Chapter 7

The Barbers of Thornton

Since 1872, when pioneer George Barber moved to New Hope with his young family, there have been members of the Barber family in Thornton. Four generations of Barbers have lived in the area and taken an active part in the life of the little community. In January, 1975, the Lodi News Sentinal reported this history of the Barber family.

George Barber, supervisor of the 4th District, is the fourth generation of Thornton Barbers to hold an elected office.

“I guess we have just been interested in our area and in helping make it a better place to live,” Barber said shortly after he was sworn in as the supervisor from the north county district.

It all began shortly after 1872 when the first Barber settled in San Joaquin County. He was also George Barber and had moved here with his young family from Summerhill, New York. He purchased 100 acres in the Thornton area before the town was even named.

He purchased land which included the defunct town of Taison at Beaver Slough. This property is still being farmed by the family and the holdings also include two additional towns unheard of by the present generation - Mokelumne City and Benson.

Barber says today, “The old gentleman certainly knew good land.” All four generations of the family continued the farming operations, but they have also taken an unusually keen interest in community affairs.

Great grandfather George was a justice of the peace in the 1880’s and 90’s - an elective position. Many colorful tales of his career have regaled the family for years.

Court was held in Arthur Thornton’s saloon according to Barber. Proceedings would stop once in a while so they could have a drink and court would continue, although the judge was no drinker himself.

The town wasn’t even named Thornton at the time. It was New Hope and the elementary school district there still bears the name. Thornton was the first to build a house in the area. He gave property to Western Pacific for a railroad line and the depot was named after the benefactor.

The area was still the “woolly west” before the turn of the century and the judge toured the circuit holding court throughout Union Township.

One of the tales still kept alive involves some very early Delta history. Barber said the judge was traveling by horse and buggy to Walnut Grove for court when he chanced upon a Chinese coolie with baskets of dirt on the end of a long pole across his back.

Credit can be given to these hard working people who built the first levees by hand in the Delta area soil reclamation.

But the horse had never seen such a sight as the long pole and baskets and was so frightened it jumped right into the river, the buggy with the judge following. Judge Barber made it out of the river, but his horse and buggy were gone.

Judge Barber had two sons, Edward and of course, George, who is the supervisor’s grandfather. They took up the community and farming duties where their father left off. He died in 1907.

They were equal partners in the farming operation and each also kept a dairy. They added to the family holdings and eventually owned 425 acres in addition to 100 acres in the Yaqui River Valley in Mexico.

The second George Barber, who had gone to the East for a part of his education, became a teacher. But within a year he returned to the Thornton farm.

Earliest county school records show that he served on the New Hope School Board - an elective position - from 1910 until 1925, but it could have been earlier as no records were available before then. He held the position of board president, the same one that the supervisor now also holds.

That was his only elective office, but he was a director of a milk producing association for 20 years and was active in other agriculture organizations.

His brother Edward, the present George Barber’s great uncle, was elected justice of the peace for the township in 1906 and held the position for approximately 20 years.

He was also elected to the first Galt Union High School District board of trustees. He was also instrumental in organizing the reclamation district in Thornton and was on the board for many years.

The supervisor’s father, James (an older cousin who died at an early age had already been given the family name of George) was appointed to the position of constable in 1939, by Supervisor Ellory Stuckenbruck.

At the end of the term he was re-elected and continued to be elected until 1951 when the lower court system was reorganized. He was also active in law enforcement associations during this time. In 1953 he was elected to the Galt High School board and served two terms.

The senior Barber also held offices in the Thornton Progress Club which became the Thornton Chamber of Commerce.

This is where the present George Barber became involved. Shortly after being discharged from Military service, he attended a chamber meeting “and the next thing I knew I was elected president”, he laughs.

His community service actually began before that and has continued, unceasingly since. When he was only 18 be became scoutmaster for the Thornton Boy Scout Troop. “I don’t know if it was legal for me to be scoutmaster at that age and at that time, but there was no one else to do it”.

He picked up the reins of the family tradition at an early age and was elected to the New Hope Board of Trustees. He was 26 and the youngest school board member in the entire state, “at a time when it wasn’t popular to be young and running for office”, Barber recalls.

Still holding the New Hope trusteeship, he was elected to the Delta College board of trustees for two terms, resigning from the Delta College position when he was elected supervisor.

Tapestry, a gift book

The Galt Area Historical Society offers a book of our local history called Tapestry. Click here for more information.

Last edited 27 February, 2005

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