Future looks bright for Barker house

Times file photo U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, right, visits the Barker house on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land last fall as he takes on the task of fighting for its preservation.

Though parties hesitate to say “done deal,” the future is brighter for the once-condemned Lower Newport house recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Legislators met with the Ohio Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the local nonprofit, Friends of the Barker House, Monday to discuss steps for saving the structure on Ohio 7.

The nearly 200-year-old house was scheduled for demolition last fall by the corps but through two years of organizing, lobbying and a hint of trespass that execution was stayed.

“This all started when the corps held a public meeting at the library informing us they were going to tear it down,” recalled Jack Haessly, whose family business Haessly Hardwood Lumber sits just south of the historic home. “We knew we had to save it, and getting Sen. Portman involved last fall and getting him to walk around the house, he was able to bring people to the table like the head of the Ohio Department of Transportation, (U.S. Rep.) Bill Johnson and the head of the corps’ Huntington District, Col. Jason Evers.”

Haessly said Evers indicated the corps, which owns the property where the historic house sits and once used the house for its offices during the building of the Willow Island Lock and Dam, may be willing to turn over the federally-owned property for historic preservation.

“I’ve met with the assistant secretary of the treasury, and we have to work out an arrangement with the corps, but to their credit, they had some funding set aside for the demolition, and they haven’t reprogrammed that money. I hope that funding will instead be able to help with the restoration in place,” said Portman. “We set some aggressive and ambitious goals, and it may require legislation to get a conveyance, but we want to get work started on that now.”

In the meantime, Director Jack Marchbanks, of ODOT, said his team is working with the Friends of the Barker House to begin preliminary plans for access to the building from the state route.

“We’re looking at modifying the access by beginning northeast of the house with a potential driveway that would be accessed by both northbound and southbound traffic,” explained Marchbanks. “Next steps are to pursue a preliminary technical design with a focus on the safety of that access. That’s an area where people are picking up speed (in a straightaway), and we don’t want people at the same time decelerating to turn into the driveway, so we’ll be looking to design an intersection farther up that’s safer.”

Marchbanks said the state’s transportation alternatives program through ODOT may be utilized to help fund the design and construction of the access from Ohio 7.

“It could be a good source of funding for the Friends of the Barker House,” he explained. “And ODOT will work with the friends to get their permitting in order, too.”

Haessly said he will be in contact with the corps, too, to initiate an internal assessment of the house to outline what work needs to be done inside to restore the structure which has fallen into disrepair since the completion of the dam.

Marchbanks said he will also be in town today to speak on more of the pivotal history surrounding the early settlers of Washington County.

“The Northwest Ordinance (of 1787) in my opinion is one of the most important documents in U.S. history,” said Marchbanks. “Looking at that period, going into the 19th century, for its writers to have the foresight that this territory and any states that would join the union from it would be free of slavery, what a monumental achievement at a time when people didn’t believe African-Americans were even human beings.”

Marchbanks is speaking at the 232nd-anniversary celebration of the ordinance in East Muskingum Park today at 10:30 a.m., connecting the dots from the document to the abolition movement and even women’s suffrage, which Judge Barker’s daughter, Frances Barker Gage, is known for early work on.

“Really Ohio was born free, and the faiths and values that were continued on in Ohio after its organized settling, it became a leading champion in abolition and equal rights,” added Marchbanks.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• The Barker House on Ohio 7 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

• It was recognized for associations with master builder Col. Joseph Barker, one of the earliest white settlers in the Marietta area.

• The colonel was lauded as a regional practitioner of the Federal style of architecture.

• He built not only his own home in what is now Devola but also a Newport Township home for his son.

• Barker’s son, Joseph Barker Jr., later became a judge in Washington County Common Pleas Court and also served as a lawmaker in the 1830s in the Ohio General Assembly.

• The property is currently owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

• Friends of the Barker House are working with state and federal officials to have the house preserved and turned over for history education in Washington County.

Source: Times research.