Thomas R. Cox and The Bank of Willacoochee

Thomas R. Cox grew up at Ray’s Mill, GA (now Ray City) and later returned as a resident. He was only educated through the 8th grade, but made a successful career in bookkeeping.  In the early 1900s he went to Willacoochee, GA to live with his uncle Gid Gasksins and to work  in Gaskin’s general merchandise store as a salesman.

Within a few years Thomas secured a situation as Bookkeeper for the Bank of Willacoochee. The Bank of Willacoochee was chartered in 1900 with $25,000 capital investment. The Cashier of the bank was George F. McCranie, son of Malcolm McCranie who fought in the 1836 Battle of Brushy Creek.

All seemed well until the morning of Thursday, May 4, 1916 when Thomas R. Cox failed to show up for work at the bank.  With Cox’s unexplained disappearance Cashier George F. McCranie suspected the worst, and the bank was closed pending an investigation by the state bank examiner.

Over the next two months some details unfolded, not only in local newspapers, but in papers  as far away as Honolulu.

1916-may-12-tg-bank-of-willacoochee

Tifton Gazette
May 12, 1916

Bank of Willacoochee

Closed Pending Examination of the Books by Authorities

    Willacoochee, Ga., May 9. –  The doors of the Bank of Willacoochee of this place were closed Monday and the institution is in the hands of the state bank examiner.
     T. R. Cox, who was bookkeeper, has been missing since last Thursday. Soon after his departure, it was reported that George F. McCranie, cashier, discovered that errors had been made in keeping the books, and immediately wired for experts to examin into the affairs of the bank. The examination has continued through yesterday and today.
     Later reports say the errors in the books are not as great as reported and that the bank is in good shape.

—–♦—–

1916-may-17-ATL-thomas-r-cox

Thomas R. Cox of Willacoochee, GA sought by police. Atlanta Constitution, May 17, 1916

 

Atlanta Constitution
May 17, 1916

Police Asked to Find Missing Bookkeeper

________________

    Police Chief W. M. Mayo was requested to have his men be on the lookout for Thomas R. Cox, former bookkeeper of the Bank of Willacoochee, Ga., who was reported to have embezzled the bank of several thousand dollars.
    George F. McCranie, cashier of the institution, called at the police station and told Chief Mayo that the officials of the bank offered a reward of $500 for the former bookkeeper’s arrest.

 

Honolulu Star-Bulleting reports arrest of Thomas R. Cox, bookkeeper of the Bank of Willachoochee

Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports arrest of Thomas R. Cox, bookkeeper of the Bank of Willachoochee

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
June 19, 1916

Charged with the embezzlement of $30,000 from the Bank of Willacoochee, Ga., Thomas R. Cox, aged 28, was recently arrested in New York.

 

 

Tifton Gazette, May 25, 1916 reports Thomas R. Cox, formerly of Ray City, GA, arrested in New York.

Tifton Gazette, May 25, 1916 reports Thomas R. Cox, formerly of Ray City, GA, arrested in New York.

Tifton Gazette
May 26 1916

COX CAUGHT IN NEW YORK

New York, May 25, — Thomas R. Cox, Age 28, was arrested here today charged with embezzling $30,000 from the Bank of Willacoochee, of Willacoochee, Ga.

     The Bank of Willacoochee, considered one of the soundest financial institutions in that section of the state, was closed May 8th following the disappearance of the Bookkeeper, Thomas R. Cox.
    It was at first stated that the shortage amounted to $30,000 but later there were reports that the defalcation was not so great, an error of the adding machine being in part responsible.
    Cox’s home was formerly at Ray City, in Berrien County.

1916-may-27-atlc-thomas-cox

Atlanta Constitution
May 27, 1916

Coffee Sheriff Holds Thos. Cox in New York

Willacoochee, Ga., May 26. — (Special.) — A telegram was received from Sheriff David Ricketson, of this county, last night stating that Thomas R. Cox, who is charged with wrecking the Bank of Willacoochee, was held by him in New York city and requisition papers have been forwarded to the governor of Georgia for his signature. The state bank examiner is still in charge of the institution and the amount of shortage is not known, though it is estimated at several thousand dollars.

