William Manfred Barbee. Among the city offices of Chanute, one that had important bearing upon the welfare of the city and its institutions and the duties of which, in their handling, call for more than ordinary ability, is that of commissioner of public utilities. The present incumbent of this office, William Manfred Barbee, had won the confidence of the public through the able and expeditious manner in which he had handled the business of his department and the energy he had displayed in discharging the responsibilities of public service. He is a native son of Neosho County, and was born October 23, 1864, his parents being Sion and Mary Elizabeth (Easley) Barbee.
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The Barbee family is of French extraction and its early members in America Colonial settlers of Virginia. From that state the family branched out to Tennessee, where, in 1805, was born the grandfather of William M. Barbee, Joseph Barbee. He was reared on a farm in Wilson County, and there engaged in farming until he was forty years of age, at which time he went to Jefferson County, Illinois, and continued in agricultural pursuits until the time of his death, in 1881. Sion Barbee was born in Wilson County, Tennessee, in 1837, and was eight years of age when taken to Illinois by his parents. There he received his education and was reared to manhood on the home farm, and subsequently went to Sangamon County, Illinois, where he was married. After several years spent in farming, in 1859, he came to Kansas, settling on Big Creek, in Neosho County. Mr. Barbee homesteaded 160 acres and in spite of the many difficulties and hardships which made up a large part of the Kanses farmer’s life in that day, succeeded in the accumulation of a valuable property which allowed him to retire to a comfortable home at Chanute in his declining years. Mr. Barbee met his death in a runaway accident on the streets of Chanute, in 1905, when he was thrown from his buggy. When he first came to Kansas, it was as a poor young man whose principal capital was found in his ambition, determination and energy. He subsequently rose to a prominent place in the community, not alone as a successful farmer, but as a man of influence in public affairs. His first presidential vote after coming to Kansas was cast for Abraham Lincoln, and ever thereafter he was actively interested in the welfare of the republican party. He was active in county conventions, did his share of work during campaigns, and served at one time as township trustee of Big Creek Township. For many years he was an elder of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Mr. Barbee joined the Masons at Humboldt, Kansas, when that place was little more than a fort, later demitted to Cedar Lodge No. 103, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and also belonged to Council No. 44, Sons and Daughters of Justice, of Chanute. During the Civil war, he was under Captain Newman, in the State Militia, and was stationed at Fort Humboldt. In every way, he was a helpful and public-spirited citizen, and his death was a loss to the community. Mr. Barbee married Miss Mary Elizabeth Easley, who was born in 1847, in Sangamon County, Illinois, and died at Chanute, Kansas, in 1909, and they became the parents of three children: John Thomas, who was engaged in farming near Chanute and died in 1873; William Manfred; and Daniel Curtis, who was a retired farmer and died at Chanute in 1908.
William Manfred Barbee was educated in the district schools of Neosho County, where he was brought up on his father’s farm, and in 1883 and 1884 attended the old Kansas Normal School at Fort Scott. At the age of twenty-one years he began to teach school, but after five terms thus spent in Neosho turned his attention to mercantile affairs, entering the hardware store of Davis & Merritt, at Chanute, where he spent five years. He also spent a like period in the employ of the mechanical department of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and was then transferred to the transportation department, where he was employed eleven years, the last six years of which time he was a conductor on the Southern Kansas Division. Mr. Barbee resigned his position January 1, 1911, and engaged in the grocery business at Chanute, but disposed of his interests therein in 1914, when he was elected commissioner of public utilities of Chanute, for a term of three years. As before noted, his duties have been ably and conscientiously discharged, and few city officials hold the public confidence in greater degree. Mr. Barbee is a republican. His offices are in the City Hall, while his home, one of the most attractive and modern bungalows of Chanute, is situated at No. 610 South Evergreen Avenue. He is secretary of the Old Settlers Association, in the work of which he takes a great interest and among the members of which he is very popular. He stands high in Masonry, belonging to Cedar Lodge No. 103, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; Iola Council No. 8, Royal and Select Masters; Chanute Chapter No. 21, Royal Arch Masons; Temple Commandery No. 44, Knight Templars; belongs also to Chanute Council No. 44, Sons and Daughters of Justice; and is also an active member of the Chanute Commercial Club.
In 1885 Mr. Barbee was married in Neosho County to Miss Anna Englis, daughter of Elias and Martha (Lee) Englis, both now deceased. Mr. Englis was a lifelong farmer and during the latter part of his life carried on operations in Neosho County. Mrs. Englis was a relative of Gen. Robert E. Lee. To Mr. and Mrs. Barbee the following children have been born: Ola, who died in infancy; twin boys, one of whom also died in infancy and Talmage, the other twin, who died aged nineteen years, in 1909; and William Marcus, born February 13, 1891, who resided with his parents. William M. Barbee, Jr., is one of the enterprising and energetic young business men of Chanute, a graduate of the Chanute High School, and now bookkeeper and secretary of the Commonwealth Oil Company. He is a member of the Chanute Band, and belongs to Cedar Lodge No. 103, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; and to Chanute Lodge No. 806, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and is one of the most popular young men in the city.