Newport’s ‘Jewel’

NEWPORT -Local concern for the future of the historic Judge Joseph Barker Jr. House has spurred the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to mothball the property in hopes of ultimately selling the home.

“The ultimate goal is to divest the Corps of Engineers of responsibility for the house, but how to accomplish that had not been set in stone, so we staged some public events to gain input from the local community,” said Keith Keeney, an archaeologist with the Corps in Louisville, Ky.

A public meeting was held in December to discuss the fate of the Barker home that is believed to have been built by Joseph Barker, Sr. who also worked on the Blennerhassett Island mansion as well as the second incarnation of the Washington County Courthouse.

“We had a lot of excellent input during the meeting,” Keeney said. “And there was a lot of participation from relatives of the Barker family as well as some preservation groups and other interested parties. There was some very sharp criticism of the property’s condition, too.”

Following the public meeting he said the Corps considered several alternatives, including demolition of the structure to an outright sale of the house which would have to be moved off of the property.

“But because of the home’s condition we could not just sell it to a private individual,” he said. “I think what’s been decided is to mothball the property to try and preserve what’s there, then try to sell it out of the government’s hands. A number of people have expressed some interest in the property, but selling government property can be a long and arduous process.”

Mothballing entails closing up a building temporarily to protect it from the weather as well as to secure it from vandalism.

Built in 1832, the house is located along the Ohio River, just south of the Willow Island Locks and Dam on Ohio 7.

The frame-and-brick house served as a residence for the Barkers and other area families for many years until the Corps of Engineers began work on the Willow Island Locks and Dam when the home was used for construction offices. No one has lived in the house since then.

“It’s been in a state of disrepair for some time,” Keeney said. “There was a hole in the roof and rain came through which caused a lot of moisture inside.”

John Miller of New Matamoras was among several people who toured the property during an open house event by the Corps following the December public meeting.

“They couldn’t let us into many areas of the house,” he said. “The floor in one room had collapsed into an area that had been dug out so that wagons could pull under the house and pick up pails of milk from a dairy operation there.”

Jack Haessly, whose lumber business is located along Ohio 7 south of the former Barker property, also toured the home and said it needed a lot of work.

“But it’s a real jewel,” he said. “When the home was originally built, Route 7 ran along the river in front of the house. That’s why it’s facing the river.”

Ohio 7 was later relocated and now runs several yards behind the home.

Keeney said without the public input the home could have been torn down.

“But we paid attention to the comments and tried to do our best to address those concerns,” he said. “The Corps has decided this would be the best path to follow, to try and preserve the property and eventually get it into the proper hands to take care of it.”

Keeney said he’ll be sending letters to those who provided input and expressed interest in the property.