The History of Sutton Bank

1878 - 1978 - The First 100 Years

The story of any bank in a pioneer community of the great American Midwest is firmly interwoven with the story of the community itself. The history and success of the Sutton Bank is based on the development of southeastern Seneca County and western Huron County.

Following the first settlers in a mid-western community, there was invariably the establishment of a series of institutions in a rather regular sequence. First, a tavern to feed and shelter new arrivals, travelers and visitors. Next a post office to maintain communication with the rest of the world. Then a church to accommodate the spiritual needs of the developing family groups. A school of some kind was usually established at this point, regardless of primitive facilities. Next came some form of local government, which invariably prompted some qualified person to open a law office. Finally, increasing commercial activity led to the establishment of a bank. The bank was definitely a community institution because depositors and borrowers, as well as the operators, were a part of the bank. Development in our area followed the pattern without exception.

In 1827 the building of Columbus-Sandusky Turnpike encouraged the beginning of a settlement at Caroline on the banks of Honey Creek. The town was named by Colonel Kilbourne, Ohio's pioneer surveyor after Caroline Gilmore a daughter of Cornelius Gilmore, the first settler.

However, the higher ground a mile north of Honey Creek encouraged Samuel Halstead to build his cabin there in August 1828. At this point we introduce Sutton Bank to our story because the main part of the present bank building stands on the site of Samuel Halstead's cabin.

A few more settlers, including Johnson Ford, built on the higher ground in 1828. In the spring of 1829 Ezra Gilbert built a cabin where Decker's store now stands and opened a tavern. Shortly thereafter a store opened where our local drug store now stands.

Ezra Gilbert, Samuel Halstead and Johnson Ford contributed greatly to the community by clearing a new road from the New Haven Road at the Huron County line northwest through Attica to the township line road. This is the present route of U.S. 224 from the Huron County line to the curve approximately three miles west of Attica. This bit of hard work with axes made Attica an important crossroads and gave it a commercial future. Here again the shadow of things to come appear. This Bank is presently located at the intersection of this road with the Columbus-Sandusky Turnpike, now known as Ohio Route No. 4.

In 1831 Ezra Gilbert was made the first Postmaster and named the post office Attica after his former home in New York State. We note with much pleasure that the two Atticas re-established contact in 1976 at the Attica Fair. The township was named Venice by Johnson Ford after the township in Cayuga County, New York where he had formerly resided.

A school was organized with the first schoolhouse located where Dr. Cahill's dental office now stands.

By 1838 churches had been organized. Mills and stores were appearing. Attica was a bustling and a growing town. A few miles north another small settlement, that was eventually to be called Reedtown, was rising around a tollgate location. To the south lay Caroline, the other active town of Venice Township. Both Venice and Reed now had functioning township governments.

The stamping grounds of the future Sutton Bank were now established. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles away in New York State, the history of the Bank was starting.

Of Banks And Bankers

We can say The Sutton State Bank was born on July 13, 1836. That is the day Lester Sutton the founder was born in Steuben County, New York. In the next 42 years, before he opened his bank, he had many experiences to prepare him for a banking career.

In 1852 Lester's parents took him "West" to Ohio. After a few years in Reed Township they bought a farm and settled in Venice Township. When he was eighteen Lester graduated from the Academy at Republic. Republic at that time was the largest town in Seneca County, being located on the Kilbourne Road and also on the original route of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad.

The next eight years Lester spent teaching school in the area. However in 1862 he began reading law under the tutorage of General Leander Stern of Tiffin. The General became a Civil War casualty at the battle of Stone's River, a fight in which General Sheridan lost three of his brigade leaders in one day. Lester then resumed teaching but continued his study of law alone.

In 1866 Sutton was admitted to the bar and opened his first law office in Attica in the upper room of a rather primitive building where the Attica Library now stands. By this time Attica had 370 people and had had a village corporate government for about 15 years.

For the next 11 years Attorney Sutton was a busy and successful man. The growing community had an increasing need for legal services. The community also had a growing need for banking services. People of necessity banked their money with the local merchants or attorney. The merchants and attorneys were the ones who had strongboxes, safes on their premises and accounts in New York banks.

