Citizens Bank of Weston, WV

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A Man and His Bank
Samuel Yellin
Art Deco, 1980


Organized in 1978, the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association is an affiliate of ABANA. We represent blacksmiths, bladesmiths, and farriers in West Virginia and its surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky. 

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Thomas A. Whelan 1878-1966

thomas a. whelan

At age 16, Tom Whelan began working as the bank's janitor making $100 per year. He rose to Cashier's position nine years later. In 1927, he began planning the bank's new Art Deco headquarters. The Citizens Bank of Weston opened its doors in February, 1892.

 

A Man and His Bank

by Phil Conley

The West Virginia Review, 1934

 

There are a few experiences one is unable to forget, just as there are a few towns and places which he cannot wipe from his memory. And there are a few individuals who impress themselves upon one so that he is never able to get away from them.  

 

Three years ago, on the third of October, I had an experience which I shall remember as long as I live. I recall minutely the events of that autumn morning when I drove into Weston, at nine o'clock, with Boyd Stutler to attend the funeral of my good friend, one of West Virginia's outstanding newspapermen, David Bird Cook.

 

When we stopped at a gasoline station, we noticed a large crowd of people on the street. The attendant told us there was a "run" on the Citizens Bank, that the Exchange Bank had closed the day before and that the Bank of Weston had been closed a week. I was shocked. I knew that the Citizens Bank was one of the most substantial financial institutions in West Virginia. The man who ran it, T. A. Whelan, was known widely to be a conservative who possessed good judgment and who was strictly honest in every respect.

We walked across the street where we saw Andy Edmiston (now congressman) talking to a few men. They deplored the fact that some of the depositors had lost their sense of values under abnormal conditions and were taking their money out of the last bank in town. Jack Arnold, a veteran of two wars and former superintendent of the State Police, joined the group. He announced calmly that he would kill anyone who attempted to harm Tom Whelan, and he meant what he said.

While we were looking at the crowd in the street, I noticed a man with a camera on top of a building. I mentioned the matter to Edmiston. He returned in a few minutes with the information that the plates would be destroyed.

Then we noted a commotion in front of the bank. A man began to speak, and he emphatically stated that the bank was solvent and urged the people to have confidence in it. He was L. R. Charter, Jr., State Banking Commissioner. I detected what I thought was an expression of chagrin on the faces of some of the people in line, but they continued to hold their positions.

At noon, I returned and entered the bank. It was a grim visaged group of people who were receiving their money over the counter. There was not a smile. The loyal friend and adviser of many of those depositors, T. A. Whelan, cashier of the bank, stood at the little gate near his desk on the left side of the room as I entered. He shook my hand warmly and said: "We are going to do the best we can to keep the bank open. What hurts me down deep is the fact that among the first men to get in line are those I have given financial assistance for more than thirty years. This is how they repay me. But I suppose they want to protect their own small savings at the expense of the bank."

The following Monday, I passed through Weston on my way to Clarksburg. The crowd had dispersed; there were probably half a dozen people in the bank, and my friend Whelan told me he thought the situation was well in hand. His business associate and close personal friend, Oscar Nelson, president of the United Carbon Company, had brought his wife and spent Sunday with him. That had given him renewed confidence.

Ten days after the "run" started on the Citizens Bank, October 13, 1931, a notice was posted on the door: "Owing to unusual withdrawals and in order to conserve the assets of this bank for the depositors to the end that all may be treated equitably, the board of directors has deemed it advisable to place the bank in the hands of the State Department of Banking."

A few weeks later I was in Clarksburg and in conversation with my friend, E. B. Deison, president of the Empire National Bank, and he said: "I was in Baltimore when I learned of the trouble in Tom Whelan's bank. I called him on long distance and told him we would let him have a hundred thousand dollars. He thanked me and said he was going to close the bank. I walked around the block, came back, called him again on the telephone and offered to send him a quarter of a million dollars. He again expressed his appreciation but declined to accept. Tom said it was not fair to the loyal depositors to permit those who were panicky and selfish to force the bank to close."

When I related this conversation to Mr. Whelan, he said: "The Chase National Bank and the Guaranty Trust Company in New York sent me a half million dollars which I returned to them. The bright spot of this affair was the confidence my loyal friends had in me and their kind offers to help me out of the difficult situation."

I have been in Weston a number of times in the past few years. I always stop to see Tom Whelan, and frequently I have stayed overnight with him. Recently he said to me: I have learned more about banking in the past three years than I had in the past forty years. The human element enters into every transaction. I have discovered that the average person who owes a hundred dollars on a note which is secured by a deed of trust on a small farm up a hollow is much more reasonable and fair in his dealings than the average one who owes several thousand dollars which is secured by business property."

In the last twelve years since I have been traveling extensively in every section of West Virginia, I have met and become fairly well acquainted with many of the outstanding business and professional men. In my opinion, Tom Whelan is one of the most honorable gentlemen I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is absolutely reliable, faithful to every promise, a man of the highest integrity, thoroughly capable, and possessed of unusual judgment and good sense. I do not believe he would under any circumstances take a penny that did not belong to him.

Shortly after the Citizens Bank closed, Mr. Whelan said to me: "I could sell a lot of farms in Lewis County, close up a number of business houses in Weston, take the homes of some of the people I have known all my life, and liquidate this bank. What good purpose would that serve? I would have to park my heart somewhere, and when I came back to get it, it would not be where I left it."

