A Century of Banking

Editor’s note:  John P. Herrick, oil historian of Olean, N. Y. founder of the Bolivar Breeze, and for more than 20 years a resident of Allegany County, has written a story of “A Century of Banking in Allegany County.”  A personal acquaintance with the bankers and banks of the county during the past half century makes it possible for him to write a new chapter in the history of the county.

By John P. Herrick

The Dow Bros. Private Bank

            The Dow Bros., (Rollin and Charles) of East Randolph, N. Y., established a private bank in Richburg on August 1, 1881, ten days before a charter was granted for a national bank.  These private bankers also successfully engaged in oil producing in the Allegany field.  In May, 1883, the First National Bank of Richburg purchased the assets of the Dow Bros. bank and assumed its liabilities, as the once booming town, fast losing population, was proving to be too limited a field to support two banks.

Rushford’s First Banker Issued Due Bills

            The first private banker in Rushford was Orrin T. Higgins who owned a prosperous country store and in connection with it had an account with a New York bank in which he made deposits, sold bills of exchange and drew drafts.  Mr. Higgins issued private currency or due bills, signed by himself, which stated that they would be accepted at face value in payment of merchandise purchased at his store.

            The dates of issue were 1857, 1858 and 1859.  The denominations were 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, one dollar, two dollars, three dollars and five dollars.  The pledge on the face of the notes read, “At sight I promise to pay the bearer blank dollars in goods at the store.”  Each note bore the signature of Orrin T. Higgins.  In the Rushford trading area these notes changed hands as currency and were highly regarded as a medium of exchange.  Every note issued by Mr. Higgins, an honest merchant and banker, was redeemed at par.  As the notes were printed in blank, and of elaborate design, it is reasonable to assume that they were used by many enterprising country merchants and private bankers of that day.  Through the courtesy of Frank W. Higgins, a member of the Exchange National Bank of Olean, N. Y. staff, and a great grandson of Orrin T. Higgins, the writer has photostats of the originals of all five denominations of the unique due bills.

            Orrin T. Higgins could boast of a son who served as state senator, lieutenant governor and governor of New York – Frank Wayland Higgins, who was born in Rushford, August 18, 1856, and died in Olean, February 12, 1907, the only governor of New York state born in Allegany County.  As a state senator he was known as “the watchdog of the treasury” for his spotting and opposing legislation that called for wasteful spending of the taxpayer’s money.

            Orrin T. Higgins was not the only private banker at Rushford.  In 1865 Wolcott Griffin engaged in the exchange business with W. W. Bush as Griffin & Bush, selling their first draft on New York October 10 of that year.  In 1871, Watson W. Bush & Co. (W. E. Keys and O. T. Stacy) succeeded this firm and continued in business until 1872.  Stacy & Kendall, (O. T. Stacy and Charles B. Kendall) established a private bank in 1873 with Lucian E. Hardy as cashier.  So far as known, these were the only private bankers serving Rushford before a state bank was chartered.  Orrin T. Higgins died at the home of his son, in Olean, March 3, 1890, aged 64, with burial in the Rushford cemetery.

The State Bank of Rushford

            The State Bank of Rushford, slogan “the bank that appreciates your business” was authorized by the state banking department on December 3, 1921, with seven incorporators and a capital of $25,000.  The first officers were Fred G. Gordon, president, L. J. Thomas, vice president and Earl G. Kingsley, cashier.  The directors were Eddy C. Gilbert, Fred G. Gordon, W. E. Howard, Earl G. Kingsley, Fred Litchard, Peter B. Loftis and L. J. Thomas.  In June, 1917, an unsuccessful attempt was made to rob the bank by two men who were arrested and sent to prison.  A bank building, completed in 1925, is equipped with a burglar proof vault.  The building was modernized in 1946, after the celebration of the bank’s 25th anniversary.  The bank specializes in farm loans.

            The State Bank of Rushford on December 31, 1953, had capital, surplus and undivided profts of $110,511.99 and total deposits of $722,880.37.  The officers are D. H. Williams, president, M. W. Hill, vice president, O. E. Davies, cashier, and J. A. Kellogg, assistant cashier.  The directors are D. H. Williams, O. E. Davies, H. K. Hardy, M. W. Hill and H. L. Kingsley.  The population of Rushford is 935 and the elevation 1500 feet.

Private Bank in Wellsville Before the Civil War

            Wellsville’s first private banking firm was Hoyt, Lewis & Russel (Julius Hoyt, Henry N. Lewis and George W. Russell), who established a banking office in their general store in 1856.  Funds were deposited with a firm in New York on which drafts were sold.  Deposits were received, loans arranged and collections made.  Mr. Russell retired from the partnership in 1860.  Mr. Hoyt had charge of the mercantile business and Mr. Lewis managed the banking department.  In 1879 the banking office was moved from the store to the first brick block in Wellsville, erected by Hiram York.  Frank H. Furman was engaged as cashier in 1861 and the volume of business increased rapidly.  In 1883 the Hoyt & Lewis private bank became the nucleus of the First National Bank of Wellsville.

The First National Bank of Wellsville

            The First National Bank of Wellsville was organized January 2, 1883, with a capital of $100,000.  The officers were Henry N. Lewis, president; E. J. Farnum, vice president, and Frank H. Furman, cashier.  In 1886 Mr. Farnum succeeded Mr. Lewis as president, and in 1901, Hon. William F. Jones became president – serving until his death on December 18, 1910, when John B. Jones became president.  It was through the will of Mrs. William F. Jones, who died June 5, 1920, that the beautiful William F. Jones residence and grounds, valued at $40,000 was bequeather to the village of Wellsville for hospital purposes.

            Wellsville’s most widely known banker was William F. Jones, a director and president of the First National Bank.  He was born at Middlesex, N. Y. in 1826.  A graduate of Union College and the Albany Law School, he opened a law office in Wellsville in 1852 and developed a large practice.  His rule was to refuse a retainer in cases he did not believe he could win.  In 1857 he was elected a member of the State Legislature.  One term was enough; he never again sought public office.  After the Civil War he made profitable investments in pine lands in Michigan and Pennsylvania and later in the oil fields of McKean County, Pennsylvania and in Allegany County, New York, accumulating a comfortable fortune.  A handsome man of sound judgment, he wore the traditional side burns that were the trademark of many a bank executive of that day.

To Be Continued