Transcribed from: Makers of America Volume I, pages 158 - 163
Author: Florida Historical Societ
Publisher: A. B. Caldwell
Place and Date of Publication: Atlanta, Ga. Date: 1909
Transcribed and submitted by: Laverne Hammock Tornow (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bion Hall Barnett is one of Jacksonville's foremost citizens, and one of Florida's leading financiers. He is the second son of the late William Boyd Barnett, whose biography, making a most interesting story of success achieved, is told on another page of this volume. Born in Leesburg, Ind., October 7, 1857, Mr. Barnett's boyhood days were spent in Hiawatha, Kansas, to which place his parents removed in the spring of 1858. He attended the public schools until about thirteen years of age. He then attended the Presbyterian Academy, at Highland, Kansas for two years, when he entered the State University of ' Kansas, where he remained until March, 1877. He was at that time within three months of graduation, but left the University to go into business with his father in Jacksonville, Fla., where he has since made his home. Upon the establishment of the Bank of Jacksonville by his father on May 1, 1877, Bion H. Barnett was given a responsible position with the establishment and has from that day been continuously connected therewith, filling in a most successful manner every position up to that of vice-president, which he held at the time of the death of his father, the bank having in the meantime become a national banking institution under the name of the National Bank of Jacksonville. Mr. Barnett was elected to the presidency of the bank to succeed his honored father, and under his administration the bank has continued to grow until today it is classed as the leading financial institution of Florida and one of the safest, soundest and most progressive of all banks in the South. On April 15, 1908, the name of the bank was changed to The Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville, as a tribute to the memory of its founder.
In this connection it is worthy of note that the Barnett National Bank now has assets greater in amount than the five and one-half millions of dollars paid by the United States to Spain in 1819 as the purchase price for Florida.
Those born in 1819 and now ninety years old, and there are many such, have lived to see this amazing growth, where one bank in a city located in the acquired territory has resources greater than the purchase price of the whole 59,000 square miles only ninety years ago. It is one of the wonders of our marvelous history.
In the financial world no man stands higher than Bion H. Barnett, who is known as one of the most astute and able financiers in the South, of exceeding conservatism and cautiousness, but also far-sighted, enterprising and progressive. He is liberal in his views and takes a keen interest in public affairs. He has been a member of the Board of Bond Trustees of the city of Jacksonville for more than ten years, and is now serving his second term as chairman of that board, which is the most important branch of the city government, having entire control of the municipal electric lighting and power plant, the city water works, the city sewer department, the fire department, the police department, and also has the appointment of all city officials not elected by the direct vote of the people. The Board of Bond Trustees of the city of Jacksonville has had the sale of $1,700,000 worth of city bonds and the expenditure of the bulk of the proceeds of those bonds since Mr. Barnett has been a member of the board, and has also had the direct control of all funds for maintaining and operating the various departments of the city government before mentioned. The other members of the board have always relied to a marked extent upon the advice given by Mr. Barnett concerning all such matters. He has never hesitated 'to give both of his time and his means for advancing the best interests of the city of Jacksonville and the State of Florida.
Mr. Barnett has for a number of years been prominent in the Masonic fraternity and was a member of the building committee of the Grand Lodge of Florida for the new Masonic Temple, just completed in Jacksonville, an object of pride not only to the Masons of Florida, but to the citizens of the entire State. It was largely due to Mr. Barnett's wise financiering that the project was carried through in such a successful and satisfactory manner, just as his honored father had financed the erection of the first Masonic Temple in Jacksonville for the Grand Lodge. He succeeded his father as treasurer of Damascus Commandry, Knights Templar. He has for a number of years been prominent in social and club life of Jacksonville, and is a member of the Seminole Club, the Florida Yacht Club, the Florida Country Club, and is also a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
In Mr. Barnett the Florida State Troops have a warm friend, and an active supporter. He was a charter member of the oldest military organization in Jacksonville, the First Florida Light Artillery, organized July 4, 1887, only a few months after he came to Florida. This organization afterwards changed its name to the Wilson Battery, and under that name was one of Jacksonville's best known military organizations. Mr. Barnett resigned his commission as an officer of the Battery in 1883, but retained his membership until the Battery was disbanded. His friendship and work for the military organizations of Florida is most highly appreciated by the officers and men of the State Troops.
On April 8, 1880, Mr. Barnett was married to Carolina Hallowes L'Engle, a daughter of Dr. William L'Engle and Madeline (Sanders) L'Engle. They have four children, viz: Madeline (Mrs. Charles W. Camp), William L'Engle, Bion Hall, Jr., and Donald Murray.
Mr. Barnett has been a most potent factor in the growth and development of Jacksonville, and especially of the rehabilitation of the city since the great conflagration of 1901.