1916-june-23-tg-bank-of-willacoochee

Tifton Gazette
June 23,1916

BANK OF WILLACOOCHEE

From the Willacoochee Record.
      At a meeting of the stockholders of the Bank of Willacoochee Tuesday, the stockholders present representing 231 of the 250 shares of the bank, voted unanimously in favor of an assessment sufficient to bring the impaired capital stock up to its par value and resume business.
      This will make the institution as sound as it ever was. Besides a plan has been proposed by depositors are to be insured and new officers for the institution will be elected if the plan of reorganization is successful. It is understood that the present depositors will co-operate with the stockholders for the payment of their claims as it will assure the reorganization and at the same time protect themselves as depositors.

1916-jul-7-atlc-bank-of-willacoochee-reopens

Atlanta Constitution, July 7, 1916 reports that the Bank of Willacoochee has reopened for business

Despite all the reported allegations of embezzlement by Thomas R. Cox, the available newspapers never reported that the Bank Examiners had any findings against him or that he was ever charged with any crime. He later worked as a book keeper in Ray City, GA.

 

Dr. Jones was a Banker at Rays Mill

Dr. Charles Xavier Jones, First Mayor of Ray City

Charles X. Jones ~ Mayor, doctor and banker of Ray City, GA

In addition to serving as Ray City’s first doctor and first Mayor, Charles X. Jones was among the town’s early bankers. The Tuesday, May 23, 1911 Valdosta Times noted that Dr. Jones was elected Vice President of the Bank of Rays Mill, GA.  Clarence L. Smith was the President, and Lewis M. Marshall, cashier.

Bank of Rays Mill elects officers.

Bank of Rays Mill elects officers, May 23, 1911

Valdosta Times
May 23, 1911

New Bank at Rays Mill.

The Times of Saturday [May 20] stated that Mr. B. P. Jones and Mr. C. L. Smith had gone to Rays Mill to assist in organizing a bank at that place. The bank is to be known as the Bank of Rays Mill, and it has a capital stock of $25,000.
Mr. C. L. Smith was elected president of the concern and Mr. L. M. Marshall of this city [Valdosta] was elected cashier, with Dr. C. X. Jones, of Rays Mill, vice-president. The directors are as follows: B. P. Jones, C. L. Smith, J. S. Swindle, J. H. Swindle, W. E. H. Terry, L. J. Clements and C. H. Jones.

Later, Charles X. Jones served on the board of directors of Southern Bank & Trust Co., Valdosta, GA.

Related Posts:

Smith and Jones Open Bank at Ray’s Mill

In 1911, B. P. Jones, President of the Valdosta Bank and Trust, and Clarence L. Smith, Vice President, came to Rays Mill, GA on business. Jones’ wife was a daughter of Jonathan Knight, and a granddaughter of Reverend William A. Knight.

Valdosta Times, May 23, 1911 news item,

Valdosta Times, May 23, 1911 news item, “Organized bank at Rays Mill”

The Valdosta Times
May 23, 1911

Organized Bank at Rays Mill

Messrs B. P. Jones and C. L. Smith went up to Rays Mill this morning for the purpose of organizing a Bank at that place to be known as the Bank of Rays Mill.  It will have a capital stock of $25,000.

The Ray City investors received a State Bank Charter and opened for business on August 14, 1911.  The other investors were: J.S. Swindle, J.H. Swindle, M.T. Bradford, W.H.E. Terry, Riley M. Green, and J. F. Sutton, all of Berrien county; and Charles Lee Jones and  J.B. Griffin, of Lowndes county. The Bank of Ray’s Mill  would later known as the Citizens Bank of Ray City.

The principal banker, Benjamin Perry Jones, was a former resident of Berrien County, and had operated mercantile at Milltown. In 1913, a biographical sketch was included in A history of Savannah and south Georgia:

Harden, William,. A history of Savannah and south Georgia. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913.

p. 747-749

   BENJAMIN P. JONES, the president of the Valdosta Bank and Trust Company has had a long career in business, has won prosperity and influence much above that of the average man, and yet began with little or nothing and for a number of years had a hard struggle with the obstacles of business life. Mr. Jones is one of the prominent citizens of south Georgia, and has been identified with Valdosta from the time it was a small village.

