Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: Joseph Barnett’s Inn

Matson Insurance is partnering with Jefferson County History Center to offer readers a look into Jefferson County’s past. Today, Joseph Barnett’s Inn is highlighted.

[Photo: The old sign that helped travelers identify Barnett’s Inn is owned by Humphrey descendants. It is there in the inn that the foundations of county government were established. (Courtesy Humphrey Family)]

(Submitted by Carole Briggs, Jefferson County Historical Society.)


By 1830, six years after the first elections in our county, nine different men had served as commissioners and the county had an official “seat” in Brookville. Three new townships had been carved out of Pine Creek and Perry creating Young, Ridgway, and Rose, bringing the total to five. An orderly system for collecting taxes and paying expenses had been established according to Pennsylvania law, and the population had grown to include 2003 persons, and “21 colored and 1 slave.”

While the standard nineteenth-century histories of the county written by Kate M. Scott and William J. McKnight provide much information, sometimes it is fun and enlightening to get into the original documents―the real “stuff” of history.

One winter day when I was in the archives, I pulled an old record book off the shelf. Little pink dust puffs rose in the air and the crumbling leather cover colored my fingers and the shirt I wore. The inked words on the cover were hard to decipher, but I could read “Jefferson Record.” What I had in my hands was the book that recorded the very first actions of the very first men elected as county commissioners. Reading about the actions of 1823 to 1830, I could see they had accomplished a good bit.

The first order of business was to locate their place of business in Joseph Barnett’s inn, and the second was to appoint John Matson as treasurer at an annual salary of “one and three-fourths percent for all money Received and paid out for one year.”

The third was to appoint Ira White as a clerk. It was Ira’s beautiful handwriting I was reading. Developed in the 18th century in England, the copperplate style became the “business hand” of the day―the equivalent of common fonts on today’s computers like Times New Roman and Arial. Ira may have used the steel pen that had just been invented when he formed his letters with the correct slant to the right.

The financial interrelationships in a community―be it a family, neighborhood, town, county, state, or country―do tell a tale. In the case of those early commissioners, one of whom was Andrew Barnett, they selected his brother’s inn. No county media existed, so advertising for a meeting place was out of the question. Very few dwellings existed as well. To me, it appears to have been a practical solution, not nepotism! Nevertheless, these old records do illustrate the importance of government transparency. Recording the business done on the public’s behalf, making those records available to the electorate, as well as the importance of citizen oversight, as illustrated by the signatures of three auditors at the end of each year’s financial statements, are built into our democratic system.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.

Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.

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