Marion County, WVGenWeb

J. Walter Barnes


The History of West Virginia, Old and New J. Walter Barnes (photograph)
and West Virginia Biography
The American Historical Society, Inc.
Chicago and New York, Published 1923
Volume II, Pages 403-404

HON. J. WALTER BARNES, member and treasurer of the State Board of Control at Charleston, has for thirty years been a prominent figure in the educational, business and public affairs of the state. He was the administrative head for ten years of the Fairmont State Normal School. He developed and managed some of the strongest and most successful independent telephone companies in the state. His career at all points suggests a man of gifted personality, unusual resourcefulness, sound judgment and executive power and undeniable public spirit.

Mr. Barnes was born at Fairmont in Marion County September 3, 1862, son of Peter T. and Mary (Vandervoort) Barnes. This is one of the historic families of that part of old Virginia, now West Virginia, and has had a long and honorable history. The family is English and more remotely of Norman-French ancestry. In the early Colonial period it was represented by different branches in New England, Maryland and Virginia. The great-grandfather of J. Walter Barnes was William Barnes, who moved from Georges Creek, Maryland, to Monongalia County, West Virginia, prior to 1782. He was a millwright and farmer, and his son, Abraham Barnes, followed similar occupations. Peter T. Barnes was born on Tygarts Valley River, two miles above Fairmont, September 3, 1828, and for many years owned and operated the principal flouring mills at Fairmont. He was a member of the Seventeenth West Virginia Infantry during the war. His wife, Mary Vandervoort, was born in Monongalia County in 1827.

J. Walter Barnes attended public schools in Marion and Taylor counties, and was graduated from the State Normal School at Fairmont in 1879. He also took post- graduate courses there in 1880-81, and in the meantime taught in Doddridge, Pleasants and Hancock counties, and also studied law in the office of U. N. Arnett, Jr. He finished his studies in the law school of the University of West Virginia in 1882-83, and was admitted to the bar on attaining his majority in the latter year. Mr. Barnes began practice at Fairmont, but other demands on his time and talents have never allowed him the consecutive exercise of his profession. In the spring of 1885 he was induced to teach in the Fairmont State Normal School, and again in the spring of 1886, and soon afterward was elected to the regular teachers' staff. Mr. Barnes filled every position in that institution until he was made principal or president in 1892, and continued as its administrative head until 1901. In the meantime the Fairmont State Normal grew and prospered and enlarged its facilities so as to perform its functions as a source and training school of well qualified teachers for the state. Mr. Barnes was leader in the movement to secure from the Legislature adequate appropriations making possible the principal building of the Normal school, which was erected on the South Side.

In 1901 Mr. Barnes removed to Shepherdstown for one year, where he lived on a farm, but not finding country life altogether congenial he became manager of the Consolidated Telephone Company at Fairmont. He developed and enlarged the company's service from a few counties until it covered fourteen counties, and continued as manager of the company until the business was taken over by the Bell interests in 1915. He was also secretary and manager of the National Telephone Company of Monongalia County and of several other telephone companies. He served as president of the West Virginia Independent Telephone Association, being its first president in 1905. He was president of the Western Pennsylvania Independent Telephone Association, and president of the National Independent Telephone Association. He is also vice president of the Fairmont Trust Company, and has been a member of its board of directors since its organization in 1903.

All these offices and interests broadened the horizon of his experience as a man of affairs. Besides he was commissioner of finance and public utilities for the City of Fairmont from January 1, 1914, to September 1, 1919. He edited the Blue Book of Fairmont, setting forth the complete records of the administration of the city's affairs under the commission form of government. From 1911 to 1915 Mr. Barnes was a member of the Board of Education of the Fairmont Independent School District, and has long been a prominent layman of the Presbyterian Church, serving as an elder since 1890, was superintendent of the Sabbath school at Fairmont from 1889 to 1920, when he removed to Charleston, and was chairman of the building committee that constructed the beautiful church of the Presbyterians at the corner of Jefferson and Jackson streets in Fairmont.

Mr. Barnes was appointed by Governor Cornwell as member of the State Board of Control of West Virginia in March, 1920. This board, created by the Legislature in 1909, has entire control and management of all the state's penal, charitable and educational institutions. The new system has been justified by the results. The board conducts these institutions on strictly business principles, and the efficient and economical handling of the affairs has saved the state millions of dollars. The budget of expenditures through the state board of control now aggregates over $3,500,000 per annum.

Mr. Barnes in politics is a sound democrat, loyal to the principles of Jefferson, Jackson and Wilson. In 1904 he was a candidate for Congress on the democratic ticket, running ahead of the Parker and Davis ticket by over 2,000 votes. Most West Virginians will recall his work and responsibilities during the war. By appointment from Harry A. Garfield, Federal fuel administrator, he was fuel administrator for the state, an office of peculiar importance because of West Virginia's great coal mining industry. He was also a Four Minute Speaker, but he neglected all his personal business to effect a thorough organization of the fuel resources of the state for war purposes. This service was voluntary, and he received at the end of his eighteen months' service $1.00 from the Government in recognition of his service with the United States Fuel Administration. This token of appreciation of the Government represents something very much greater than money value.

On June 3, 1884, Mr. Barnes married Miss Olive Cooper, daughter of Maj. William P. Cooper. Mrs. Barnes, who was born at Clarksburg, has long been identified with the activities of the W. C. T. U., has served as recording secretary and vice president, and for a number of years has been president of the West Virginia organization of the union. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes have five children: Hugh Cooper, born July 23, 1886; George Roscoe, born March 4, 1888; Walter Kenneth, born April 6, 1891; Homer Francis, born May 12, 1895; and Mabel Irene, born July 17, 1898. The oldest son graduated from West Virginia University and is an engineer by profession. George Roscoe was one of the three sons representing the family in the army and navy during the war. He enlisted in the army as a private but came out with a commission. He is now a road contractor. Walter K. served with the navy and was "company commander." He is an attorney-at-law at Fairmont. Homer Francis enlisted in the army as a private in May, 1917, and rose to the rank of captain. He received his A. B. degree from West Virginia University the same year. He went overseas as an adjutant of the Eight Hundred and Second Pioneer Infantry, and was discharged with the rank of captain in July, 1919. While in England he spent a semester of study at Oxford University, and on being discharged from the army continued his college work in Harvard University, from which he received his A. M. degree. He is now instructor in a boys' school at Marion, Massachusetts, and he married Miss Mary Frances Hartley of Fairmont, a graduate of Smith College. Mabel Irene is teaching history in Central Junior High School of Charleston. All are graduates of the West Virginia University, except one, and he was a student there.