In 1881 gold in the Barberton area was discovered by Tom McLachlan who found alluvial gold at Jamestown. However, due to the location (the hot Lowveld region was rife with malaria) no-one wanted to go there until Auguste Roberts ("French Bob") discovered gold in Concession Creek on 20 June 1883. This discovery resulted in a gold rush to the area.
On 21 June 1884, Graham Barber wrote a letter to the State Secretary to inform him that he and his two cousins Fred and Harry discovered payable gold on state land where the Umvoti Creek entered the De Kaap valley. The State Secretary then asked the Magistrate in Lydenburg to investigate the matter and for David Wilson, the Gold Commissioner, to submit a report. Wilson investigated on 24 July 1884 and declared the township of Barberton.
The town was named after Graham Hoare Barber (1835-1888) who discovered a rich gold-bearing reef there in 1884. Barberton became a municipality in 1904.
At first it was just a simple mining camp but grew when Edwin Bray, a prospector discovered gold in the hills above Barberton in 1885 and with 14 partners started the Sheba Reef Gold Mining Company.
Large amounts of money flowed into Barberton and the first Stock Exchange to operate in the then Transvaal opened its doors. More buildings were erected, billiard saloons and music halls established. The Criterion and Royal Standard hotels were opened. In 1896, Barberton was connected by rail to the Netherlands-South African Railway Company (NZASM)'s Oosterlijn (Pretoria to Lourenço Marques) through a specifically constructed side line running from Kaapmuiden to Barberton.
It was during this time Fountain Baths was born. Built in 1884 as a bathhouse for the gold diggers in the area, it boasts the oldest swimming pool in the Old Transvaal still today.
Barberton flourished for only a brief period and sadly soon the inhabitants began to move away to the newly discovered gold fields on the Reef.