The recent 110th Anniversary celebration of Peoples Bank, brought to mind A.J. (Alva James) Barnett, the first cashier of the bank when the bank’s assets were $8,000. In 1920, he was elected president of the bank, a position he held until his death in 1959. He was the grandfather of the present chairman of Peoples Bank, James Barnett.
A.J. was the first in other ways. He owned the first automobile in Cuba, a Sears electric buggy. He owned the 1st Model T in Cuba, which he purchased from Sears-Roebuck in 1908 for $315. It was called a “Motor Buggy” at that time.
The Barnett Motor Company opened in 1915 and was a Ford Agency that operated until 1932. At one time, Barnett acquired 50 sewing machines in a trade that he had to dispose of to attain his profit.
In 1929, Dick Krulik remembers that every Saturday that A.J. would come down to to the Chevy dealership owned by his father J.F. Krulik and fill up his Roadmaster Buick with Ethanol gasoline. J.F.’s son Dick would pump the gas, and A.J. and J.F. would talk for a long time, catching up on the latest news.
Barnett was twice mayor (1920-28 and 1938-40) of Cuba and very civic minded. He was mayor in 1922 when the first light system was installed and lit for a regional teacher’s meeting. That must have been a wonder for those who attended.
Charlie Vaughn, who now does the landscaping for the bank, remembers his own connection with A.J Barnett, which seems to disprove the stereotype of the “cold hearted banker.” In 1946, Charlie was graduating from high school, and money was tight. He needed a suit to wear to graduation. The suit cost $50, and Charlie’s father Henry didn’t have the money. Charlie and his father went to Peoples Bank to talk about a loan.
A.J. Barnett walked up to greet them. Henry Vaughn hated to borrow money, but he explained that he needed a loan to buy his son a suit for graduation. Vaughn remembers that A.J. didn’t say a word, walked to a drawer in his desk, got $50, and handed it to Henry. He shook Henry’s hand, and said “Pay it back when you can.” They were never asked to sign any papers.
Henry told his son Charlie, “Anyone that trusts me that much is going to get paid back.” Henry paid him back in less than a month.
Charlie also remembers that A.J. himself wore the same navy suit every day. He wore it so much that it was actually shiny from being well-worn. On Sunday, the Barnetts often ate roast beef at the Wagon Wheel Cafe before going to the nearby movie theater.
A.J. Barnett’s name is prominent in the history of Cuba as he served on many boards and committees. In the early days of the Cuba Fire Department, one of their carts was stored in a garage owned by Barnett. He was a 50-year member of the Masonic Lodge and an original stockholder and promoter of the Crawford County Fair.
He was a member of the first cemetery association for the Presbyterian/Kinder Cemetery. In 1946, he was a purchaser of shares in the Cuba Development Company, formed to promote industry in Cuba.
Barnett is just one of the early citizens of Cuba who helped it become the community that it is today. His grandson James Barnett is chairman of Peoples Bank and continues the professional and civic interests of his grandfather.
It seems fitting, that A.J. Barnett, who was 1st in many things and a leader, should be pictured in the first mural of Viva Cuba’s mural project.
The A.J. Barnett/Model T mural was painted by Canadian muralist Michelle Loughery, assisted by Shelly Smith Steiger of Cuba. It was sponsored by Peoples Bank to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the bank.