(Aug. 1, 1917-Nov. 16, 1999)
To anyone who knew him, there is no doubt that James Chilton Barnett was a huge history buff. He was a faithful supporter for many years of the Oldham County Historical Society, being the organization’s president for 17 years and instrumental in establishing the Peyton Samuel Head Museum. In fact, he celebrated his 82nd birthday by attending the opening of the museum.
Originally from Pewee Valley, J.C. Barnett was the son of Alexander Chilton Barnett and Bessie Louise Hewett). His father was a prominent farmer and banker who first came to Oldham County in 1897 with his parents, John T. and Ivy Guthrie Barnett. Alexander married Bessie in 1904. Her parents were James Henry Hewett and Louise Cole. Bessie, whose family was in Oldham County as early as 1802, died in a train accident in 1925. J.C.’s siblings were Louise Barnett Summers and John Hewett Barnett.
In his lifetime, Barnett became a major financial contributor to the museum and one of its founding leaders. His first taste of history came from an encounter with a family Bible that listed marriages and births dating back to his maternal great-great-great-grandmother and grandfather. This spurred a deep love of history and a mission to make people aware of the importance of the county’s history.
For 25 years, Barnett ran Barnett’s Antiques in Pewee Valley. He was a longtime employee of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. In his lifetime he was a member of the Pewee Valley Masonic Lodge 829, the Kentucky Historical Society, the Filson Club and the Moose Lodge.
A Passion for Stoneware
Barnett had a strong passion for stoneware jugs, which he collected for over 30 years. He collected only jugs that bore the names of Kentucky businesses. Most of the jugs were branded with the names of either the many small distilleries that flourished in the state for a century, from the early 1800s through the early 1900s, or the names of businesses such as drugstores or groceries. Most of the jugs were made of clay and baked in a kiln, but some were made at pottery companies in Louisville. If purchased from the pottery companies, such jugs may only have cost about a nickel to 10 cents apiece.
Barnett paid anywhere from 50 cents to $125 for the jugs. Most of the jugs in his collection contained whiskey, although other liquids were often sold in stone jugs such as mineral water, arsenic, vinegar, molasses and even mercury. The collectible jugs range in size from one ounce to five-gallon stone jugs. The most popular jugs had a one-gallon capacity.