Plain City has one building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Farmers National (now Security) Bank building on the square. It was built in 1902 and has been enlarged and updated since then, but retains its early 20th century solidity. Much of its interior décor dates from its original construction. A photo dating from about 1910 shows one of the customer writing shelves that is still in use. It also shows that the floor-to-ceiling tellers enclosure that is such a hallmark of the bank today was a later addition.
The bank has been a focal point of the uptown area since it was built, and it was also the site of Plain City’s Great Bank Robbery.
Wednesday, May 9, 1934 was a quiet spring day. No customers were in the bank, only bookkeeper Samuel R. Sharpe, cashier J. R. Woods, and assistant cashiers Lank W. Cary and J. W. Kilgore. Bank president Cephas Atkinson was in Columbus. No one took any particular notice when a car pulled up outside and two men, later described as “pallid” and not “well dressed,” got out and entered the bank. But the submachine gun and shotgun they pulled from under their topcoats got everyone’s attention.
The robbers herded the employees into a small office beside the vault, instructing them to face the wall and keep their hands up, and then stripped the money drawers of some $1,200. They tried to force the employees to open the vault, but they refused. Fearing that a delay might lead to their discovery, the robbers decided to be content with what they had. They forced Cary and Kilgore to accompany them, standing on the running boards of their car, as they made their escape. (Personal note: My mother used to tell of how the getaway car passed her as she was driving into town. She recognized the bank employees, but couldn’t imagine what they were doing riding on the running boards.)
The other two bank employees commandeered a car and followed the escaping robbers. They were unable to catch them but did pick up the two hostages where the robbers had released them a short distance outside of town.
The Ohio Highway Patrol was able to determine that the robbers car had been stolen from a coed at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, but they were unable to apprehend the men. However, on May 11 the two men, Harry Hopkins and Vernon Taylor, were arrested in Richmond, Indiana with a female accomplice, Thelma Mitchen.
There had been a rash of bank robberies in central Ohio that spring, 14 in the previous seven weeks and eight in the previous 22 days. While Hopkins and Taylor were not charged with all of these, they were suspected of robberies in Milford Center and South Vienna, where a cashier had been killed, as well as the Plain City crime.
After their arrest, they were sent to Springfield, Ohio where they were tried for the murder in South Vienna. Taylor and Hopkins were sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary and Thelma Mitchen to the Women’s Reformatory in Marysville.
The irony of the whole episode is that brass and glass enclosure that we all identify with the bank was on order at the time of the robbery. And no one has made any attempt on the bank since it was installed.
If you have never visited the bank, plan to stop in the next time you are in Plain City. Be sure to ask the tellers about those round holes in the framework — Messrs. Cary, Kilgore, Sharpe and Woods would have made good use of them.
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.