Biography of Lawrence Barnes
Chittenden County, VT Biographies





BARNES, LAWRENCE. The subject of this sketch, to whom it is due at the outset to say that he, more than any other man, rescued Burlington from a threatened decline in importance, and by his energy, sagacity, and influence imparted to the desponding village an impetus which is the proximate cause of its present commercial prominence, was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire, on the 8th of June, 1815. He came of Pilgrim stock, his ancestor, Thomas Barnes, having crossed the Atlantic to America in the historic Speedwell, in 1656. Asa Barnes, a descendant of Thomas, was a respected citizen of Marlboro, Mass., where he died in 1812, aged fifty six years. Eber, his son, removed with the other members of the family, when he was three years of age, to Hillsboro, N. H., where, after he reached maturity, he carried on the business of a farmer and carpenter, and died at the age of eighty four years. His wife, née Mary Adams, a native of Henniken, N. H., was a woman of strong character, good sense, and deep piety, a great reader, thoroughly familiar with important passing events and contemporaneous thought. Of the seven children born to Eber and Mary (Adams) Barnes, Lawrence was the fifth. He passed his boyhood on his father's farm, in attendance at the district school, and for one or two terms at a neighboring academy. At twenty years of age he bought his time of his father, the price being the value of the service of a hired man for the unexpired year of minority, and with three dollars which he had borrowed from a lady neighbor, and a parcel of spare clothing, he set out for himself. The first three years he passed in the employment of his brother at Nashua, N. H., as a carpenter, his remuneration being but one dollar for each day of twelve hours' labor. At this place his budding generosity and public spirit were forcibly displayed by his subscribing the sum of one hundred dollars towards the erection of a house of worship which the Second Baptist Church of Nashua was endeavoring to build, and which subscription was paid by installments, after he had liquidated the prior claims of his father. Mr. Barnes then accepted a position with J. & E. Baldwin, of Nashua, manufacturers of spools and bobbins. His tact and sagacity so attracted the confidence of his employers that two or three years later they sent him to Saco, Me., to establish and conduct a branch manufactory. After an experience of ten years' duration in this position he resigned and engaged in business on his own account. Besides what little money he had been able by frugality and industry to accumulate, he was fortunate enough to obtain a sum from the Saco Bank on his promissory note, with which he purchased 10,000 acres of timbered land on Saco River, near the White Mountains. Soon afterward he sold half the property to his former employers for twice the amount of the original cost, and in company with them began lumbering operations. Owing to the rapid rise of streams and the uncertainty of floating logs, however, the enterprise did not prosper, and for some years Mr. Barnes remained with Messrs. Baldwin, soliciting orders for them in the manufacturing towns and cities of New England. He then again ventured upon independent action, and purchased a half interest in a lumbering business at Island Point, Vermont. Misfortune again overtook him in the person of an inefficient partner, and in a few months his entire investment was lost, together with several thousand dollars of borrowed money. With characteristic intrepidity Mr. Barnes rose above discouragement. Within a few weeks he had bought several million feet of lumber at Three Rivers, Canada, giving his note for the value, and with the skill of an experienced carpenter he sorted the lumber into lots adapted to different building purposes, and made from the enterprise, when the lumber was sold, three times as much as it had cost him. His next speculation was equally original in conception, but through no fault of Mr. Barnes, was disastrous in its results. He contracted with several large houses of Portland to supply them with several ship loads of sugar boxes, then in great demand, and to deliver them at New York. The beginning was auspicious; but suddenly the demand for sugar boxes ceased, contracting firms failed, lumber, boxes and machinery became almost worthless, and under the heavy pressure of indebtedness for liquidation Mr. Barnes was forced into insolvency. He sold his property to the best advantage, divided the proceeds among his creditors, and gave his notes for the residue of the debts. This was in 1855. Burlington was then a small place of about 4,000 inhabitants, with little business, and with its merchants suffering under the embarrassments of railroad complications, as recited in the sketch of Mr. Thomas H. Canfield. Mr. Barnes made another purchase of lumber at Three Rivers, which he began shipping to Burlington by boat for distribution by rail to different points in New England. He soon hit upon the idea of dressing the lumber before shipping it, thus saving twelve and a half per cent. in freight expenses, and imparting a new impulse to the lumber trade. Upon the destruction by fire of the Pioneer Shops (see Burlington chapter), the citizens of Burlington at a public meeting offered a bonus of $8,000 to any one who would rebuild the shops and equip them for business. The proffer was accepted by Lawrence Barnes, who finished the structure in ninety days. During the panic of 1857 his lumber business suffered considerably, but he survived the shock, and in 1858 the current turned in his favor. Trade rapidly increased in extent and profit. In 1859 a partnership was formed with Charles and David Whitney, jr., known at Burlington as L. Barnes & Co., and at Lowell, Mass., as C. & D. Whitney & Co. Two years later D. N. Skillings was admitted to an interest in the business, the new firm being known at Burlington, Whitehall, and Montreal as L. Barnes & Co., at Boston as D. N. Skillings & Co., and at Detroit, Ogdensburgh, and Albany as C. & D. Whitney, jr., & Co In 1862 Mial Davis was admitted to the firm, from which he retired in 1869, the remaining partners retaining the trade under the name of Skillings,Whitney Bros. & Barnes. In January, 1873, Mr. Barnes sold out his interest in the business outside of Burlington, and formed a partnership here with his son, L. K. Barnes, and D. W. Robinson. After a continuance in business for two years the firm was dissolved and reorganized with Lawrence Barnes and D. W. Robinson as partners. In 1878 Mr. Skillings and Whitney Bros. proposed a consolidation of the firms, which was effected, under the name of the Skillings, Whitneys & Barnes Lumber Co., with headquarters at Boston. On the death of Mr. Skillings in 1880 Mr. Barnes was made president of the company, a position in which he remained up to the time of his death.