   Mr. Benjamin P. Jones was born, June 25, 1837, in that part of Camden now Charlton county, Georgia. His grandfather was James Jones, thought to have been a native of Georgia, who was a Camden county planter, having a number of slaves, and died there at the age of seventy-five, his remains now reposing in the Buffalo churchyard. He married a Miss Davis, who was upwards of eighty when she died, and they reared a large family of children. They were Primitive Baptists in religion.

   Burrell Jones, father of the Valdosta banker, was born in Wayne county, Georgia, April 29, 1803. About the time of his marriage he bought land near Folkston, living there a few years, and about 1840 returned to Wayne county and located on a farm near the present site of Lulaton, where he made his home until his death in 1877. He married Mary Margaret (known as Peggy) Mizell, who was born in Bulloch county, August 9, 1809. Her father, Jesse Mizell, of English stock and a native of North Carolina, was a soldier of the Revolution under Jasper at Savannah and with Marion during that leader’s valorous excursions against the British. He was with the command when it crossed the Peedee river, first lay blankets on the bridge to deaden the sound of the horses’ hoofs, and in this way surprised the enemy. Some years after the Revolution Jesse Mizell came to Georgia, living two years in Camden county, and then moved into the interior, settling near the present site of Folkston in Charlton county, where he bought land and was engaged in farming and stock raising until his death at the age of about sixty. He married a Miss Stallings, a native of North Carolina and of Dutch ancestry. Mary M. Mizell, the mother of Mr. Jones, spent her early life on the Georgia frontier, and for the lack of educational advantages she compensated by her great natural ability and force of character. Her husband was for many years an invalid, and the care of the children devolved entirely upon her. She reared them to habits of industry and honor, and they paid her all filial reverence. Her death occurred in 1885. Her nine children were named as follows: Harley, Joseph, Benjamin P., Margaret, James B., Nancy C., Harriet, Jasper N. and Newton J.   Harley and Joseph were Confederate soldiers and died during their service for the southern cause.

   Though in his youth he had little opportunity to obtain an education, Benjamin P. Jones managed to obtain an education largely through his own efforts at self-improvement and an ingrained habit of close observation. When he was seventeen he became a teacher, and while he did good service while in this occupation it may be remembered that qualifications for teaching were not very high at that period. Anyone could teach who could find others who knew less than himself, and there was no formality of examination. Intellectual curiosity was a passion with him from an early age, and the time most children give to play with their comrades he devoted to association in company with his elders, thus learning by listening. When he was twelve years old he once attended a court session, listening attentively to the evidence and the charge to the jury. At recess the judge asked why he was so absorbed in the proceedings. The boy replied that it was because he wanted to learn, and then asked the judge why he charged the jury as he did. That was equity, responded the judge, and after explaining the meaning of that word told the boy that if he ever had occasion to make out papers to make them out in accordance with equity and justice and he would sanction them if brought before his court. Chopping cotton at twenty-five cents a day and board was the means by which Mr. Jones earned his first money. A little later he became clerk in a general store at Lulaton, and after a time engaged in business for himself at Stockton, Georgia. Hardly had his trade started when a panic paralyzed all business, and he found himself in debt fifteen hundred dollars, which took him some time to pay off.

