The numerous bank mergers that we have experienced in the Northern Neck over the past few years have caused me to reflect on the “Father” of Northern Neck banking, H.W.B. Williams. He was born on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 1874 and as a young man in his 20s, he had gone to work for the L.E. Mumford Banking Company in Cape Charles.
Lewis Mumford was the quintessential businessman. He was a native of Berlin, Maryland, who moved to Cape Charles in 1885 to open a dry goods store. He also served as postmaster. The business did well to the point that he was able to sell it in 1894 to concentrate on his new interest in banking. With the store behind him, he opened the L.E. Mumford Banking Company in 1895. Its operation was to be short-lived, but of profound importance in the financial history of the Northern Neck.
The young Williams was well-suited to partner with Mumford. He was energetic and understood finances, indeed he might be said to have been “born to banking.” Under Mumford’s direction, he left the Eastern Shore to come to the Northern Neck. He went up the peninsula from Irvington to King George, setting up banking operations in towns and villages all the way.
When he reached Colonial Beach, he stopped, founded the Bank of Westmoreland in 1904, and settled in, making his home there until his death in 1958. His obituary in the Richmond and Washington newspapers described him as “the Dean of Virginia Bankers.”
Unlike his protégé, L.E. Mumford had not remained in banking. In 1912, seventeen years after founding his first banking operation, he sold out, and spent the remainder of his career in the real estate market, the L.E. Mumford Banking Co. passing into history. He died at the age of 75 in 1930.
For H.W.B. Williams, banking was his life. He saw the great potential market in the Northern Neck, and to meet it, he set up banks in Irvington, Kilmarnock, Heathsville, Callao, Kinsale, Warsaw and Reedville. He stepped out of the Northern Neck to oversee new banks in Tappahannock, Urbanna and Gloucester. His particular focus was on serving the needs of farmers and watermen, and at Colonial Beach he was in the vanguard of setting up the tourism industry.
He built the New Atlanta Hotel overlooking the Potomac River, which at the time was considered the “luxury” place to stay at the Beach. At the time, all of the hotels at the Beach operated on the American Plan, that is, meals were included with the room charge. For many years he served as mayor of the town, during which tenure he directed the building of the new brick school, which was destroyed by arson in 2014, and the town’s first sanitary system.
The brick bank that he built in 1904 remains, today serving as the Town Hall. In 1953 he added a large wing on the building, with his own office in the rear corner. From that position, he became his own animal shelter. He had a deep love of animals, and adopted any stray or homeless dog, personally serving his canine friends the finest dog food he could buy, as well as healthful snacks during the day, all the while dressed in his impeccably neat banker’s suit. His charity for animals knew no bounds, and the dogs lived in style behind the bank. He often said he could not stand to see an animal go hungry or suffer.
Today, none of his banks bears the name with which he had founded it. Some have merged into greater conglomerates and others have moved to new locations or closed due to changing market conditions. Not one of them stands, even in a transmogrified form, in its original building. The New Atlanta Hotel has been replaced by modern condos. His presence in the Northern Neck had been spectacular, and today his legacy remains in many parts of our ongoing history.