This man Whelan is a modest chap. I stopped in his bank a few days before it was reopened, and he said to me: "I don't deserve any credit for opening the bank. Mr. C. E. Lawhead, the receiver; his assistant, Mr. M. L. Fletcher; Mr. L. R. Charter, Jr., the State Banking Commissioner when the bank closed; and the present Commissioner, Mr. George Ward, made it possible for us to work out our problems. I cannot give too much credit to Mr. Lawhead and Mr. Fletcher, who were patient, considerate, and gave us every assistance possible."

It happened that Mr. Fletcher was standing by when Mr. Whelan made that statement. He commented: "Mr. Whelan deserves full credit for working out the plans for this bank. We merely did what we could do to assist him. He is the Citizens Bank of Weston."

It was indeed a proud day in the life of T. A. Whelan when he threw open the hand-wrought iron-grilled doors of his bank on October 13, exactly three years to the day after it was closed. A few days prior, he had made a public statement: "With deposits of $1,774,280.68, the bank reopens in a most unusually solvent position, having cash and due from banks of $1,516,449.61." Among other assets he listed: "Bank building, furniture and fixtures, which originally cost $385,000.00, are now carried at $75,000.00." He stated further that because of the solvent and liquid condition of the bank that it had not applied for the temporary Federal Deposit Insurance.

Fletcher called Mr. Whelan on the telephone on the evening of the thirteenth. It was a happy voice that said: "We have had a good day. Deposits are about ten to one as compared to withdrawals." It was certainly a great victory. Thousands of people in Lewis County and in other sections of West Virginia had confidence in this man. They trusted him and knew that he would do everything humanly possible to open the bank and to make their savings secure.

This is the first time in the history of banking in this country that a bank has opened on the same basis it stood when it closed. There was no reorganization, no additional stock sold, no new money, no money borrowed from the government, and no restrictions of any kind. It is really a remarkable event in the history of financial institutions. And the credit is due to the financial wizard, the man who was willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of those who trusted him.

Just prior to the opening of the bank, Mr. Lawhead, the receiver, issued a public statement in which he said: "The Citizens Bank of Weston analyzes in a liquid position of better than ninety per cent, and every note in which there exists the slightest question as to its worth, has been charged out, so that the bank is now turned back to you depositors and stockholders in a condition of solvency beyond question, and all deposits are set up in full to the credit of each depositor without restrictions of any nature whatsoever." Mr. Lawhead further praised the integrity and ability of Mr. Whelan and expressed his appreciation for the assistance the cashier rendered the receiver and his assistants in their work.

Let us take a little backward look. On February 8, 1892, the doors of the Citizens Bank were opened for business. Three weeks prior to this a meeting of the charter members and stockholders was held, at which time the following board of directors was named: William L. Dunnington, merchant; James W. Jackson, farmer; J. G. Jackson, merchant; T. M. Hood, physician; Er Ralston, jeweler; and John Morrow, druggist. Douglas M. Bailey was selected as cashier and J. Scott Vandervort, assistant cashier. William L. Dunnington was elected president, which position he held until his death on January 9, 1913, when Er Ralston was chosen. He continued as head of the bank until October 14, 1914, when Mr. R. H. Hall, who had served as a director since 1902, was elected president. Mr. Hall is still president of the bank. A. F. Whelan, Sr., one of the original directors, was made vice president in 1915, which position he held until his death, January I, 1928. He was succeeded in that office by his son, A. F. Whelan, Jr., an outstanding citizen of Lewis County. The younger man also continued to carry on the store which his father established in Weston in 1868, shortly after he was discharged from the Union Army.

But the credit for establishing an outstanding bank is due to the energy, honesty, integrity and sound judgment of Thomas A. Whelan. He entered the bank a few months after it was opened, as a small boy, sixteen years of age. When the first cashier died, on November 14, 1903, Tom Whelan was advanced to that responsible position. He was one of the youngest men ever to hold such a position in a bank in West Virginia.

It was thought by some of the old conservative men that he would not be equal to the task. But the young man soon proved his worth. At that time the bank had a capital stock of $50,000 and a surplus of $45,000. It was not long until he had replaced the old equipment with new furniture and new facilities.

The modest youth soon had the confidence of the people in the county. He was not content with merely doing the routine business of the bank, but he reached out and spread the influence of the institution to the surrounding sections. The people early began to realize that they had a financial genius in their community.

Twenty-four years after Tom Whelan became cashier of the Citizens Bank, he acquired the site of the old "Bailey House," one of the historic hotels in West Virginia, which was established in 1852 by Major Minter Bailey, father of the first cashier of the bank. Then began plans for the erection of a building on the principal business corner of Weston.

It required three years to plan and complete the building. But when it was finished, it was a marvel of architectural beauty; the most remarkable bank building used exclusively for banking purposes to be found in the United States. It is again being used and the people in Lewis County and West Virginia are proud of the fine record made by the man who has intelligently and faithfully served them.

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Note: The position of Cashier was an elected officer.  The Cashier was, in many respects, the chief operating/financial officer of the institution.  Beginning in the 1960's, banks started phasing out the position by splitting duties among various vice-presidents. 

Phil Conley was Editor of the Review. In 1929, he published the West Virginia Encyclopedia, 1,042 pp.

Photo courtesy of Gene Edwards, Jr.  

 

 

 

 

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