As the years went by Lester found himself doing more and more private banking. By the year 1877 he decided to formally establish a bank in Attica. He purchased a property on North Main Street from Mr. and Mrs. Crist Limbaugh. The Limbaugh homestead was razed and a new building was built to Lester Sutton's specifications. This building still survives as the southern end of the old North Central Electric Cooperative building. In the meeting room of North Central can still be seen some of the beautiful woodwork and windows that were part of the old bank.

It is known that the Bank was open for business sometime late in 1877 but tradition has always given the year as 1878. In fact, tradition has also given the precise date as February 12, 1878. This writer is willing to believe that this date, February 12, relates to the fact that all Suttons have been staunch Republicans who were always willing to celebrate Lincoln's Day.

In that long past era of banking the formalities of chartering and government control were non-existent. The depositor's primary guarantee for their funds came mostly from their faith in the owner of the business. That Lester Sutton's bank grew and prospered is testimony to the faith that the people had in him.

In the early years of the bank the mercantile firm of Rininger and Silcox, which had been doing some of the private banking of the area, considered opening another bank in the town. After considerable thought and investigation they abandoned the idea because Sutton's Bank was too highly regarded in the community.

Here again we find another coincidence regarding the present location of the Bank and this was also the location of the Rininger and Silcox Store. The story is told of the time a gang of bandits invaded Attica late at night choosing the Silcox store as their victim. They broke into the store and dynamited the huge safe, which incidentally stood right about on the location of the present bank vault. Other members of the gang stayed outside warning inquisitive local citizens to keep their heads indoors or have them blown off. The gang evidently knew the Silcox banking activities so this episode might be said to be Attica's first bank robbery. Coincidence again enters our story because a lone bandit held up a teller in 1975 in the present Bank building. This means that Attica's only two bank robberies occurred about a century apart at the same location but the victims were not the same institutions. The old time baddies were never found but the modern stick up artist was in the slammer within two weeks.

During many of the years the Sutton Bank was at the North Main Street location it had a unique form of robbery protection. Amos Lake, a bank employee who was an excellent shot, slept above the banking room. A hole between the upper and lower levels of the building provided opportunity for Amos to use his Winchester on any undesired visitor to the bank. Therefore, there never were any such undesired visitors.

In the summer of 1907, two men named Judd and Duke came to Attica from Cleveland and opened Attica Savings and Trust Bank in what is now the north room of the Attica Eagles, formerly Attica Hotel. The competition was short lived. Before the summer was over Duke disappeared taking the depositor's funds with him.

Alva G. Sutton, Lester's brother was the Sutton Bank's first Cashier. He served until 1903 when he accepted appointment as Postmaster of Attica and left the Bank.

On May 1, 1903 Lester, who was now in poor health, formed a partnership with his two sons, Leonard L. and Charles C., whereby each of the three became equal partners. The firm's name was changed to Lester Sutton and Sons. In 1909 death ended the career of the pioneer attorney and banker of Attica. The sons, as surviving partners, operated a successful and constantly growing bank for another six years before initiating the next change in the course of the Bank's history.

In the February of 1915 Leonard L. Sutton, Charles C. Sutton, W. L. Fritz, I. Coder and Edward Weaver filed Articles of Incorporation for The Sutton State Bank. On March 24th of that year the stockholders met and launched the corporation, electing the same five men as Directors. The Directors in turn elected Leonard Sutton President, John Schottler Vice President and Charles C. Sutton Cashier. On May 1, 1915 Lester Sutton and Sons became The Sutton State Bank, an Ohio Corporation.

The officers and directorate remained the same for many years thereafter except that C. M. Link became the new Director upon the death of Edward Weaver in December of 1918.

