Banks in the 1800s, particularly those in small towns, were looked upon with some suspicion, as they tended to appear and disappear with little or no warning. In the early 1930s the onset of the Great Depression brought about another wave of bank failures.
Plain City had its share of banks which left little more than their name or the odd checkbook, photo, or advertisement. The Plain City Bank, the Bank of Plain City and the First State Bank being some of these. But the Atkinson family established banks that have served our town for well over a century.
William Atkinson began the family business with the founding of the Farmers’ Bank on Feb. 6, 1892. Originally, the bank was located in the Sherwood Block on the south side of West Main Street (today the Rummell-Brill Insurance Agency). Later it moved across the street to the Sherwood-McCullough Block (150 W. Main St.).
William Atkinson’s son Cephas worked at the Farmers’ Bank under his father. By the late 1890s he was urging that the bank reorganize and become a National Bank, that is, one chartered and backed by the U.S. government. William agreed, and on July 2, 1900, the Farmers’ National Bank was organized. Directors were William Atkinson, Cephas Atkinson, J. L. Ballinger, C. F. Dutton, John Florence and C. Humphreys. The first officers were: William Atkinson, president; J. L. Ballinger, vice president; and Cephas Atkinson, cashier.
On Aug. 6, 1900 the liabilities and assets of the Farmers’ Bank were transferred to the new bank. From the beginning, Farmers’ National did well, doubling its deposits in just three months.
In December of 1901 electric lights were installed in the bank.
In 1902 the bank bought the Mooney lot at the corner of Gay and West Main Streets. The Mooney house had originally been a log cabin built by Isaac Bigelow. The house was torn down and the brick building which the bank still occupies was constructed. The distinctive art glass windows cost $126.50 each. The bank building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
In 1911, a new vault was purchased for $4,550. In the early 1900s the bank even issued its own bank notes. From 1863 to 1935, banks with a federal charter could deposit bonds in the U.S. Treasury and issue bank notes worth up to 90 percent of the value of the bonds. The early notes were larger than regular U.S. currency and had a slightly different design. In the 1920s, the size and design were changed to more closely resemble regular currency. Some old-timers in town still have Farmers’ National bank notes.
On May 9, 1934, the bank was robbed by two men armed with a sub-machine gun and a shotgun. They escaped with about $1,200, taking bank employees Lank Cary and J. W. Kilgore hostage and forcing them to ride on the running boards of their getaway car. (We will pause here while you explain to your children what “running boards” were.)
The robbers were arrested on May 14 in Richmond, Indiana. The two men, Harry Hopkins and Vernon Taylor, had also robbed banks in Milford Center and South Vienna (where a cashier was killed). The bulletproof glass enclosure which is such a feature of the bank today was on order at the time of the robbery.
The Farmers’ Bank and the Farmers’ National Bank served Plain City for over 100 years. The Atkinsons, Lank Cary, Holly Walker, Andrew Cary, Otto Cosgray and Mary Mitchell led the way over those years in providing the best of banking services, being as Mary Mitchell put it, “small enough to know our customers and yet large enough to serve them.”
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.