Manuscript Group 26
This description of the J. Neilson Barry Papers in the University of Idaho Library was prepared by Judith Nielsen, April 1979.
J. Neilson Barry was an Episcopal clergyman, born in Virginia about 1870. In the mid 1890's he made his first trip west, and eventually settled in Portland, Oregon.
In October of 1947 he began corresponding with University of Idaho officials, including President J.E. Buchanan and librarians M. Belle Sweet and Lee Zimmerman, on the subject of Idaho history and geography and trying hard to sell the library HIS maps--presumably the only correct maps in existence.
His letters give strong suggestions for student projects, all of them utilizing his maps, and they deplore the lack of Idaho related documents in the library. Many of his letters are illustrated with small maps, and some have larger maps attached. To emphasize a particular sentence he would either draw over the typing with a colored pencil or draw a pointing finger at the sentence. Many of the letters are very repetitive, the same anecdotes told and complaints made in letter after letter. Some of the letters do, however, contain interesting information on early place-names and interesting bits of early Idaho history.
In 1953 he began corresponding with two members of the Board of Regents, Marguerite Campbell of New Meadows, and J.L. McCarthy of Orofino. McCarthy apparently became alarmed at the "your library isn't any good" tone of the letters and wrote to President Buchanan who, as he did with most of the Barry letters, sent the letter to Mr. Zimmerman for a reply. Zimmerman's letter to McCarthy, on October 9, 1953, says in part:
For your information, Mr. Barry has been writing similar letters over the years to the president ... myself and to other institutions. At present he is currently interested in having us revise our curriculum by setting up courses in cartography and teaching students the "know how by the doing."
He is an elderly man in years, 82 or 83 I believe, and probably carries on this type of correspondence for want of something else to do....
Members of both the history and geography department are skeptical of his scholarship. He makes statements based only on his own authority and does not indicate from where he obtains his facts.
...In the meantime, we acknowledge his letters and try to make him feel that we are interested which is, of course the case.
The correspondence with Barry seems to have terminated in October 1958 when he gave the library some maps and the carbon copy of his unpublished book on Idaho Source Material.
The entire Barry collection is in one large file box. Within this box is a smaller box containing his letters to the university officials, together with copies of their replies. The maps which were attached to the letters are also in this box.
The remainder of the items in the large file box are hand drawn and hand colored maps, bound in separate folders.
There are eight maps of what Barry calls the queer Idaho basin. This basin "the size of Vermont or New Hampshire, has no surface drainage to the outside. Streams sink and flow by underground passages." This basin is continually referred to in Barry's correspondence.
There are three maps on an 81/2" x 11" paper showing the "Glacier Park region" including one showing the disputed loops along the 49th parallel -- another favorite theme in the correspondence.
The remaining item in the box is a large folder containing several smaller ones. The contents are as follows: