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


Wellsville’s First Bank Failure

            The first of three private banks in Wellsville to close its doors was that of York & Chamberlin (Hiram York and Calvin T. Chamberlin) in September, 1881.  The small bank, established prior to the Civil War, was managed by Mr. York.  General Chamberlin was assumed to be a partner, but following the failure, it developed that he had severed his connection with the bank some years previous.  There were charies of favoritism to certain individuals before an assignment was made.  An action in court against Mr. York dragged on for some time.  The Wellsville Democrat stated that a major portion of the depositors received nothing in payment of their claims.

The Bank of Wellsville

            The Bank of Wellsville, privately owned and managed, was established in 1868 by William A. and Sumner Baldwin, brothers, natives of Ithaca, N. Y., who located in Wellsville in 1859 and engaged in store keeping and later were owners of a small tannery, one of four in Wellsville.  In 1885 the brothers erected the Baldwin Block, one of the most imposing in the village, a two story brick structure which housed the Bank of Wellsville and the Baldwin Theatre on the first floor, with suites of offices on the second floor.

            William A. Baldwin, the senior partner was for many years prominent as a church trustee and active in Free Masonry.  Hon. Sumner Baldwin was supervisor of the town of Wellsville for seven years, a member of the state assembly for two years and served two years as a state senator.

            The bank failed to open on the morning of January 9, 1894.  In explanation Sumner Baldwin stated that the year of 1893 had been a disastrous one for the bank.  The failure of the Henry N. Lewis bank, the previous September, had caused many depositors to withdraw their money, making the future outlook dark.

            Baldwin Bros., as owners of the bank and as individuals, made an assignment of all real and personal property to a brother-in-law, James D. Rathbone, for the benefit of creditors.  There were 156 depositors listed.  Deposits of the bank had dwindled to $32,019.64 on the closing day, with preferred creditors in the amount of $12,810.  The list of notes due the bank numbered 185.  The cash on hand when the bank closed was $2,375.95.

            A Wellsville newspaper listed the liabilities at $75,000, assets at $36,250 and estimated that creditors would receive about 40 cents on the dollar.  So far as known, no final report was filed in the county clerk’s office.  This was the third and last failure of private banks in Allegany County.  The remodeled Baldwin bock, has for years, been owned by the Ebenezer Oil Company, one of the leading producing companies in the Allegany oil field, whose home offices are located on the second floor.

Private Bank of Henry N. Lewis

            The private bank of Henry N. Lewis, established April 1, 1886, not strong enough to weather the panic of 1893, closed on September 21 of that year, with liabilities of $100,138.58 and estimated assets of $82,876.  There were 284 separate deposit accounts – many very small.  The three largest depositors were Mrs. J. S. Lewis $3,500, the W. C. & P. C. railroad $1,881 and Otis Day & Co. $1,551.  The smallest credit balance was three cents.  Hiram L. Jones was named assignee.

            The published report of the assignee showed ledger balances of creditors, subject to check, of $27,116.44 and certificates of deposit on interest of $64,501.51.  The largest certificate of deposit outstanding was that of Walter Wells of Oswayo in the sum of $7,283.71.  The interest rate on certificates varied from four to five percent.  The cash reported on hand was $103.36.  The assignment included all personal property and real estate owned by Mr. Lewis.  There were several fractional interests in oil leases and some parcels of real estate encumbered by mortgages. The judgements on file against Mr. Lewis amounted to $22,800 and the cash value of his life insurance policies was $1,268.

            Court actions delayed settlement, and recovery from assets was disappointing.  Up to November 20, 1895, about $10,000 had been returned to creditors and it was reported there was more to follow.  No final report is to be found on record at the clerk’s office, but one depositor is authority for the statement that creditors eventually received about 40 cents on the dollar of their claims.

The First Trust Company of Wellsville

            Early in 1917, the directors and stockholders of the First National Bank of Wellsville decided that a fertile field existed in the Wellsville area for the development of a profitable trust service in connection with banking and that it would be wise to convert the First National Bank into a state institution with broad trust powers.  To achieve this objective the First Trust Company of Wellsville was authorized July 21, 1917, with a capital of $150,000, later increased to $300,000.  The first officers were Edward C. Brown, president; Stanley F. Booth, vice president; George B. Rooth, Jr., cashier and James P. Coyle, assistant cashier.  The directors were William Duke, J. Milton Carpenter, Stanley F. Booth, Edward C. Brown, Bayard C. Tuller, George B. Rooth, Jr., Jesse L. Grantier, J. L. Moore, Frank E. Richart, Riley Allen and Frank W. Higgins.  The bank building was erected in 1905 and the interior modernized in 1939.

            The capital, surplus and undivided profits on December 31, 1953, were $778,219.27 and total deposits $9,058,905.03.  The officers are George B. Rooth, Jr., president; Bayard T. Haskins, vice president; James P. Coyle, cashier; L. H. Wyant, assistant cashier and Carl E. Reuning, trust officer.  The directors are J. F. Brown, James P. Coyle, John D. Dickson, Lee Harder, Bayard T. Haskins, H. S. Marshall, Louis H. Richardson, George B. Rooth, Jr. and Otto W. Walchi.

            Mr. Rooth, who has been president of the First Trust Company for 30 years, served the First National Bank for 14 years – a continuous service record of 44 years.

            Another officer with a record of 44 years of continuous service is James P. Coyle, the capable and obliging cashier who has served First Trust as cashier for 30 years, six years as assistant cashier and eight years with the First National Bank which the trust company succeedd in 1917.  The population of Wellsville is 6402 and the elevation 1520 feet.

To Be Continued