   Early in 1861 Mr. Jones enlisted in Company D of the Twenty-sixth Georgia Infantry, and was with that command in the coast defense until the regiment was ordered to Virginia, when he secured a substitute. Confederate money was then plentiful but away below par, and he bought a farm for three thousand dollars, at war-time prices, going in debt for the greater part of this amount. He was busily engaged in farming until 1864, when he enlisted with the Georgia Reserves, being commissioned first lieutenant and being in actual command of his company. The Reserves went to the defense of Atlanta, but from Griffin his company was sent back to recruit and apprehend deserters, and he was on detached duty until the close of the war. After making three crops on his farm he sold the land for four hundred dollars, and with that money and what he had realized from his crops engaged in the mercantile business at Milltown in Berrien county. Nine days after opening his store an epidemic of smallpox broke out, he was quarantined fifty-two days, and at the end of that time offered to sell his entire stock for three hundred dollars but could not find a buyer. Owing to this circumstance he went on with his business, at the same time buying cotton and dealing in live stock, and in four years had so reversed the current of his previous fortunes that he had cleared up fourteen thousand dollars. Then selling out at Milltown he went to southern Florida, where he opened two stores and established a grist and saw mill, and was engaged in business there until 1874, when ill health compelled him to make a change. He sacrificed eight thousand dollars by the move, and then came to Valdosta, which was then a village. Here he bought an established general store and a home for three thousand dollars, and was prosperously identified with the mercantile enterprise of this city for twenty years. In 1894 Mr. Jones organized the Valdosta Guano Company, and in 1906 the Valdosta Bank & Trust Company, of which he has since been president, with his son C. L. as cashier.

   On June 25, 1862, Mr. Jones married Miss Elizabeth Knight, who was born in Clinch county, October 18, 1843, representing an old family of southern Georgia. Her grandfather, Rev. William Knight, was a pioneer preacher in this part of the state. He married a Miss Cone. Jonathan Knight, the father of Mrs. Jones, was born in that part of Lowndes now Berrien county, and spent his life as a farmer in Clinch and Berrien counties. Mr. and Mrs. Jones reared thirteen children, named as follows: Jonathan H., Charles Lee, Frances M. McKenzie; Lillie Roberts, Samuel W., Elizabeth Fry, Benjamin U., Jimmie Staten Green, Eulah Norris, Pearl Mashburn, Lloyd E., Lotta and Audrey Terry.

   Mr. Jones has been identified with the Masonic order since he was twenty-seven years old. He is a member of the Economic League of Boston, Massachusetts, a society for the betterment of mankind. He has been one of the influential men in political life for many years. His first presidential vote was cast for John C. Breckenridge in 1860. He was opposed to secession, in a speech in which he said that if the sixteen southern states would all go out in a body, taking the constitution in one hand and the flag in the other, he would favor the movement with his vote, but not otherwise. In subsequent years he has served as delegate to many county and state conventions, was a delegate to the national conventions that nominated General Hancock and Grover Cleveland, and was also one of the sound-money Democratic delegates of 1896 who nominated Palmer and Buckner. Since 1898 he has not been allied with any party, and as a free lance has supported the individual who best represents his ideas of government.

Ray City Bank Woes ~ 1931

1928 Letterhead of The Citizens Bank of Ray City, GA

1928 Letterhead of The Citizens Bank of Ray City, GA

The Citizens Bank, Ray City, GA – 1929 newspaper advertisement from the Ray City News

Through the stock market crash of 1929 The Citizens Bank of Ray City remained in business , and the local ”boosters” remained optimistic. (see Bank of Ray City, GA through Optimism and Depression)  The firm’s letterhead from 1928 shows George W. Varn was president; James H. “Jim” Swindle, Vice President; John D. Luke, Cashier; and J. W. Johnson, assistant cashier.

Nashville Herald November 21, 1929

As we understand it the Citizens Bank of Ray City is one of the strongest financial institutions in the county and its business is growing steadily as will be shown by the last financial statement as called for by the superintendent of state banks.  It has total resources of over $150,000, and deposits of over $100,000 and shows that it has no notes and bills rediscounted. Berrien county is justly proud of its banking institutions and conservative business men do not hesitate to place the Citizens Bank of Ray City along with the head of list.

In fact, in July of 1930, the Atlanta Constitution had reported that the banks of Berrien County, including the Ray City bank were financially sound.

But by the end of December, the Citizens Bank of Ray City had failed.

The closing of The Citizens Bank of Ray City was among those announced in December of 1930.

The closing of The Citizens Bank of Ray City was among those announced in December of 1930.

