By Rick Palsgrove, Southeast Editor
I come to sing the praises of local historian George Bareis.
Bareis was born in 1852 and was a resident, businessman, historian and more in Canal Winchester. While he did many things of note in his life, to me, the book he authored, “The History of Madison Township: Including Canal Winchester and Groveport, Ohio,” published in 1902, has had the longest lasting impact.
Bareis’ thoroughly researched, highly detailed, wonderfully descriptive, and well regarded book remains an excellent resource and inspiration for any historian studying the local history of Madison Township, Canal Winchester, and Groveport. The comprehensive book is packed with facts and remains the go-to reference for the early history of this area. It took him 12 years to complete the research and writing for the book and, in the preface to his masterpiece, Bareis wrote that it was “no easy task, especially when the time required must be snatched from a busy life.”
In an interview with the Messenger newspaper two years ago, Ronald Weaver, whose own book on local history, “Canal Winchester,” published by Arcadia Publishing in 2018, said of Bareis, “He was significant in preserving the history of the area.”
Weaver pays homage to Bareis by including in his book a photo of Bareis’ home, which once stood near the corner of Canal Winchester’s High and Columbus streets. The site of Bareis’ home is now the parking lot behind the Huntington Bank.
I discovered Bareis’ book when I was a boy, and I was awestruck at how his words brought the 19th century history of the area to life. It helped me make sense of the modern world by understanding the old world of our ancestors and how their past efforts laid the foundations to what our communities became today.
Bareis’ book contains thorough information about the early pioneer days, the coming of the Ohio and Erie Canal, the railroad, fairs, farming, churches, town life, the forming of local governments and towns, town founders, businesses, the movers and shakers who propelled growth, schools, roads, the toll of diseases, graveyards, and more. The book is illustrated by historic photos and detailed maps.
Bareis’ book is highly readable as the writing is clear and direct. It flows, such as this passage where he writes about wilderness the area’s first pioneers encountered:
“Blazed trees showed the way from cabin to cabin. The woods were very dense and one could easily get lost. Bells were put on cows and sheep so that they could be found. Few sheep were kept on account of wolves…”
Or this passage where he writes about train conductors:
“The railway conductor, like the coach driver of old, is a very important personage. He is charged with the safety of the travelers; he must furnish every passenger a seat even when there is scarcely standing room; he must listen to the complaints of the patrons, but is helpless to remedy the evils complained of – he must be civil and courteous to the rudest and most offensive or hear the terrible (?) threat, ‘I’ll report you!’ Whatever that means. His knowledge of patience in dealing with human nature and especially his never failing civility and gallantry to women commands the respect of every sensible individual.”
One of Bareis’ goals for the book was to preserve information for future use and reference. He achieved that.
My own efforts as a local historian with the Groveport Heritage Museum, my historical documentary films about Groveport, and the books I wrote on Groveport history, were inspired by Bareis’ work.
Bareis passed away in 1932 and is buried in Canal Winchester’s Union Grove Cemetery. His fine book can still be found today in our area libraries and historical societies. Take some time to give it a look. It’s worth it.
Editor’s note, for further reading and viewing:
Another fine book, that builds on the area history preserved by George Bareis (which covers 1810-1900), is Lillian Carroll’s and Frances Steube’s, “Canal Winchester, Ohio: The Second Ninety Years.” This book covers Canal Winchester history from where Bareis left off from 1900-1990. I also highly recommend all of David Meyer’s books on the history of the Ohio and Erie Canal in this area and beyond as well as Ronald Weaver’s book, “Canal Winchester.”
For Groveport history, you can view the two documentary films, “Groveport: A Town and Its People” and “The Story of John S. Rarey and Cruiser” online on YouTube. The films were written by me and produced by the Groveport Heritage Society and Midnet Media. My book, “Groveport and Madison Township, Ohio,” is available at area libraries and book stores.