by Henry Lane Hull
Few people in the modern history of the Northern Neck have had the influence of H.W.B. Williams, who was born on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 1874. As a young man he became one of the early employees of Lemuel Mumford, who was perhaps the Eastern Shore’s most ambitious entrepreneur.
Mumford was a native of Berlin, Md., near present-day Ocean City. In 1885, he left the Free State to move to the Old Dominion, settling in Cape Charles, at the bottom of the Eastern Shore where he opened a dry goods store, which he operated for 10 years.
In 1895, he sold the business and opened a small bank, which he named the L.E. Mumford Banking Company. It immediately flourished and he soon opened branches in Exmore and Eastville. Anxious for further expansion, he sent H.W.B. Williams to explore establishing branches in the Northern Neck. The two were an ideal match, both professionally and personally, each a tireless worker filled with energy and ambition.
Once he landed on the Western Shore, Mr. Williams (he always was known as “Mr. Williams” across the Northern Neck, never by his first name of Hiram or by any nickname) moved quickly to establish L.E. Mumford branches from Kilmarnock to Colonial Beach. Small villages such as Hague and Kinsale did not escape his purview, gaining their own branches, providing employment for local folks and most importantly becoming the sustenance of the local economies.
By contemporary banking standards, Mr. Williams’ liberalism in making loans might not be au courant, but it was couched in strong fiscal conservatism. His practice of loaning money was based on what he knew of the borrower’s character, how sure he would be that the borrower would adhere to the terms of the loan and how much the money could do in advancing the welfare of the area.
In 1904, at the age of 30, he reached Colonial Beach, where he set up the Bank of Westmoreland. There he remained, and there he changed the beach forever. He built a brick bank, as he did in most of his other locations, and not long thereafter he entered the political scene, serving as the town’s mayor for many years.
In that role he led in getting a sanitary system constructed and operational, and he saw construction of the new brick school, the finest in the Northern Neck, which was torched by arsonists four years ago. In both of those ventures my grandfather worked with him directing the construction.
Ever the businessman, Mr. Williams and his wife built The New Atlanta Hotel on the Potomac River at the north end of the beach’s commercial sector, which led to more residential development in that area and the blocks beyond that were known as Classic Shore.
When he died in 1958 he was overseeing six branches of the bank, now an independent entity serving the people up and down the Northern Neck. In their obituaries the newspapers hailed him as the “Dean of Virginia Bankers,” which indeed he was, but he was also a great humanitarian.
He adopted dozens of homeless dogs that lived behind the addition that he built onto the bank a few years before he died. Each day he personally fed them, visited with them and liked to take his friends and clients out to meet them. His love of animals was legendary, and he never had an animal put down until all hope for the animal’s comfort was past. He said he wanted the dogs to be happy until the end of their days and his care for them was extraordinary.
Today when I see all the paperwork involved in modern banking, all the internet transactions, all the assurances necessary for money to be loaned, and the myriad of regulations attendant to handling money, I often think of Mr. Williams, who relied on one’s work and a handshake. Truly his word was his bond and he expected no less from anyone else. Those were the good old days.