By Renee Hart Wells
Although Hardin County could not boast of a large number of citizens in the 1890's, it was populous enough to attract a talented photographer from England. William Warcup Barner left his home in Yorkshire, England, making his way to Hardin County, Texas, where he set up a photography studio in Kountze. In 1893, he married Miss Emma Allums, a local belle and member of a pioneer family. Her father owned a store in Concord, a steamboat port at the head of navigation on Pine Island Bayou.
Barner's mother and father emigrated from England to Manitoba, Canada, and it is not known what brought their son to Hardin County. William Warcup Barner, named for his maternal grandfather, was a handsome, dashing young man and photographed many local citizens in the 1890s. Dozens of his photos capture the images of these individuals, and their faces, sometimes smiling and sometimes serious, provide a window into the county's past. Barner also took pictures of the new frame courthouse in Kountze, built in 1887 to replace the log building at Old Hardin that had burned down. (Stories are told that the Old Hardin courthouse was mysteriously set on fire in order for Kountze to be named the county seat.) There is also a picture of the Kountze depot and a nearby hotel.
His series of photographs of the old town of Olive, located a few miles north of Kountze, are especially memorable, since he made some of them after the snowstorm of 1895. He took pictures from a ladder on the water tower so that most of the buildings, including the depot, hotel, commissary, saloon, and drug store, could be seen with their white blanket of snow. Once it was the location of the prosperous Sternenberg Sunset Mill, but today all that remains of Olive is an overgrown cemetery.
William and Emma also lived for a time in Jasper where he photographed the courthouse, but no evidence is known of any other pictures taken there. The couple had one son, Lawrence Dunstan Barner, born in 1895. Although William Warcup Barner died of yellow fever in 1897, his family in Canada and in England kept in touch with Emma and her young son by mail. William's father, Thomas Bolton Barner, expressed his feelings when he wrote to her that they 'hope someday to see you ... it seems strange to have a daughter and a grandchild and never to have seen them.' While Emma never did see her husband's family, she did something very important historically. Emma Allums Barner preserved the copies of her husband's photographs that he had saved. A few years ago, some of Emma's descendants discovered a trunk containing these images made by William Warcup Barner.
The photographs accompanying this article are from the William Warcup Barner collection. A number of other photos can be seen in the book published by the Hardin County Genealogical Society in 2009 entitled 'Pictorial History of Hardin County'.
- This is the historic photo of the first courthouse in Kountze, built in 1887.
- William Warcup Barner
- Old Olive after the 1895 Blizzard