Some Dayton Saints and Prophets
Eliam E. Barney

ELIAM E. BARNEY

 

"Industry, Order, Thoughtfulness."

 

      These three characteristics are placed at the head of this sketch, belonging, as they are said to have done, to E. E. Barney, they epitomize the leading activities of a long and honored life; activities so widely separated in kind that the mere statement of them fills one with astonishment. Generally granted as a truism that professors and idealists have no capacity for business, it is also said that business men are not in general greatly concerned with matters of education.  But in Mr. Barney we have an instance of a man whose powers were so evenly divided that one does not know where to class him; as preeminently a teacher or preeminently a business man. The three qualities above quoted explain the apparent discrepancy. "Industry" made him a producer; "thoughtfulness" made him a teacher; and "order" gave to each pursuit the methodical direction which perfected it.

      Many years ago, a postmaster, named Cathcart, was asked by letter to state some reasons why Dayton was a good place to settle in. His reply, the only one received, was so satisfactory that it fixed the decision.  The correspondent demanding the information was Mr. Barney. He came to Dayton, and all that Dayton now owes to the influence of his family, is a result of that letter. To philosophize upon the large things resulting from small sources is trite, but if we take out of our local history all the influence of the old "Academy," and the "Seminary" after it; if we take away the Car Works, and the Baptist Church, the measure of loss, had that letter not been written, can be imagined.

      To comprehend a human character it is necessary to look back of it; back to inherited tendencies, and to early training. Facts of biography do not always tell so much as do the side-lights cast by small incidents.  To Eliam Barney, when a boy, his father once said: "I fear the most I can accomplish is to give you an education; then you must help your brothers and sisters to get the same."  In that one sentence is a whole volume of stimulus, of admonition, of parental guidance. The primal importance of education, the emphasis upon personal accountability, the weight of family obligation, are all there. Evidence proves that the son responded nobly.

      We learn from an admirable and comprehensive life of E. E. Barney,* (by Rev. H. F. Colby) various interesting facts in his career.  The son of a pioneer in the wilderness of western New York, born in a log cabin surrounded by a rail fence, the eldest of eleven children, schooled to hard work, and few advantages, but inspired by family attachment and a wise and loving mother, he grew up.

      As he became older he developed a gravity and thoughtfulness which resulted in an early and profound religious experience. We are treated to one incident of that spiritual life; his baptism in the dammed-up channel of a mountain stream, while his invalid mother looked on from a window and thanked God.  We know of his starting for college, wearing a suit of clothes, which were spun, woven, dyed, and made by his mother and sisters; of his advance in his studies; his graduation at Union College, in 1831, and of his coming to Dayton.

      At that time the old "Academy," on the corner of Fourth and Wilkinson Streets, was needing a principal.  Mr. Barney applied for the position, and received it.  There was much discussion as to how the school should be conducted. Mr. Barney's plans met with approval, he sent for his brother Elijah G., his sister Sarah O. Barney, and Daniel A. Haynes, to be his assistants.  In the latter appointment, was also the seed of greater things. Mr. Haynes became a member of the Bar and Bench of Dayton, and, for his judicial wisdom, was held always in deserved esteem. By bringing Judge Haynes to our city, Mr. Barney exerted a permanent influence upon the administration of law in this county.

      With this faculty in charge there began a new educational regime in the "Academy," and in Dayton. The Barneys all were teachers by instinct. As an instructor, Mr. Barney was fifty years ahead of his time.  The story of that school reads like a history of the most modern educational methods.   They had "Nature Study," "Correlation of Topics,” "Physical Training," “School Gardens," and "English," just as the schools do now. Mr. Barney used as reading lessons, chapters out of horticultural journals, thus combining two subjects in one. On Saturdays he would go to the woods with scholars, bringing back shrubs and trees which were planted around the Academy to beautify it.  Flower-beds gave employment to the girls, and served as object lessons for the Botany class. Sometimes on Friday afternoon, instead of the usual program of declamations, Mr. Barney adjourned classes to the river bank, at the foot of Wilkinson Street, where, with pick and hammer, he pointed out rock formation, and instructed them in the principles of geology. When physiology was under discussion, he sent to a butcher shop for specimens from the interior of beeves and sheep from which to illustrate the circulation of the blood. An old pupil of Mr. Barney has said:

            "He made everything he taught so interesting one could not help learning."

      No wonder the term which began with nine pupils ended with eighty-five!

      In discipline, Mr. Barney is said to have been consistently strict, never yielding ground to a refractory pupil, but never losing, or seeming to lose his temper.

      The school grew so rapidly that two other sisters and a brother were sent for to increase the faculty, and when, in 1834, Mr. Barney married, his wife also took her place among the teachers in the Academy.  "Never," wrote Mr. Colby, "were brothers and sisters bound together by closer tics of affection, and never did a family work as teachers with heartier unanimity, or more manifest success." This admirable arrangement lasted until 1839 when Mr. Barney resigned his principalship.