MORE BANKS CLOSED IN SOUTHERN STATES

New York Times.  Dec 21, 1930.

ATLANTA, Ga., Dec. 20 (AP) – A. B. Mobley, State Superintendent of Banks, announced today his department had been asked to take over the affairs of the Union Banking Company of Douglas, operating branches at Barxton and Nichols, the Toombs County Bank at Lyons and the Citizens Bank of Ray City. Cause of the closings was not stated.

In 1931, the Ray City Bank underwent reorganization. A series of Nashville Herald articles reported on the situation:

The Nashville Herald
January 29, 1931, front page,

R.E. Dean in Charge of Ray City Bank

      Mr. R.E. Dean who is in charge of the affairs of the closed Ray City bank is making satisfactory progress with his work.  Optimism prevails in regard to the opening of the bank, for there can be no better location for a banking institution than Ray City, situated as it is in the heart of one of the finest farming sections in South Georgia, and the land tilled by experienced and reliable farmers who are good for their contracts.

The Nashville Herald
  February 19, 1931, front page,

Citizens Bank, Ray City Applies to Sell Assets

If Offer Is Accepted Depositors Will Receive 50 Per Cent Net.

      According to an announcement of a hearing to be held before Judge W.R. Smith at the court house in this city Saturday, Feb. 21, an application will be made by the State Superintendent of Banks, A.B. Mobley, to sell the assets of the Citizens Bank of Ray City, which closed a short while before Christmas.  It is understood that the depositors have recommended that the offer be accepted.
       An extract from the notice reads as follows:  “Notice is hereby given that the undersigned has received an offer for the purchase of the assets of The Citizens Bank of Ray City, by the terms of which officer the depositors of said Bank are to receive fifty per cent of their claims net, the preferred claims against said Bank being fully paid under the terms of said offer, in addition to the payment of the fifty per cent net to the depositors.”
       The Herald was unable to learn whether or not the bank would be reopened for business.

The Nashville Herald
February 26, 1931, front page,

Ray City Bank Opened Tuesday

      As we go to press encouraging news reaches us, that while permanent arrangements has not yet been perfected for the opening of the bank there, yet tentative arrangements have and the bank has been doing business since Tuesday.  This good news will increase the optimism, now prevailing in this section over the picking-up of business generally.

The Nashville Herald
March 12, 1931, front page

Ray City Bank Pays Depositors 50 Per Cent

John D. Luke, Cashier of Old Bank In Charge of New Organization

      The Ray City Banking Company has reopened for business under an agreement to pay the depositors 50 per cent cash for the amount of their deposits, and has been making these payments since last Thursday.  It is understood that many of the depositors are leaving their money in the bank, which although a private institution is said to be doing a good business, and receiving large deposits.
       The above arrangement was made possible through the efforts of Messrs. George W. Varn, A.D. Lee and Y.F. Carter, who put up the money with which to pay off the depositors.  Mr. John D. Luke, cashier before the bank was closed, is again acting in this capacity.
      The institution is known as the Citizens Banking Company, and serves one of the best communities in this section.  The general prediction is that the institution will continue to prosper.

Article transcriptions provided in part by Skeeter Parker.

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L.C. Swindle Faces Bank Robber at Ray City – February 28,1939

On February 28, 1939, 72 years ago today, the Farmer’s bank at Ray City was the scene of a hold-up. The  Bank cashier was  L.C. Swindle.

Leonard Columbus Swindle was born May 20, 1880, the son of Margaret M. Futch and George Emory Swindle.  He was the grand son of Nancy Jane Parker and James Swindle. As a boy, he grew up on the on the Swindle homeplace near Ray City, GA. Later he lived in Cecil, and Valdosta. In Valdosta, L.C. was employed as a store clerk.

As of September 12, 1918, Leonard Columbus Swindle and his wife Mary Coley Swindle were residing in Barretts, GA about five miles south of Ray City when he registered for the WWI draft. He was a farmer, tall and slender with blue eyes and dark hair.

