits down river from the Willow Island Lock and Dams, and once housed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office that oversaw the dam construction. But it has sat vacant for more than 40 years.

“It’s about more than just a house,” said Jack Haessly, who owns Haessly Hardwood Lumber just west of not only the house, but Barker Cemetery and Barker School. “Judge Barker gave a part of his property to the township for that cemetery because the river kept encroaching upon the original area cemetery. He’s buried there and then there’s the school. He was more than just a judge in this community.”

His house also has great significance to the Washington County Historical Society, which has joined with Haessly in the quest to preserve the brick building.

“The (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers has in the past invested in preserving historical sites,” said Bill Reynolds, the society’s president. “Here’s this house, built by one of the first architects of the Northwest Territory, who worked in stone and it’s still standing. It’s pure federal period architecture popular between 1790 and 1830, practically untouched: the woodwork, the stairwells, the solar light into the kitchen. Homes of that style used to be all down Fourth and Fifth streets in Marietta but were torn down in the first oil boom because they’d gone out of style.”

The home was designed by the judge’s father Col. Joseph Barker, whose own home in Devola has even seen renovation with the times.

“But junior’s house, he put his heart and soul into and it’s unbelievable the detail that’s survived,” said Reynolds. “In those days a lot of people built their own houses, but didn’t go to the extent that senior did on his son’s house. There’s more stability in the structure, deeper window sills, more defined trim and mouldings.”

The younger Barker was not only a judge in Washington County Common Pleas Court until his death but had also served as a lawmaker in the 1830s in the Ohio General Assembly.

Multiple organizations have expressed support for the preservation of the Judge Barker House, including the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Newport Township trustees, Frontier Local Economic Development Association and Preservation Ohio.

“Preservation Ohio coming on board is huge, I think,” said Haessly. “I feel an obligation to this not only because it’s a part of my community but certainly for those that were here before. Those that went to the school that’s in his name, those gravesites that were preserved because he gave his land. That cemetery is the last resting place for my mom and dad.”

Reynolds said throughout correspondence with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he has reviewed the study done on the house and the photos taken inside.

“It’s a shame that right now the floor’s not stable enough for us to further venture inside to see the details,” he noted. “And I understand why the house can’t stay where it is, they want that torn down because they want to use the area to put sludge they dredge up from the river.”

But rather than spend $50,000 to tear down the house that is on the National Historic Register, the hope is those funds are instead invested in relocation of the building.

“They could have relocated it when they relocated all of the other homes when they moved Route 7 for the building of the dam,” said Haessly. “But now we hope to have several people speaking Thursday and we hope the corps gets the message to hold the plans and help preserve history now.”

Chuck Minsker, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said three people from the Huntington District will be in attendance Thursday.

“That includes our archaeologist Jennifer Guphy, landscape architect Dan Bock and realty specialist Lea Bodmer,” he explained. “I don’t know of any changes to our current plan but they were invited to attend and we’ve been working with the community all along and would like to hear what the community has come up with.”

Reynolds also said he hopes officials from the Wayne National Forest or Ohio Department of Natural Resources would also be in attendance, noting the house could be used as a permanent home of the Marietta unit of the Wayne’s offices.

If you go:

¯ What: Public meeting to support the preservation of the Judge Joseph Barker House in Lower Newport, built in 1842.

¯ When: 1 p.m. Thursday.

¯ Where: Newport Community Building, 38330 State Route 7.

Source: Washington County Historical Society.