Robert W. Baker

Submitted to the West Virginia Biographies Project by:
Elizabeth Burns
January 1, 2000

The History of West Virginia, Old and New
Published 1923, The American Historical Society, Inc.
Chicago and New York, Volume II,
pg. 210-211

Hon. Robert W. Baker. There are certain individuals who seem always to
have time to carry on progressive enterprises and movements, whether of
a private or public nature. Hon. Robert W. Baker is pre-eminently one
of this class, and fortunately for the advancement of his community’s
best interests does not stand alone. He belongs to the group of able
citizens whose civic interest is equal to their business and
professional enterprise and who are devoting every energy possible to
the improvement of the public service. A man of broad education and
fine, sympathetic nature, as well as of strength and capability, Mayor
Baker is admirably fitted to be identified with the progressive guard of
such a city as Petersburg.

Mayor Baker was born September 8, 1880, in the house at Petersburg which
he now occupies as his home, and is a son of Bernard J. and Mary C.
(Welton) Baker. His grandfather, Eli W. Baker, was born in Pendleton
County, Virginia (now West Virginia), in 1809, and came to what is now
Grant County as a young man. Near Petersburg he was united in marriage
with Miss Frances Shobe, a daughter of Jacob Shobe, one of the early
farmers of this region and subsequently established a hat shop at
Petersburg, having learned the hatter’s trade at Franklin. In politics
he was first a whig. When the issue of the War Between the States came
up for discussion, he sympathized with the South, but refused to follow
to the extent of the secession, although his son James W. went into the
Confederate Army and served throughout the struggle in the uniform of
the “grey.” Eli W. Baker died in 1881, at the ripe age of seventy-two
years, the same age as that at which his wife died, although she lived
five years longer. They were the parents of the following children:
James W., the Southern soldier, who spent his private life as an
agriculturist; Catherine, who married George W. Moomau and spent her
life at Petersburg; Carrie, who became the wife of William Clark and
died at Petersburg; Bernard Jacob, the father of Robert W. Baker; Edward
C., a resident of Petersburg; Margaret, who died at Petersburg,
unmarried; Henry F., also of this place, a notary public and court
commissioner; and Virginia, the wife of Hon. Lewis J. Forman of

Bernard J. Baker, cashier of the Grant County Bank was born at
Petersburg, March 9, 1849 and spent his more than seventy years of life
within the limits of this community. He grew up in the home of a
hatter, but his father abandoned that trade after the close of the war
between the North and South and turned his attention to merchandising,
being at the time of his death a member of the firm of Baker and
Company, in which his son was associated with him. Bernard J. Baker was
educated in the school common to the community of Petersburg, this being
supplemented by a commercial course in Eastman’s Business College at
Poughkeepsie, New York. When he went into business it was as a merchant
in association with his father, and after the elder man’s death he
continued the business under the firm style of Baker and Company. This
enterprise is still in existence and Mr. Baker has been engaged as a
businessman in that and other fields for more than fifty years, within
100 feet of the bank where he is now on duty as cashier.

Mr. Baker became actively identified with banking affairs when he
organized the Grant County Bank, the first banking house in Grant
County, this being opened in 1902. Prior to this time the banking of
this region had been done at Moorefield and Keyser, but the organization
of the Petersburg institution, concentrated banking largely at this
point from far and wide. The bank was originally capitalized at $25,000
and was increased to double that capital in 1908. The first president
was Lewis J. Forman, the first vice president, J.W. Day and the first
and only cashier, Mr. Baker. The presidency, likewise, has never
changed, but there have been several vice presidents, A.A. Parks, W.A.
Ervin and the present incumbent D.P. Hendrickson.

In his politics Mr. Baker voted first for president in 1872, when he
cast his ballot in favor of Horace Greeley. In 1876 he voted for Samuel
J. Tilden and four years later for Gen. W.S. Hancock, and in 1884 helped
to elect the first democratic president after the Civil war. He has
continued to support the same ticket without interruption every since.
Mr. Baker was prone to political activity as a young man and in 1876 was
elected to the State Senate, where he spent four active and useful
years, being present at the two sessions of the body and a member, among
others, of the judiciary and educational committees. In the matter of
electing a United States senator he supported the candidacy of Hon. John
McGraw of Taylor County. Mr. Baker has kept aloof from secret orders.
He is a member of the Presbyterian Church and one of its elders, a
capacity in which he has served for many years, and is the oldest member
of the congregation as well as the oldest member of the Official Board
in point of service.

On November 25, 1875, at Petersburg, Mr. Baker was united in marriage
with Miss Mary C. Welton, a daughter of Solomon and Sarah (Clark)
Welton, Mr. Welton having been an early merchant of Petersburg. Mrs.
Baker was born in what was then Hardy County, but is now Grant County,
as was her father. She and her husband are the parents of two sons:
Bernard, a merchant and farmer at Petersburg and Robert W.

After completing the public school course at Petersburg, Robert W. Baker
enrolled as a student at Potomac Academy, Romney and graduated from that
preparatory institution at the age of nineteen years. At that time he
entered upon the study of law at Washington and Lee University,
Lexington, Virginia and in 1904, satisfactorily passed the bar
examination at Morgantown, given by the law faculty of West Virginia
University, and his license to practice law was issued by the Supreme
Court of the state. He began his professional career at Petersburg,
among the neighbors and acquaintances of his boyhood and later life, and
tried his first case in the Circuit Court. His practice has been
largely of a general character, although the defense of those charged
with crimes has constituted a considerable proportion of his work, and
through his able qualities as a lawyer and his stable, popular traits as
a man he has continued his progress both in the development of a
professional reputation and a profitable legal business.

Ever since the attainment of his majority, Mr. Baker has been a factor
in local politics. As a leading democrat he has been party chairman of
Grant County, has been the county’s representative on the senatorial and
congressional committees and attended all the conventions of his party
while the convention system was in vogue. He was a spectator at the
Baltimore convention that nominated Woodrow Wilson for the presidency,
as well as the convention at St. Louis that gave the nomination to Judge
Alton B. Parker in 1904. Mr. Baker was first elected mayor of
Petersburg in 1909, and served for five consecutive terms, during which
almost all of the public improvement done in the city was accomplished,
including the installing of water and sewer systems and an electric
light plant, the building of sidewalks, etc. and all of this at an
expense that was worthy of much credit for the administration’s
economizing power. He left the mayor’s office in 1914 and was absent
until January 1, 1922, when he was the unanimous choice of the city for
the mayoralty. The preceding city administration had voted a bond issue
of $12,000 for improvements in the sewers, water and walks, and this
money is being expended by the administration in the construction of
these various improvements. Mayor Baker is attorney for the Baltimore
and Ohio Railway Company at Petersburg and has numerous other important

On February 29, 1908, Mr. Baker was united in marriage at Petersburg
with Miss Cornelia S. Taylor, a daughter of John E. and Annie (Wilson)
Taylor, of Hampshire County, West Virginia and North Carolina
respectively. Mr. Taylor was a tanner by trade and conducted and for a
time operated the Petersburg tannery. Mrs. Baker is one of nine
daughters in the Taylor family and was educated in the public schools.
To Mr. and Mrs. Baker there have been born the following children: John
Bernard; Robert W. Jr.; Wilson, who died at the age of five years;
Bettie; Edward; William, who died at the age of one year; McDonald;
Paul; and Cornelia.