Before he used his personal property to save Lincoln Institute from closing and before he was the first black man on a Missouri statewide ballot, Howard Barnes was a skilled cook who traveled to California and bought freedom for himself and his family.
Little evidence remains of this trail-blazing entrepreneur who was respected by both races in a post-Civil War culture that was adamantly segregated.
His restaurant, the Delmonico, which had been inside the City Hotel, was lost in 1914 when the building was razed to make way for Central Bank at High and Madison streets.
The second permanent building completed in 1882 at Lincoln University, which was named for Barnes and federal judge Arnold Krekel, fell in 1968, replaced by Founders Hall.
And he has no headstone, despite his work in the 1870s to establish Hedge Grove Cemetery, a private, black cemetery at the southwest corner of Benton and East High streets. Those remains, including his wife's, were reinterred at Longview Cemetery in the 1930s.
Barnes, born in 1816 in New Franklin, was owned by Thomas Jefferson Boggs, brother of Gov. Lilburn Boggs, until buying his freedom for $2,200. He cooked for a wagon train from Howard County headed to the California Gold Rush in 1849. He returned to Howard County to free his family, who relocated to Jefferson City before the Civil War.
He was a founding member in 1866 of the Capital City Lodge No. 9 for black Masons, serving as master, and was a deacon at Second Baptist Church.
By 1870, he kept a hotel with John Lane, another successful black entrepreneur who had lived in California, was a reputable cook and was involved in Lincoln Institute's early survival. Also a preacher at African Bethel Church, Lane was proposed in 1867 as chaplain of the House of Representatives.
The Sedalia Democrat in 1878 said Lane and Barnes had "reputations as wide as the state and are universally esteemed alike by white and black (being) in the restaurant business at the capital ever since the war and by their energy, honesty, urbanity and knowledge have amassed a competence. (They) are as polite and accommodating now as they were when they began to make their fame and fortune."
Lane opened a restaurant at High and Jefferson streets with Solomon Dixon in 1872. By 1873, "the Barnes Brothers" operated the Delmonico, a restaurant near the Madison Hotel on Madison Street, serving "the delicacies of the season: oysters in every style, quails, prairie chickens, venison, ham and eggs, hot coffee, etc.," an ad in The State Journal said.
Barnes relocated the Delmonico in 1875 to the first door south of Scovern and Wagner's grocery on Madison Street, about where the Central Bank ATM is today. Over a 40-year period, the restaurant also had been located in the Virginia Hotel, Central Hotel and City Hotel.
His restaurant "was the resort of all the prominent public men who visited the capital during and between sessions of legislature. He knew them all and can relate interesting anecdotes of peculiarities and characteristics of some of Missouri's early-day statesmen and politicians. Many have been the political conferences and the making and breaking of political slates over the venison steaks and other culinary delicacies with which Uncle Howard tempted his patrons," reported The State Republican.
Even Eugene Field, briefly a government correspondent and a children's author, was fond of Barnes cooking, writing from Europe that "he would give $50 if he could be back in Uncle Howard's restaurant for one single meal of roast coon," reported the Daily Tribune.
While on the board of trustees for Lincoln Institute through the 1870s, Barnes offered his personal property as security on the school's construction. And when threatened with foreclosure, Barnes persuaded local lawyer J.E. Belch to run for the legislature and put through a bill for the state to rescue Lincoln from financial chaos. Although it failed because the state constitutionally could not support a private school, it paved the way toward Lincoln becoming a public institution.
By 1880, Barnes' fortune was about $50,000 and his family lived in a substantial brick home at 114 E. Main St.
He was proposed as a mayoral candidate in 1874. In the spring of 1880, he was the Republican nominee for railroad commissioner — "the first and only colored man who has ever been on the state ticket," according to The State Journal.
"No caucasian or negro is better known in Missouri than Howard Barnes," the Sedalia Democrat wrote. "He has been personally acquainted in his humble way with every governor of Missouri since the Mexican War and every state officer and every U.S. Senator."
The State Republican said: "Politicians from all over the state will remember him as one of Jefferson City's landmarks."
Michelle Brooks is a former reporter for the Jefferson City News Tribune. She has been researching Jefferson City history for more than a decade and is especially interested in the first century of Lincoln University.