The next outstanding item of Bank history started in August 1918 when the Bank purchased a part on inlot 16 in Attica. This was the location of what is known locally as the Silcox building and the bit of real estate to which we have referenced several times previously. Plans were made to construct the beautiful classic building of today. The type of bank architecture was a bit ahead of its time. However many buildings of this school were erected during the 1920's. Then during the 1930's practically no banks were in a position to afford new buildings. Through most of the 1940's the war and the following economic confusion prevented much construction. Thus in 1950 our building was still as modern as most and more beautiful than most.

The construction introduced another Sutton to our history. Corwin, the son of Leonard, was an engineering student. He was given the supervision of the demolition of the old Silcox building and the excavating for the new building. The new building was dedicated on August 28, 1920.

Corwin Sutton began his career as a Bank officer on September 3, 1926 as Assistant Cashier. He was elected a Director in March of 1927 after the death of Vice President and Director John Schottler.

The next Sutton to enter the Bank scene as an officer and Director was Charles Norris Sutton. His father, Charles C. Sutton, died on Christmas Day in 1930. Charles N. succeeded Charles C. as a Director and was named as Assistant Cashier on January 14, 1931. Corwin Sutton was advanced to Cashier.

The death of Lester's other son occurred in 1935. Many of us in the community remember Leonard Sutton, a meticulously dressed, imposing man, but one with a broad streak of humor, who was known to everyone as "Len." Len was never admitted to the bar but for decades he gave so much legal assistance in the form of wills, deeds, mortgages, and contracts that most people assumed that he was a full-fledged lawyer. Among many other things Len had been President of the first class to graduate from Attica High School in 1880.

The death of Leonard left the management of the Bank to the third generation of Suttons, Corwin and Charles N. in direct succession to their fathers. Corwin served as President and Charles Norris as Cashier. These were the men who guided the Bank through the trying years of the Great Depression and of World War Two.

To everyone in Attica the Sutton cousins were affectionately know as "Pop" and "Posy." Originally Corwin had been known as "Dad" instead of "Pop." The traditional explanation was that, while a small boy, Corwin was advising a gang of carpenters as to how to do their work and they responded "Yes, Dad!"

During the Bank Holiday of the depression The Sutton State Bank was examined and approved in the minimum time required. The bank was back in service in record time. In later years an official of a large corporation in Sandusky confided that his company had been about to open an account in Attica during this period because the Sutton State Bank was the nearest bank that was operating. The performance of the bank during these years of economic turmoil and war did much to increase the respect and confidence that it had always held.

In 1948 Charles N. dropped an active part in the management of the Bank to become Executive Vice President of the Richland Trust Company of Mansfield. About this time he also served as President of the Ohio Bankers Association. He continued to serve as director of the Sutton Bank.

The move by Charles Norris led to the introduction of the first member of top management who was not a Sutton. Victor Ayres was named Cashier at the end of 1948. Ayres was at the time the Attica Village Clerk and had a wide knowledge of local people and local conditions. He was to serve the Bank for 28 years and was the bridge between the third and fourth generations of Suttons.

In January 1955 Alva J. Sutton, son of Corwin, first appears in the officer list of the Bank as an Assistant Cashier. Alva had worked in the Bank during summers and other part time periods. He continued this schedule until he completed his education at Ohio State University.

At this time President Corwin Sutton had been in poor health for a few years and his death occurred in April of 1956 at the age of 56. His death was a loss to the entire community for he had served a great many more capacities other than that of banker. As Chairman of the Attica Board of Public Affairs he had been instrumental in rebuilding the village water system. As Attica Fire Chief for many years he had built an efficient volunteer organization. These were just two of the many responsibilities he had assumed.

The loss of Corwin necessitated a complete reorganization of the official family of the Bank. Hobart K. Link was named Board Chairman while Charles N. Sutton became the first President who was not an operating officer. A new title of Executive Vice President was assigned to J. Victor Ayres. Alva J. Sutton became Cashier and also a Director.

Thus it evolved that the next twenty years the management of the Bank would be in the hands of the Vic and Alva. Alva was the fourth generation of Sutton bankers.

