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Ashland makes another mark on local history books

home --> history --> Barnes Oil Company in Ashland, Nebraska

ASHLAND - In December, Ashland made another mark in the history books when the old Barnes Oil Company building was officially entered on the National Register of Historical Places.

The Barnes Oil Company building is located on the northwest corner of Highway 6 and Silver Street. Since the building was built in the early 1930’s, there have been only three owners - the Barnes Brothers, Merle Barger and the present owner, Farmer’s and Merchants National Bank.

Bank President Bob Fricke said that his family has had a personal interest in the building for many years. Fricke said that a family ancestor was involved with the Barnes Brothers.

Farmers and Merchants National Bank bought the building in January of 2000 and have been working through a very long process to get the building entered on the Register. The building was considered for the honor because of its association with commerce and transportation as well as the architectural value.

"With the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service and the criteria through the National Banking everything has had to be approved by Washington, D.C. down to the doorknobs," explained Fricke.

The Barnes Oil Company building is a one-story brick Tudor Style cottage-type gas station constructed in 1932. The time the building was built was a period between World I and World War II when the development of roadside businesses to better serve motorist emerged. During that era there was an increased usage of the automobile, which created a demand and a competition in the automobile service industry.

Highway 6 began as the OLD Transcontinental Highway (the Omaha-Lincoln-Denver). Once the link to Detroit was complete the OLD Highway became the DLD (the Detroit–Lincoln-Denver). At the time, Highway 6 was one of only three transcontinental highways to pass through Nebraska and was the major transportation route from Omaha on west.

A Lincoln architect, John Unthank, designed the Barnes station. Forrest Wilson, of David City was the contractor of record. Historic documentation shows that he was awarded the contract for approximately $5,000.00 and that changes in the work brought the total to $5,800.00 for the building and the site.

The Barnes families were prominent business owners in Ashland during the period the station was built, owning and operating a hotel and restaurant, billiards hall and four filling stations in town during this period.

The Barnes Oil Company was co-owned and operated for nearly 45 years by Ernest, also known as "Barney," Chester, who had the nickname "Toots," and Kenneth Barnes, who went by "Skin."

Chris Barnes, son of Kenneth (Skin) said there was a cabin camp behind the station with a central shower house. He remembers being put to work in the family business.

"We stayed busy, there was always something to do," Barnes went on to say, "there was always beds to make or something."

Barnes, who is a bit of a history buff and a Barnes Brothers memorabilia collector, has gathered several unique items that were given out by his family's business over the years. Many items were given away at Christmas time, including toy trucks, mugs, pens, key chains, rain hats, and shoe brushes.

Included in the collection is a pair of cowboy boots that were an anniversary gift for 40 years of service from Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Oil Company, to Ernest (Barney). Barney got to pick out of the boots himself, Barnes said, and wore them as a symbol of pride.

"I remember him, Barney, tucking his pants in his boots and wearing them to the Nebraska football games," said Chris Barnes.

The boots were then given to Chris Barnes' older brother, Max, who was the Mayor of Ashland for several years. Now they have their place with the Barnes memorabilia collection.

Chris Barnes also remembered a hamburger shack of sorts known as Sam’s Place just to the east of the station in front of the cabin camp. It was owned by said Sally Wagner’s father, Sam Breeden.

Wagner explained that when her father first came to Ashland in 1930 he ran a hamburger shop in a small building at what is now 1433 Silver Street (Jim Sanders owns it now). He operated the food stand there until the Barnes Brothers came to him and said the building was too small for his business, and suggested he move over next to their station. And the rest is history.

Barnes Brothers Oil Company - Ashland,  Nebraska
YESTERDAY – The Barnes Brothers standing to the left Ernest, Chester and Kenneth, as the Barnes Oil Company sign is erected.

copyrighted & used with permission of the Ashland Gazette Newspaper; written by Ronna Wiig, Staff Reporter