1968, the Barker mansion was presented to the city of Michigan
City by Catherine Barker Hickox of New York. It was her wish that
the homestead should serve as a cultural center, in memory of her
father, the late John Henry Barker, who was born in Michigan City
Barker story actually begins in 1836 with the arrival of her grandfather,
John Barker Sr. Searching for new business opportunities, he had
left his home in Andover, Massachusetts at the age of 22 and chose
to settle in the frontier community called Michigan City. Immediately
successful as a general merchant, he later became a grain broker
and, subsequently, the owner of a commission house receiving and
forwarding merchandise from vessels plying the lakes. Meanwhile,
he had married and had two children who would survive him: a daughter,
Anna, and the above-mentioned son, John H. Barker.
At the onset
of the railroad age, realizing the potential in the manufacture
of freight cars, he brought an interest in a small car manufacturing
plant in 1855; shortly thereafter it became known as the Haskell & Barker
Car Co. Due to government contracts, business prospered even during
the Civil war years and came to be an important factor in the city's
growth. In 1869, he retired and his son, abandoning a successful
business in Chicago, became general manager of the company. Thus
a favorable economic environment and an inherited keen sense of
business opportunity helped make possible the phenomenal success
which John H. Barker enjoyed after coming president of his father's
company in 1883. In the ensuing years, the factory grew to have
a possible annual output of 15,000 cars, and the accumulated estate
grew to an estimated fifty to sixty million dollars by 1910. In
1922 "Haskell & Barker" merged with the Pullman Company,
and is now known as Pullman-Standard, a division of Pullman, Inc.
at the beginning of the century were good years: no major wars,
no income tax a low public debt, uncrowded streets, young ladies
in lace dresses with mutton chop sleeves, and little boys in sailor
suits." It was during this era that John H. Barker devoted
himself to developing the car works, which brought him world renown.
Having lost his first wife, Genia Brook and his three infant children
by death, he was married for a second time in 1893 to Katherine
Their only child,
daughter Catherine, was born in 1896. And so the times were ready
for an extensive enlarging of their homestead at 631 Washington
Street. Planning of the reconstruction and much of the interior
decorating was placed in the hands of Frederick Perkins, a Chicago
architect, and the new home was completed in 1905. Copied after
and English manor house, it was furnished in luxurious turn-of-the-century
style with important furniture and art objects purchased by Mrs.
Barker from New York collectors. Most its fireplaces are of hand
carved marble and the walnut and mahogany woodwork on the lower
floor is especially beautiful.
consists of 38 rooms, 7 fireplaces, and 10 bathrooms. The main
floor rooms are: foyer, library, drawing room, dining room, kitchen,
Mr. Barker's study and bedroom, valet's quarters, butler's pantry
and the servants' quarters. The second floor contains bedrooms,
a morning room, bathrooms, spacious closets, and a linen room.
The third floor housed a ballroom, Miss Barker's schoolroom, her
governess' bedroom and bath, and a trunk room. The basement was
very functional, containing devices for vacuum cleaning, a cooling
system, and an "intercom."
Adjacent to the
library patio is an Italian sunken garden; to the south is a garage,
built in 1924 to house a Lincoln car. The Barkers' horses and carriages
were kept at Earl's Livery Stable at Washington and Michigan Street
and later at the Barker farm. Nothing seems to have been left undone
in providing the utmost in comfort and luxury. Having been built
within the very shadows of the "car shops" which made
it all possible, the beautiful Barker home has remained a fitting
monument to a great industrialist.
It is tragic
that the delightful home was enjoyed by the family for only five
years. Mrs. Barker died on May 24, 1910, and on December 3 of that
same year Mr. Barker died of pneumonia. The daughter, Catherine,
was left an orphan at the age of 14, and thus became one of the
world's most wealthy young heiresses. After her parents death she
attended preparatory school and a finished school in New York;
the Michigan City residence was maintained as her home, although
occupied only intermittently after her marriage to Charles V. Hickox
in 1930. In 1948 the homestead was given to Purdue University for
a study center; in 1968, the ownership reverted to the Barker Welfare
Foundation, of which Catherine Barker Hickox was president. The
Barker Welfare Foundation subsequently presented the residence
to the city.
In many ways
Catherine Barker Hickox emulated her father whose contributions
to charity during his lifetime amounted to well over a million
dollars. The following "bear the permanent impress of his
- Barker Hall
(originally built in 1886; later reconstruction in 1929 donated
by daughter, Catherine) erected as a memorial to his three children
who died in early childhood.
- Trinity Cathedral
(1889) to which he contributed the greatest share of the cost,
now known as Trinity Episcopal Church.
- The Michigan
City Public Library (1895) to which he contributed 33-1/3 of
- St. Anthony's
Hospital (1904); the cost of building and equipment being $80,000, "a
very goodly part of which was contributed in the name of Mrs.
John H. Barker."
- The band stand,
peristyle, and first conservatory in Washington Park.
- The Ames Band
(1904) to which he gave an annual endowment. This later became
our municipal band.
- The Y.M.C.A.
(1910); for which he contributed one half of the projected cost
- The "History
of Michigan City" written by Oglesbee and Hale in 1908.
This is one of the best sources of Michigan City history, and
we are indebted to Mr. Barker for his interest and liberal financial
aid to the authors.
Barker Hickox will be fondly remembered as a woman who never forgot
her friends and cherished her roles as wife, mother, and grandmother.
Born to great wealth, she treated it with a sense of obligation
and responsibility. She personally directed the distribution of
large sums of money to charity. In 1924 she established the Barker
Annuity Fund which provided pensions for former Haskell & Barker
employees who were not eligible for benefits under the newly established
Pullman plan. When the purpose of the Annuity Fund had been fulfilled,
the remaining balance was transferred to the Barker Welfare Foundation
that had been founded in 1934. The Foundation has continued to
be an effective instrument for giving and many of her family are
still actively involved.
declining health and almost total blindness during the last years
of her life, Mrs. Hickox was concerned with plans for the restoration
of the mansion and with the Center's future. Money was provided
for restoration and arrangements were made for the return of original
Mrs. Hickox died
on November 18, 1970, at her home in New York. Her body was brought
to the Barker Civic Center where members of her family gathered
to greet old friends who called to pay their respects. On November
21, following a service at St. Mary's Catholic Church, she was
buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Michigan City.