Mr. Barnes, in common with the best of his fellow citizens, cherished a strong desire that Burlington should not depend for its prosperity on the lumber trade alone. He was aware that there are large iron mines and furnaces in the Champlain Valley, and that the manufacture of iron ought to be successfully prosecuted in this place. The Burlington Manufacturing Company was accordingly chartered and organized with a capital of $175,000, nails and merchant iron being the staple production. Mr Barnes was elected treasurer of the new corporation, and by his probity and skill commended it to other capitalists in town. At the end of two years, however, operations were suspended, but Mr. Barnes, from sheer sympathy with many of the less able holders, purchased their stock - much of it at par, and magnanimously suffered the loss himself. The works remained silent and decaying until 1871, when Mr. Barnes and others resolved to convert them into marble works. Thus was he instrumental in introducing the marble trade in the city, which survived the commercial panic of 1873, and is today one of the most prosperous enterprises in Northern Vermont. From the beginning Mr. Barnes acted as treasurer and principal proprietor. He also subscribed largely to the stock of the Howard National Bank, of which institution he was president from its organization to the time of his death. He was a stockholder and director of the Burlington Gas Company and the Vermont Life Insurance Company, and president of the National Horse Nail Company of Vergennes. In 1868 he was elected one of the directors of the Rutland Railroad Company, and retained that office until the lease of the road to the Central Vermont, and was also for some years one of the trustees of Vermont Central Railroad.

Although never an aspirant for political honors, Mr. Barnes displayed his usual capacity and fidelity in all political positions to which he was elected by his fellow citizens. In 1864 and 1865 he represented Burlington in the Legislature of the State, and obtained the city charter during his term of service. After the incorporation of the city he was chosen a member of the first board of aldermen, and served in that capacity for three years. He was a member of the national Republican convention that nominated General U. S. Grant for a second term. At the time of his death he was an honored trustee of the University of Vermont, to which position he had been elected in 1865.

For many years before his death, which occurred on the 21st day of June, 1886, Lawrence Barnes was a leading member and a deacon of the First Baptist Church of Burlington. The present house of worship now occupied by that church was reared largely "on the foundations of his munificence." On the day of his funeral the large manufactories in the whole city were closed in honor of his memory, and the workingmen, to whom he had always been a true friend, turned out in a body and followed his remains to their final rest. He lett a widow and three children. He was united in marriage on the 20th day of May, 1841, with Lucinda F., daughter of Oliver Farmer. They had six children, three of whom died young. Those who survive are a son, Lawrence K., and two daughters, Georgiana L., wife of F. IV. Smith, and Ella Frances, wife of C. R. Hayward, all of Burlington. Mr. Barnes was most happy in his domestic relations. Among the remarks made upon the occasion of his funeral, his character was beautifully and aptly described in the following language by President M. H. Buckham :

" I said his life was almost the typical life of a self made man. In one respect it was not such. The self made man is almost always self conscious, self asserting, of a spirit unlike that of which St. Paul says that it vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly.' There was not in Mr. Barnes a particle of this vanity. He was beautifully simple, natural, and unconscious of himself. He could not have borne himself more meekly and graciously in the midst of his wealth and his success, if his ancestors for ten generations had had the use and wont of great breeding. He was a native gentleman, one of the truest and best, artless, humble, kindly, incapable of offense, absolutely incapable of malice."

From:
History of Chittenden County, Vermont
Edited by: W. S. Rann
D. Mason & Co., Publishers
Syracuse, New York. 1886


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