By 1930, L.C. and Mary had moved back to Ray City,GA. Mary worked as a store clerk and L.C. worked in a cotton warehouse, probably for his brother James H. “Jim” Swindle who owned the cotton warehouse at Ray City.

Later,  L. C. Swindle drawing on his business experience operated and controlled the Farmers Bank at Ray City.  It was there, on February 28, 1939, working as Cashier that he faced the gun of a bank robber.

Atlanta Constitution
March 1, 1939

LONE BANDIT ROBS BANK AT RAY CITY
Early Morning Holdup Man Gets $655; Police Take Up Hunt.

RAY CITY, Ga., Feb. 28.  Police searched for an armed bandit who robbed the Farmers’ bank here of $633 today when he was admitted before the regular opening hour to get change for a $20 bill.
Cashier L.C. Swindle reported the robbery to police and fixed the time at about 7:15 o’clock.  He said he had gone to the bank early to work on some insurance papers.  Someone knocked on the door and asked if he could get $20 changed.
Swindle said such requests before the bank  opens are frequent and he told the man he would let him in.
“He walked to the cashier’s window and laid a $20 bill on the counter,” Swindle related. “I asked how he wanted the money and as I was counting it out, the man said, ‘wait a minute.'”
When he looked up, Swindle said, a gun was pointed at him and the man said “give it all to me.”  Swindle added the man scooped up the cash and warned him to “stay in here,” and fled.
Sheriff N.N. Hughes, of Nashville, came here to investigate the case, and said the cashier described the man. Details were withheld until after search of the vicinity.
Hughes said he would search for two men reported seen near the bank early in the morning.  The sheriff said Swindle was unable to tell him whether or not the bandit was in a car, as the blinds were down and a radio playing drowned out possible motor noise.  Others said they heard a car about the time of the robbery.

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Checking on Citizens Bank of Ray City

Canceled checks drawn on the Citizens Bank of Ray City, Ray City, GA document some of the local businesses that Effie Guthrie Knight transacted with during 1927.

1927 check drawn on the Citizens Bank of Ray City and made payable to Dr. Folsom.

1927 check drawn on the Citizens Bank of Ray City and made payable to Dr. Folsom.

As the check above shows, Dr. George Hill Folsom came to Berrien County, GA some time prior to 1927. He established his home in Ray City where he engaged in general practice. A check in the amount of $1.00 might have been typical payment for an office visit in that time.

1927 check written by Effie Knight to C.O. Terry, and drawn on the Citizens Bank of Ray City.

1927 check written by Effie Knight to C.O. Terry, and drawn on the Citizens Bank of Ray City.

Written the same day as the previous check, this check to Ray City pharmacist, C. O. Terry,  may have been to fill a prescription written by Dr. George Hill Folsom.

Check drawn on the Citizens Bank of Ray City in payment to G. M. Purvis, made out in the amount of two dollars and fifty cents, and signed by Effie Knight.

Check drawn on the Citizens Bank of Ray City in payment to G. M. Purvis

Another check written by Effie Knight  is made out to G.M. Purvis.  Guy Marvin Purvis owned a general merchandise store in Ray City, GA.  Furthermore, he was Effie’s brother-in-law so naturally she’d be inclined to do business there.

 A check made out July 5, 1927 to G.V. Hardie in the amount of twelve dollars and seventy cents, and drawn on the account of Effie Knight at The Citizens Bank of Ray City.

A check made out July 5, 1927 to G.V. Hardie in the amount of twelve dollars and seventy cents, and drawn on the account of Effie Knight at The Citizens Bank of Ray City.

In the 1920s, Gordon Vancie Hardie opened up the first gas station in Ray City, GA. The check above may have been payment for service on Effie Knight’s car.

 

Lawson Fountain ~ Ray City Banker

Lawson Fountain of Ray City, GA.

Lawson Fountain of Ray City, GA.

Lawson Fountain

Lawson Fountain grew up in Ray City, GA and was educated in the Ray City School.  He graduated with the Class of 1939  and later married his high school classmate, Mildred Clements.

