October 26, 1891.
In many ways, it was like any other day in Copiah County in the early 1890's. Young boys fished for bass and bream from the banks of Copiah Creek and Bayou Pierre. Farmers tended to their land and cattle, while smiling merchants greeted the customers as they came to town in horse-drawn buggies for their weekly shopping visit. Yet, something significant happened on that otherwise lazy, Southern day. Under the leadership of J.A. Covington, the Bank of Hazlehurst, later to become Copiah Bank, N.A., was officially established. And on that day, a bond was formed between the bank and its community that continues to this day, over 119 years later. This is a celebration of the past century and of the relationship that has always existed between Copiah Bank, N.A., and the people of Copiah County: a celebration of you and us, then and now.
Since its founding in 1823, Copiah County, named from the Indian term for "calling panther", has gone through many changes. In the early 1890's, the county was a popular tourist area. Brown's Wells, located just west of Hazlehurst, attracted prominent people from across the region. Some came to drink the water for medicinal purposes, others came simply to enjoy the beauty and pleasure the resort offered. Just a few miles north, Lake Chautauqua in Crystal Springs was one of the most popular resorts in the South. Every summer, noted evangelists held meetings of worship here, and the finest talent in the South appeared on stage. These recreational opportunities were the result of a solid economic base.
Wesson Mills, the cotton mill founded by Colonel James Madison Wesson in 1866, was at one time the largest manufacturing plant south of the Ohio River, and Wesson was the largest town on the railroad between Jackson and New Orleans. Additionally, Copiah County was carving a strong niche in agriculture. Clearly, there was a need for a new, strong banking facility in Copiah County. Out of that need, the Bank of Hazlehurst was born. On October 26, 1891, the bank was established by charter of the State of Mississippi. Three months later, on January 21, 1892, the bank's stockholders met and organized the bank. At this meeting, J.A. Covington was named president at a salary of $1,200 per year and the bank was capitalized with a total of $20,000 capital stock. Just a year later, at the first annual stockholders' meeting on January 26, 1893, assets had risen to $51,229.32.
At the turn of the century, the Bank of Hazlehurst had $122,383.69 in total assets, and a considerable amount of the bank's business was tied to agriculture. In fact, most of the businesses in the county during those days depended on agriculture for their livelihood, either directly or indirectly. The spirit of teamwork that existed in the community helped the local agricultural industry grow and the county became one of America's leading tomato producers. Soon, Crystal Springs came to be known as the "Tomatopolis of the World".
In those days, a farmer could stand in line for hours and hours waiting to unload his produce at the packing sheds. Many old-timers can still remember when, as children, they worked from daybreak well into the night making wooden boxes called lugs for shipping the tomatoes.
In 1904, J.A. Covington died, and the Bank of Hazlehurst lost the leadership of its founder and first president. At the meeting of the board of directors on January 16, 1905, G.W. Covington, J.A. Covington's son, was elected to the position of president. He was to serve in this capacity for 23 years. During the years after the turn of the century, many changes in technology came about, most notably the advent of the automobile. The bank's leadership found the bank making more and more loans, much to the delight of local residents in want of their first Model T.
On January 11, 1928, R.L. Covington became president of the bank and his brother, G.W. Covington, was elected chairman of the board. In 1929, the newly opened Crystal Springs Attendance Center was known as the largest consolidated school system in the world. Shortly thereafter, the Covingtons were to see perhaps the worst economic conditions the bank had seen. The nation found itself in the midst of the Great Depression, and people were concerned about life's essentials rather than with luxuries. This period tested the faith and stamina of both the people of the county and our bank. As if the struggling economy wasn't enough, the Bank of Hazlehurst experienced another tragedy on November 3, 1936. A fire of unknown origin completely engulfed and destroyed the bank's upper floor and many nearby offices were damaged or totally destroyed. Many of these businesses had no insurance. But despite the fire and the Depression, our bank's assets grew from $1,191,640.98 in 1930 to $1,756,345.20 in 1940. This was quite a tribute to the bank's leadership, since the economy forced many banks throughout America to close their doors during those hard times.
