On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Work with Corps and Local Stakeholders to Preserve Historic Barker House

November 7, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor highlighting his work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH), the Friends of the Joseph Barker Jr., House, the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office, and the Ohio Department of Transportation to restore and protect the historic Joseph Barker Jr. House in southern Washington County, Ohio. The Barker House was built around 1828 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.  The Barker House currently sits on property that is owned by the Corps, and efforts are underway to provide for the preservation of the house so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. Portman first visited the house in September 2018 and has actively worked to help preserve this historic home.

Transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“I’d like to use this opportunity to talk about something positive that is happening back home in Ohio with the help of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps is involved with some civic-minded community volunteers in something that will help us to preserve our history in Ohio. It wouldn’t be happening but for the vision of the head of the Army Corps, Mr. R.D. James, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.  

“It’s a good news project regarding the preservation of an important piece of the history of the Northwest Territories and my home state of Ohio. It’s called the Barker House, and it’s an historic home that dates back almost 200 years when it was built by owner’s father, who was a Revolutionary War officer and famous early settler and pioneer architect in Ohio.  

“A number of historic homes of his were built along the Ohio River. This is one of them that is still left standing. Colonel Joseph Barker, Sr. was his name and again he was one of our more famous early pioneers in Ohio. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 for its historic significance. Joseph Barker, Sr. and the houses he built actually played an important role in a new award winning book that I would recommend to you, by that great historian David McCullough. It’s called The Pioneers, and it tells the story of the Northwest territories and founding of Ohio in the wake of the Revolutionary War.

“In The Pioneers book, Colonel Barker’s stately homes were an anomaly out on the frontier. His own home was described in the book as, and I quote, “a large, brick house in the Federal style, with a handsome front door flanked by recessed side windows and an elliptical fanlight overhead…once completed the whole house was painted white, and soon became, as intended, a ‘distinguished seat of hospitality’.” This also describes the historic Barker house we are trying to preserve. These houses brought a level of architectural refinement that stood in stark contrast to the log cabins on the rugged landscape where these pioneers were settling.

“The Barker House is currently owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It’s owned by them because it’s right next to the Willow Island Lock and Dam on the Ohio River. In fact, the house was once used as office space by the Corps back in the 1960s. But today, the house is still standing, it is vacant, it’s in bad shape, and it’s unsafe to enter, but it’s savable. I visited this historic Barker House in September of 2018. I learned then that the Corps was proposing to demolish the Barker House. They then considered a proposal to try and move it, brick by brick, to a new location off of Army Corps land. Neither made sense.  

“That’s when I met Jack Haessly, who has led a group along with Wesley Clarke, Bill Reynolds, Bob Ferguson, and others – a local Barker House Friends Group – who said they’d be willing to raise the money to restore this home on its historic site overlooking the Ohio River. They wanted to be sure that it would be accessible to visitors there and could be made into a museum. I immediately called the Secretary, Mr. R.D. James of the Army Corps, and asked if he would reconsider the decision to demolish this historic home.

“After hearing the story of the house and the details of the local group’s plan to preserve it, and after getting a thorough assessment from the Army Corps, Mr. James agreed to reverse the Corps decision and to work with us to preserve the home. He deserves great credit for that. Congressman Bill Johnson, who represents the area, has also been an excellent partner in pursuing these sensible solutions. Right now we are working on developing legislation that I hope to introduce soon to convey the house and the surrounding land to the friends group. We have made a lot of progress so far. Just last week, the Corps completed drawings of the specific parcel proposed to be conveyed, which also includes the creation of an access road so that the house can be visited and enjoyed by the public.  And we appreciate the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the director Jack Marchbanks for working with us on that. The road access issue was critical and ODOT was very helpful. Also the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office has jumped in and played a constructive role.

“This is an example of a true private-public partnership, again made possible by Secretary James. So again, I’d like to thank him, thank the Army Corps and thank his team. I’d like to thank the Barker House friends group, the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office, ODOT, all of whom are partnering together with us to ensure that this historic structure is still standing so that it can tell the story of our rich history for generations to come.”