The first great problem was the necessity to modernize the forty-year-old physical facilities of the Bank. The three old buildings to the south of the Bank were purchased and razed, as was one building to the east. A contract was let with the St. Louis Bank Building Corp. to remodel the interior of the Bank at a cost of approximately $80,000. The classic lines of the exterior remained unchanged, despite the beautiful new interior. A drive-in-window was part of the new facilities. The Bank eventually acquired all of inlots 17 and 18 south of the Bank. In recent years our new post office and a 40 car free parking lot have appeared on this area. The development of this part of the downtown area was largely the result of long term planning by the Bank.

Another change in the Bank organization occurred in 1969. The Sutton State Bank and the Richland Trust Company formed a bank holding company known as Mid-Ohio-Banc-Shares, Inc. Shortly thereafter The Farmers Bank of Loudonville joined the group. This combination of banks resulted in efficiency and savings, particularly in the use of computers. At the same time the banks retained their separate identities and management.

In 1970 Charles N. Sutton retired from banking by disposing of his investment in the Bank and the holding company. He was to spend the remainder of his life as a resident of Florida.

In accordance with bank tradition. Alva J. Sutton now became President and, for a few years, retained the title of Cashier. J. Victor Ayres was made Chairman but remained active as Chief Operating Officer. Gordon Sevold, who had been tax and accounting advisor to the Bank, replaced C. N. Sutton on the Board.

In 1972 saw another change in the ownership of the Bank when Mid-Ohio-Banc-Shares was merged into Centran Bancshares Corporation. Thus our Bank became part of a complex which included five banks, three finance companies and an international bank, but which still permitted us to retain our individual identity and management.

1974 saw Virginia L. Nutter elected as Cashier. In twenty years of service Virginia had risen from typist and teller to Assistant Cashier and now became the first woman to hold the office of Cashier.

In 1975 Eric Gillett, first appeared as Loan Officer. At the end of that year Victor Ayres retired as the active operating officer but was retained as Chairman of the Board.

The Sutton Bank started its second century of service and expansion under the supervision of three native born officers, Alva J. Sutton, Virginia L. Nutter and Eric Gillett.

The Figures

The earliest available record on the partnership of Lester Sutton & Sons is a report to the state auditor dated October 12, 1904 summarized in round numbers as follows:

Assets Liabilities
Loans $115,000 Undivided profits $ 5,000
Investments 27,000 Deposits 150,000
Banking house 2,000    
Cash & due from banks 11,000    
Total $155,000 Total $155,000

The cash listed in the assets consisted of $1,500 in gold coin, $2,500 of silver coin and $7,000 of paper money.

On May 1, 1915, the first day of the corporation's banking activity, the changeover was subject to examination by the state, which reported as follows:

Assets Liabilities
Loans $243,000 Common Stock $ 40,000
Investments 500 Surplus 2,000
Banking house 9,500 Undivided Profits 1,500
Cash & due from banks 119,000 Deposits 328,500
Total $372,000 Total $372,000

Growth of the bank was rapid and consistent as shown by the following year-end totals:

Growth
1920 $ 565,000
1930 626,000
1940 828,000
1950 3,002,000
1960 4,203,000
1970 7,592,000
1975 13,079,000
1977 $15,501,000

While some of the expansion of these figures is due to economic inflation, the greatest part is due to the vigor and efficiency of our community. The farmers and farm related businesses in the Seneca East area have produced and served with far above average performance. The Sutton Bank through its entire life has shown an above average willingness to finance this community's growth.

Centran Corporation, in turn, had shown its faith in the community and in the bank by arranging to provide $250,000 in new capital through purchase of new Sutton stock.

Earnings of the bank had been consistently very good throughout these hundred years even though the greater part of the gross income is being paid back to the depositors in the form of interest on their savings accounts and certificates. Our depositors received about $650,000 from the bank in 1977.

At the end of the first hundred years our round number summary of the figures reads as follows:

Assets Liabilities
Loans $10,308,000 Common Stock $ 146,000
Investments 4,376,000 Surplus 554,000
Banking house 117,000 Undivided Profits 398,000
Cash & due from banks 501,000 Deposits 14,403,000
All other items 199,000    
Total $15,501,000 Total $15,501,000
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