      In 1844 a number of prominent citizens subscribed money for the erection of Cooper Seminary, the old building of which is still standing on First Street.  It was proposed to make it a thoroughly-equipped school for the education of young women, and Mr. Barney, as manifestly the best teacher in Dayton, was selected to take charge of it. That it was a good school we do not need the testimony of the few women yet living who were pupils there. The methods were wise, thorough, and effectual.  Mr. Barney not only made pupils learn, he made them love to learn.  They look back at the distance of half a century, and speak of their teacher with respect, awe, and admiration.  They did not dare to love him, at least on short acquaintance; he was too stern a man for that.  Sometimes he even intimidated people with his abrupt manner and absent air, but those whose privilege it was to meet him on terms of equality agree with uniformity that he was a man of high breeding and absolute kindness.

      In 1851 declining health warned Mr. Barney to seek a life of less confinement; therefore he gave up the principalship of the Seminary to become associated with Mr. Ebenezer Thresher, in the manufacture of railroad cars.  This was the origin of the Barney and Smith Manufacturing Company, as it is known to-day.  Beginning with a capital of ten thousand dollars and one building, the factory now covers twenty-eight acres, and carries stock for thousands of cars.  Its product is known all over the United States. North, south, east, west, the traveler occupies Barney and Smith cars.

      Mr. Colby wrote:

      "To the prosperity of the city of Dayton, so large a manufacturing establishment has been an important aid, and many families have looked to it as the source of their living.  It is safe to say that throughout the country the name of the firm has become known as associated with strict integrity, thoroughness and enterprise."

      Mr. Barney put into commercial pursuits the same qualities that made him a successful teacher.  His accuracy, thoroughness, industry, watchfulness, the inspiration of his presence, his stern demand for honesty in subordinates, found as valuable a field in the factory as in the school-room.  Some one said of him, "He is the first school-teacher I ever saw who knew how to do business." Possibly the secret of his success lay in that fine ability to carry enthusiasm into work of any kind; the true professional spirit, converting the drudgery of detail into splendid performance.

      The interesting fact is that in the business as well as in the educational world he was ahead of his times.  The first office school for salesmen was established at the Car Works, and taught by Mr. Barney. He antedated by fifty years this important and now almost universal measure.  If a workman showed unusual ability, Mr. Barney helped him to procure an education, thereby improving his circumstances. Young men always appealed to his generous spirit. He loved to help them.

      Things did not run with entire smoothness in Mr. Barney's factory. There were almost unsurmountable difficulties at the start, and it must be remembered that his was the first manufactory in Dayton. During the war the company just escaped bankruptcy. It was the cars Mr. Barney got back through the Confederate lines that saved the firm.  But patience and perseverance saved the day.

      His ultimate commercial success is well known to all Daytonians; how his fortune grew, and to what it went to the Baptist Church, to Home and Foreign Missions, to Denison University, to the Young Men's Christian Association -- to all things that made for the elevation of his fellow-men. His giving was liberal and judicious, and although, when asked for a subscription, he is said to have expressed himself sometimes with startling candor, when he did give he gave willingly.   The Baptist Church, received from the time of its organization, the most valuable help of both service and purse.  To do mission work with young churches was in the Barney family.  Mr. Barney's father and his uncles had all started Baptist Churches in New York State, and his sister, Mrs. Stevens, once said that it was "a good thing to belong to a struggling church if you were willing to struggle."

      One instance of that thoughtful public spirit, which always actuated Mr. Barney, must not be forgotten; his interest in the cultivation of the Catalpa.  Large knowledge of arboriculture had satisfied him of several great advantages of this tree for commercial purposes; among them the rapidity of its growth and its remarkable durability.   Results of his investigations were published in various journals and pamphlets; he secured seed which was offered free to any who would cultivate the tree, and stimulated in every way public opinion upon the subject. Response came from all parts of this country, and from England, South Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. His articles have been commended to public attention by many leading horticultural periodicals in America and England. Mr. Colby wrote:

            "If he who makes two blades of grass to grow where before there was only one, is worthy of commendation, surely Mr. Barney's valuable contributions to economical arboriculture should not pass unrecorded."

      The Car Works, although invariably associated with his name, was not the only one of Mr. Barney's business interests.  He acted as vice-president of the Second National Bank, director of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, president of the Cooper Hydraulic Company, and trustee of Denison University. When he died, in 1880, all these interests lost the valuable support of his strong will and trained mind. The city, as well as the family mourned, and two thousand workmen walked in the funeral procession.

      It is said that Dayton needs Mr. Barney at this day as much as in his life-time; that were he to return from the Elysian fields to the city of his love and care, men would look to him as they were wont to do, with confident expectation of help, and that his ideas and methods, far from being behind present necessities, would be found to be, as they universally were, fifty years in advance.
    A "prophet" then, in the truest sense; a fore-teller, as well as a forth-teller, was Eliam E. Barney.

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