The Farmers and Drovers Bank has a history that reaches back nearly as far as the beginning of our town. Born August 27th, 1847, William Henry White came to Council Grove from Kentucky with his parents by wagon train in 1857. His mother died along the way. He helped his father Thomas survey the original town site, as well as homestead the family farm. His father having passed, William was left alone to make it in a new country at only seventeen years of age. With a very humble inheritance of dry rock strewn prairie and a bony horse, he hired out to a bunch of ex-freighters to guide a cattle train to Fort Lyon Colorado.
According to descendant Steve White, W.H. walked this herd of cattle all the way to Colorado where he sold them and promptly bought a mule with his profits. You bet he was no fool. On the way back White stopped at an Inn for the night. All the rooms were taken except the owner’s. So he slept in the owner’s room which did not have the convenience of a door. He slept with a revolver under his pillow along with his three thousand dollars in green backs. As he had anticipated, he heard someone coming up to the door and slowly put their head in the doorway. White cocked the revolver and told the intruder he had best find another place to poke his nose. It was at this point in his life he decided his money was better off in a bank.
White’s first business venture in Council Grove was buying interest in a grocery and hardware store located at 131 W Main in the old Conn Mercantile Store. For many years after he continued to have an interest in that building with Jacob Barth. While young White was employed as a clerk in this building he slept upstairs. On the night Jack McDowell was hung from the Neosho River bridge, White was awakened close to midnight by a group of men who desired to purchase some rope for their business meeting they were about to hold. No questions were asked and by the next morning White found out what his length of rope was used for.
In 1882 W.H. White, Jacob Barth, Lewis Mead, J.D. Dumm, H.W. Gildemeister, J.M. Hensson and A Mosier Jr. met in the Masonic Lodge (not the one at 106 W Main as it was not built until the following year) to organize the Farmers & Drovers Bank. By March of 1882 the bank had opened at 213 W Main Street, the center building where Valerie’s Gifts and Such is presently. The lot was purchased from B. R. Scott and a building was erected on the site. Construction on a new building at 201 W Main began in 1892 and was not complete until March of 1893. Workers found a corner stone of the mail section while excavating for the new bank building. It had the letters ‘U.S.M. J. Hall COR’. This stone marked the location where the Santa Fe stage station once stood.
The bank maintained the building at 213 until 1901 when they sold it. In 1902 the bank had a new building constructed to the west at 203 W Main. This building was known as the Indicator. It housed a general store on the ground floor and a large dinning and dance hall upstairs. It was not until 1981 that the Farmers & Drovers Bank expanded their floor plan to include the Indicator building. That year the wall was removed between the two buildings and a walk up teller window was built along with an extensive remodel. Part of the original oak counter from the F&D can be seen at the Republican Newspaper office.
W.H. White came a long way in his time here in the Grove. From not having a penny in his pocket when he got here to owning 4,000 acres in the County and almost a third of the business buildings in town by 1930. When W.H. died February 7th, 1935 just short of 88 years, he was known as the oldest active bank president in Kansas. At the time he was also the oldest continuous resident of Morris County. Five generations and nearly 130 years later the family legacy continues.