John Failings Barber settled in the area of Portage, NY during the pioneer days. He struggled with tragedy and hardship and eventually became a prosperous farmer and banker. He built this home—which he called, “Chestnut Place”—on the corner of Short Tract and Oakland roads . Before I continue, please be advised, this house is on posted private property.
Emily Stauring is a photographer from Arkport, NY. She took most of these photos while out for a drive with a friend…
In 1819, John Barber’s mother died. He was just 9 years old at the time. His father brought him and his siblings to Portage from Canajoharie, NY . When John’s father died in 1827, John was left with 3 younger brothers and a sister to care for – which he did.
John saw to it that his brothers and sister received educations. He worked hard clearing land with an ox and bull plow which his father had made. In 1835 was able to buy 50 acres of his own land. In the winter he lumbered and rafted timber to Rochester on the Genesee when the river could be run during the spring. He is known to have walked home from Rochester.
The photo above was taken by our friends Chris and Luke (of the Burnt Over District blog). This looks like an opening for a missing staircase.
Sometime after 1872, Nathaniel Alward, John’s brother-in-law, started to build this house on the site of an earlier one. For some reason Alward decided to go back to Cayuga County (where he had come from). John purchased and completed the house himself. He called it “Chestnut Place” because of the many chestnut trees there.
Robert Gath and his family were the last to live here. Robert wrote this description of it: “Fifteen rooms, a half mile of halls, 9 closets, one fireplace of black marble and two of oak. The doors are curly maple and winding staircase cherry. The wall paper in the the upstairs rooms in the original paper.” He said the marble bathroom is gone.
John Barber’s granddaughter Ethel, her husband Arthur Yates Bennett, and their daughter Dorothy, were the last family members to live in the house. They moved to Alden, NY in 1920.
This is the earliest known photo of the old Barber House, taken in 1960 by Roy Gath. On February 23, Joan Schumaker, who has been working on collecting information about the Barber house, will be giving a talk at the Mt. Morris Dam on John Barber. See the Nunda Historical Society’s website for more information.
UPDATE: The article previously stated that “John Barber’s granddaughter Ethel, her husband Arthur Yates Bennett, and their daughter Dorothy, were the last people to live in the house.” In fact, they were the last family members to live in the house. Robert Gath and his family were actually the last people to live here. A few reader’s correctly pointed this out.
Luke & Chris (exploringtheburnedoverdistrict.wordpress.com ) for the photo of the staircase opening, and for tipping me off to this fascinating story.
Emily Stauring. You can see more of Emily’s photos (and buy prints) from her March 2011 trip here .
Tom Cook and the Nunda Historical Society for the 1960′s photo and all the great information.
Tags: abandoned, abandoned house, abandoned mansion, abandoned places, Barber House, Burned Over District, Cayuga County, Chestnut Place, Emily Stauring, Graffiti, Joan Schumaker, John Barber, John Failing Barber, Luke Myer, mansion, Marjorie Frost, Nathaniel Alward, Nunda Historical Society, Oakland Road, photography, Portage NY, Portageville NY, Robert Gath, rochester photos, Roy Gath, Short Tract, Tom Cook
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