In 1949,  Lawson’s father-in-law, H.P. Clements, opened a bank and named it the Bank of Ray City.  Mr. Hod P. Clements and Lawson Fountain operated the state chartered bank until Mr. Clements was forced to retire due to ill health. Then  Lawson Fountain served as President of the bank.

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In 1959, Lawson Fountain served on the City Council of Ray City.

Lawson Fountain, 1959, Ray City, GA Councilman

Lawson Fountain, 1959, Ray City, GA Councilman

From a 1973 bank newsletter:

    Lawson Fountain returned from Jacksonville, Florida to his hometown in 1956 and helped start the Bank of Ray City. He continued his banking career with the Citizens Bank after it purchased The Bank of Ray City.

    ” I have always enjoyed banking,” Lawson said, ” and knowing just about everybody in this area is an added pleasure in my work. People like banking at home because it saves out-of-town trips for banking services. We are open five days a week from 9 until 4, and the drive-in opens at 8:30 every morning.”

    Lawson is married to the former Mildred Clements, and they both grew up in Ray City. Their only son, James, now lives in Oregon.

    Fishing is Lawson’s favorite pastime, and he said he enjoys the many good fishing places around Ray City.

    The Fountains are active in Ray City United Methodist Church.

    Lawson Fountain’s knowledge of the people and their needs in the Ray City area adds a personal touch to banking at the Bank of Ray City Office of the Citizens Bank.

Grave marker of Lawson F. Fountain, Nov 7, 1922, Jan 23, 1989, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Lawson F. Fountain, (1922-1989) Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

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Shoe String Bandits Strike Ray City Bank

In 1972 the headline news in the Ray City, GA area was the robbery of the Ray City Bank.

Ray City, GA Bank robbed in 1972

 Coffee County Progress, June 19, 1972

Ray City Bank Robbed of $3,869

Friday morning, June 16, the Ray City Bank, Berrien County, was held up by two armed black men. They escaped with $3869.90 from the safe and cash drawer.  As  of this time no one has been apprehended.
Chief of police, Johnny Wood, says his department is working with state and federal officials around the clock.
In addition to stealing money from the bank, the robbers locked three employees and two customers in the bank vault after confiscating the money.
Funds at the bank were insured by Fireman’s Insurance Company, and the stolen loot has already been replaced, according to bank president Lawson Fountain.

Eye Witness Report

Head Teller at the Ray City Bank, Mrs. Betty Buerger, gave the Progress her account of the robbery. It is as follows:
“Two black men entered the bank together, one was six feet tall, weighing about 180 pounds, looked to be between 20 and 25 years of age. He was wearing a tan shirt, flared, tight brown pants. He wore his hair in an Afro style and had a moustache.
“The other robber who was holding a snub-nosed pistol, was about five feet six inches tall, wore a purple shirt, and also wore his hair Afro style. He did not speak very much during the time they were in the bank.
“The tall robber came to my teller cage and asked to have two $20.00 bills changed for forty ones. Then the short fellow came in behind me with his pistol drawn.
“About that time the tall man, as he picked up his forty dollars in one dollar bills shoved a homemade pillow case in my cage, and said, ‘hurry up, I don’t want to hurt you.’
“I then emptied my cash drawer into the pillow case and at that time he motioned for me to go to the vault, and pulled the vault door open. He emptied the safe of 500 one dollar bills, crammed it into his pillow case and proceeded to empty John Robinson’s personal cash bag from the vault.
“After opening a new package of shoe strings, the robber tied my hands behind my back, told me to sit on the floor of the vault and tied my feet together.
“Mrs. Marilyn Blyler, another teller, returned from the post office and the pair tied her up and closed the vault door.
“At this time a customer John Brantley and his son Walter entered the bank building, and they were herded into the vault  and were quickly followed by Jimmy Fountain, son of President Lawson Fountain.
” The Robbers asked Jimmy how to lock the vault and Jimmy obliged. As soon as the door was locked the robbers made a clean get-a-way.”
Vault prisoners were concerned for the health of Mr. Brantley, who was reported to be in poor health, but he calmed the others by telling them, “It won’t be long before someone comes, because our wives are outside.
Mrs. Brantley came into the office, did not say anything but coughed. Mr. Brantley said “That’s Hazel, and called to her, reported the bank had been robbed and that he and other employees were locked in the vault, and asked her to get the police.
Jackie Giddens came into the bank and Mrs. Bueger told him how to unlock the vault and within thirty minutes from their lock-in they were all free and breathing a sigh of relief.

