By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
J. Scott Tharp moved to Barrackville in 1942, when he was just 9 years old and in the fourth grade.
“My father was a Methodist minister, and he was assigned to the Barrackville United Methodist Church,” Tharp said. “I came to Barrackville then, and have been here ever since, except for when I was in college and the Army for a few years.
“I consider myself a Barrackviller.”
Tharp grew up with a younger sister, Elaine, one and a half years his junior, though he also has six older half-brothers and half-sisters.
“They left the coop before we moved to Barrackville,” Tharp laughed.
Tharp said the town has changed a lot since he was a kid.
“We were sort of a self-contained town,” Tharp said. “We had five or six grocery stores, a drug store, a hardware store, and three or four barber shops, and various other little businesses in town, because in that day you didn’t have supermarkets. You still went to Fairmont for the big purchases, but for the little stuff, you shopped and stayed in Barrackville.”
Tharp said that today, Barrackville is more of a “bedroom community.”
“It’s still a fairly close-knit community,” Tharp said. “But all of those businesses are gone now.”
The Barrackville coal mines were also in operation when he was growing up. He said they were owned by Bethlehem Steel and employed around 2,000 people, who lived in the coal mine village in town.
“The town was dominated by the coal mine,” Tharp said. “Probably the majority of people worked for Bethlehem. And of course, the mine has closed since, and many of the people who lived in the mine village have died or sold their places.”
He said that Bethlehem was involved in the community back then, helping when they were building their community building, and steel from the mines was used for most Barrackville residents’ clothesline posts at that time.
But the high school was really the “heart of the town.”
Barrackville High School was a small school, with around 27 people in each graduating class, Tharp said. But the school went from first grade all the way to 12th, which had its advantages.
“From the time you’re in first grade to the time you’re in 12th grade, you know everybody,” Tharp said. “The people in your class were almost like your brothers and sisters because you’ve been there so many years.”
Barrackville High School closed in 1979, when it was consolidated with four or five other schools to form North Marion High School.
Before the school closed, Barrackville High School sports were important to the town.
“The biggest thing we had in Barrackville before the high school closed was the sporting events,” Tharp said. “Barrackville was pretty well-known for its basketball teams, and every year at tournament time, everyone in town shut up their home and went to the tournament.
“It was a way of showing the spirit of the community.”
Closing the high school took away more than just sporting events.
“The loss of the high school really took a lot of events away, from plays to May Day, and all of those other things. It was the center of activity,” Tharp said.
“I would have to say that the loss of the pride we had in our basketball and athletic teams, and the school itself, would probably be the thing I miss most.”
But in 1991, Barrackville graduates started a new tradition, the Barrackville High School Homecoming Jubilee. Tharp is chairman of the committee.
“We have one every seven years,” Tharp said.
For each jubilee, alumni would spend a day “visiting” and then have a dinner together. The first year, Tharp estimates there were 800 to 900 at the dinner, and over 1,000 at the school, socializing on the lawn.
“Barrackville High School was very unique in that it was just like a family,” he said. “The size of the group keeps getting smaller. But it’s just an opportunity for people who were very close at one time to come back, and get to see each other.
“There are no new members joining the Barrackville alumni group, so I don’t know anymore of those (jubilees) if any, we’ll have,” Tharp laughed. “In fact, we called the last one the grand finale.”
Tharp graduated from Barrackville High School in 1951. Then he left Barrackville for a while to go to college at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
“Keep up the Methodist tradition, you know?” Tharp said.
He graduated in 1954 with a bachelor of arts in English.
“It’s not a bad thing for a lot of things, but especially it’s very good in law because you need to be able to write,” Tharp said. “Unfortunately, it’s becoming something of a lost art.”
He then was drafted into the Army, where he worked as a stenographer until 1956. He spent some of his time in Japan, which helped spark his interest in traveling, which he still does today. He has been to all 50 states, and more than 100 countries.
He graduated from law school in 1959.
“I’ve been practicing law in Fairmont ever since,” Tharp said. “Almost 55 years.”
He married his first wife, Mary Jo, in 1960, and they had two children, Matt, now 48, and Joel, now 40. She passed away from cancer six years ago.
Barrackville was a great place to raise children, Tharp said.
“One of the good things about growing up in Barrackville is it’s a small town, and a fairly peaceful and law-abiding town,” Tharp said.
“The kids, many of them walk to school, and everybody knows the other families around, so you’re not worried about your kids running with a gang or something. You have enough parents looking after them.
“That’s the way it was when I grew up, and it’s still that way. It’s a nice, safe, peaceful town.”
Today, Tharp still practices law. He also travels with his second wife, Joan, whom he married five years ago.
“I’ve seen the world, and we’re still seeing some of it,” Tharp said.
He also gardens in a small plot with a neighbor, and walks two miles every day.
“If you’ve ever gone out Fairmont Avenue at noontime, you may have seen me,” Tharp said. “I go as far out as Burger King. That’s a mile out. And then I come back (to downtown). Just to try to keep me in decent shape. It helps.”
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.