Who Built The Wall at Wesleyan College and so much more? – Osmon ‘Os’ Bennett Barnes


“Every man is called to give love to the work of his hands. Every man is called to be an artist.”      Wendell Berry

I grew up without a grandfather. My maternal grandfather died when my mother was a young child and my paternal grandfather lived somewhere on the edges of my life hiding in the family story where my father never granted him pardon. I can honestly say I didn’t suffer any repercussions from these missing figures unless you find meaning in the fact that I do set great store by grandfathers. I live with a wonderful great grandfather, and I know zillions of other men that mean everything to their grandchildren. When Melissa Barnes Barker mentioned her grandfather to me, I jumped at the chance to write about him. I’m proud to start out the New Year in his company. (Photo provided by Mark Wheeless)

Osmon Barnes could not possibly have imagined that in December 2016, four of his grandchildren would gather in his name, along with a fabulous great-grandson, Taylor Barker, to talk about the man they call Papa. Granddaughter, Melissa Jean Barnes Barker arranged our time together and invited her sister, Amy Barnes McCotter and two cousins, William Kent Wheeless and Mark Wayne Wheeless. It is obvious how important Osmun Barnes, remains to them. It will take several Main Street RM posts to honor ‘Os’ Barnes, but that’s okay; how better to spend our time in the next few days than with a man like Mr. Barnes and where that leads us.

Osmon Barnes’ story includes his family, of course, but his work as a brick mason is important to the overall Rocky Mount story. I hope you admire the lead photograph of him as much as I do; an iconic photo of an American workman that could have been published on the cover of Life Magazine in the day.

img_4770Everyone that lives in Rocky Mount is connected to ‘Oz’ Barnes through his work. Mr.Barnes is the answer to who built the mile-long serpentine wall and main entrance at Wesleyan College. And let’s not forget the regular brick masons in this story –  William A. ‘Billy’ Wheeless, Jack J. ‘Mookie’ Taylor, Frank Eveland, Jack J. ‘Snookie’ Taylor, Jr., Thomas Kirby and Nelson Blount.  The following partial list of Mr. Barnes projects will provide a link to find yourself in this story with your own memories of the places mentioned. (Please share below in the comment section your link to Mr, Barnes, and his projects.) For example, on Sundays, I often sit in the pew behind beautiful and regal Marie Gardner (Mrs. Jim.) We’ve never spoken of this, but you know I am always saying that one thing leads me to another. Now I know that Marie’s father, Arthur Tyler was the benefactor behind the Wesleyan brick walls.  Stay tuned for Mr. Tyler’s story.

Here is a  partial list of projects where you may find yourself:  Wesleyan College’s main entrance and wall, Rocky Mount Art Center on Nashville Rd., #1 Fire Station on George St., Carolina Office Supply, Conversion of Fanny Gorham School, Addition to Benvenue Country Club, Replacement of the top border of the ‘old’ Planters Bank on Main St., Additions to Oakdale Baptist Church, Parkwood Baptist Church and Williford School, Bank of Rocky Mount on Church St., Englewood Baptist, Ramada Inn (at Gold Rock) now Gold Rock Inn and Suites, Theater on Fairview,  D.S. Johnson School(Fairview School),



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