The five by five foot concrete and steel vault posed no immediate danger, but could have been disastrous if it had not been opened in a short time.

Witnesses all say they had never seen either of the men before, but from accents they were believed to have been from the North. Both were calm, cool, and collected, indicating they were professionals.

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Bank of Ray City, GA through Optimism and Depression

The Citizens Bank of Ray City was among the first businesses to advertise in the town’s newspaper, The Ray City News, when it began circulation in 1929.

The Citizens Bank, Ray City, GA – 1929 newspaper advertisement from the Ray City News

In a newspaper clipping from the Jan 3, 1929 issue of the Ray City News the stockholders of the Citizens Bank of Ray City were pleased with the financial reports.

In a newspaper clipping from the Jan 3, 1929 issue of the Ray City News the stockholders of the Citizens Bank of Ray City were pleased with the financial reports.

Ray City News
Ray City, GA
January 3, 1929

 Bank Stockholders Hold Annual Meet

    The stockholders of the Citizens Bank of Ray City held their annual meeting on December 18th – illegible text –
    Examination of the – illegible text – well pleased at the report.
    The same officers and directors were elected for the new year.

In 1929, the Citizens Bank of Ray City, was optimistically advertising for new depositors.

When the stock market crashed, the bank managed to remain in business.  In fact, in July of 1930, the Atlanta Constitution reported that the banks of Berrien County, including the Ray City bank were financially sound.  But by the end of December 1930 the Citizens Bank of Ray City had failed.

 MORE BANKS CLOSED IN SOUTHERN STATES
New York Times.  Dec 21, 1930.

ATLANTA, Ga., Dec. 20 (AP) – A. B. Mobley, State Superintendent of Banks, announced today his department had been asked to take over the affairs of the Union Banking Company of Douglas, operating branches at Braxton and Nichols, the Toombs County Bank at Lyons and the Citizens Bank of Ray City. Cause of the closings was not stated.

“After that bank failed other banks were opened but they all  suffered from the nation’s economic troubles and none were successful. Until, in 1949, H.P. Clements opened a private bank and named it the Bank of Ray City.  It was a state chartered bank operated by Mr. Clements and his son-in-law,  Lawson Fountain. In later years Mr. Clements was forced to retire due to ill health. ”

Bank of Ray City

Bank of Ray City

The Bank of Ray City in 1972. In 1973 the bank was acquired by the Citizens Bank of Nashville. Georgia, and is now the Ray City office of that bank. The old bank building pictured above has since been demolished.

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Ray City Investors Receive State Bank Charter

News of  the granting of a state charter to the Bank of Rays Mill was published in the Atlanta Georgian and News, April 28, 1911 — page 3:

Atlanta Georgian and News, Apr. 28, 1911 — page 3
CHARTERS ARE GRANTED OF TWO STATE BANKS

Institutions at Douglas and Rays Mill Are Granted Permits To Do Business

    Two banks were granted charters and another put in its application to Philip Cook, secretary of state, Friday morning.
A charter was granted to the Bank of Douglas, Coffee county, capitalized at $50,000, with the following incorporators: Cr. Tidwell, F. Willis Dart, Elmo Tanner, all of Coffee county.
The Bank of Rays Mill was chartered with a capital stock of $25,000, and another financial institution to Berrien county. The following are the incorporators: J.S. Swindle, J.H. Swindle, M.T. Bradford, W.H.E. Terry, R.M. Green, and J. F. Sutton, all of Berrien county, and B.P. Jones, C.L. Jones, C.L. Smith, and J.B. Griffin, of Lowndes county.

The bank opened its doors for business on August 14, 1911.  Later, the name was changed to the Citizens Bank of Ray City.

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