Names on the front of old buildings always make me curious. So, who were these three gents? A law firm? Nope.
I love photographing old signs, and I love photographing old buildings, but I especially love old signs on old buildings. I often wonder what these old companies might have been.
I found this old sign on a historic block in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia
While it might sound like a modern law firm or advertising agency, the company Bell, Barker, and Jennings was a wholesale hardware company. Established in the 1880s, they sold tools, hardware, and household items like door knobs and lock sets to hardware retailers and to jobbers and contractors.
Later renamed as Barker-Jennings Corporation, the company remained in business until 2013. Here’s how they described themselves on their Facebook page, which is still online:
Wholesale hardware, industrial, and automotive supplies since 1885. Located in central Virginia. Proud of our past, looking forward to our future.
Biography of company president O.B. Barker, published 1905
The company was built upon the foundations of a previous company that hired Oscar Bayne Barker, Sr. in the 1870s. He moved up the ranks and renamed the company to Bell, Barker and Jennings. In a few years the company became Barker-Jennings Hardware Co.
Below is an article about O. B. Barker, president of the Barker-Jennings Hardware Co., published in the Hardware Dealers Magazine in April 1905.
According to this article, Mr Barker was born in Hanover county Virginia on March 15, 1861. His father was a minister who died when Oscar was two years old, leaving his mother with eight children younger than himself. The death of the father, together with the impact of the American Civil War, forced O.B. to begin working at age 14, when he found employment in a country store. Later he put his retail experience to work in the hardware business, where he excelled and moved up quickly.
In his article, it’s claimed that Barker-Jennings was one of the largest hardware wholesalers in the south. Interestingly, we see in his last paragraph that he sees his wholesale business being challenged by local small-town hardware stores who were selling “wholesale and retail.” However, the company survived the competition from small local stores, only to be killed 107 years later by big box retailers like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot.
Oscar Bayne Barker passed away in 1937 at age 76. He is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg.
The 1890 sales receipt (above) lists the executives as E.L. Bell, J.T. Jennings, and O.B. Barker, and highlights their products as “Cutlery, Guns, Engineers’ and Miners’ Supplies, Paints & Oils.”
Fire at Lynchburg
The business suffered damage from fire as their new building on Commerce Street was under construction. Below is an actual news article from the period. Published in the Alexandria Gazette, Alexandria, Virginia on
Friday, Nov 25, 1892, Page 2.
The article says, “The building of Messrs. Bell, Barker & Jennings, under construction, was damaged to the extent of $3,000.”
The sales slip also shows the location at the time of that 1890 sale as 818 Main Street (which is now occupied by a modern office building). By 1892 the company was in its location at 794 Commerce Street — the building that I photographed (Google Street View image below).
The Barker-Jennings Corporation was headquartered at the Commerce Street location from 1892 until 1966. It’s difficult to see in the screen shot, but this is the same building I photographed in Lynchburg.
In 1966 they relocated to the building below, which was their final address. The building was purchased by a university in 2010, and converted to educational use after the company closed in 2013. Based on this view, it appears to be vacant now.
Thanks for reading.
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