When America entered World War II, dozens and dozens of men and women from Copiah County went off to serve their country. Many did not return. But those who did, came back to a strong economy-quite a contrast to the dismal years that preceded the war. Patriotism was high and optimism prevailed. These positive conditions were reflected in the bank's growth. By 1950, total assets had leaped to $4,366,683. With the war being history, Copiah County, like the rest of the country, turned its attention to the pleasures of living. In the early 50's, Durr and Robert Wise, with the help of Marshall Nesmith, created what is now known as Wise-Nesmith Field.
In the 50's, some of greatest names in baseball graced the diamond in Hazlehurst. Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige were among the greats who played at Wise-Nesmith Field during this era. But an important era in the bank's history ended in 1960, when one of its most devoted leaders, R.L. Covington, died on August 16 after 67 years of service. Although G.E. Covington had succeeded him as president on October 4, 1960, R.L. Covington's influence was felt for many years.
Following years of prosperity, on December 26, 1960, bank stock was split, issuing 10 shares for each share held; furthermore, a 100% stock dividend was declared. By year-end 1960, the Bank of Hazlehurst had total assets of $6,884,599.48.
On September 23, 1961, the board of directors held the first meeting in the newly remodeled bank building. 1961 was a year of celebration for the Bank of Hazlehurst for another reason, as well: it marked the bank's 70th Anniversary. Although agriculture was still vital to the county's economy in the 60's, Copiah County had greatly diversified. Throughout the 60's, new businesses sprang up in the county and both the bank and the county experienced tremendous growth and change. Obviously, the bank successfully adapted to the changes because assets doubled between 1960 and 1970. On December 31, 1970, the bank had $13,934,305.28 in total assets. Also in that year, S. C. Caldwell was named president and G.E. Covington became chairman of the board.
The 70's brought continued growth and change with the oil and timber industries leading the way for increased economic activity. Following S.C. Caldwell's death in 1975, Edmund E. "Buddy" Prestridge was named President and Chief Executive Officer in 1976. That same year, the bank opened the Caldwell branch and, by the end of the year, assets were $25,731,121.28. Expansion for the bank had proved successful, and in 1981 a branch office was opened in Wesson. Since the bank was now doing business outside its original hometown, the original name no longer seemed appropriate. In 1984, with the opening of a branch office in Crystal Springs, the Bank of Hazlehurst officially became Copiah Bank, N.A. - a name that more appropriately reflected the bank's current customer base.
In 1991, the bank celebrated 100 consecutive years of service to Copiah County. The Celebration was one of the biggest events ever to hit Copiah County. On Saturday, October 26, 1991, after almost two years of planning, the Courthouse Square was full of people. There was music, gospel, country, rhythm and blues as well as pop rock. Money was given away throughout the day. Free cookies and hot dogs were given to everyone. It was a great day.
During the l990's the bank remained on course and solid with steady growth. In the past several years, the bank has added new banking services based on electronic commerce. These services consist of a network of ATM's at Wesson, our Caldwell office and Crystal Springs.
In 1996, we introduced Miss Ollie, our automated voice response system and "checklist" banking with the advent of the new Copiah Bank debit card. We also learned that we can develop our own home page for the Internet and how easy it is to send and receive e-mail. The bank also introduced the Internet to the local schools by providing this service.
Our bank jumped through all of the "hoops" required at the end of the century without incident, and looked to the future with new technology and new personnel. In 2000, Edmund E. "Buddy" Prestridge announced his retirement, and the board of directors elected George R. Marx as President. A year of transition underscored the bank's commitment to integrity. Then in 2001, George R. Marx was elected President and CEO. In the backroom, new image technology was integrated into the bank's check system. Statements reflected the change with images of checks instead of the real items. Meanwhile, Copiah Bank, N.A. turned one hundred ten years old.
A new perspective was introduced when the decision was made to open a loan production office in southern Hinds County in Terry, MS. The move sparked an interest for more growth, and the bank soon had plans for a full-service branch which opened in November 2002. Further growth plans in the Hinds County area were realized when a full service office in Byram was opened on April 7, 2003. Since then several new products including IRA's, Home Equity Lines and On-Line banking have been introduced. In addition, through an affiliation with a large insurance company, we can now offer all types of business and personal insurance products.
On September 7, 2004 our Florence office opened in Rankin County. On January 8, 2007, our beautiful new 7,300 square foot permanent facility opened in Florence. On February 17, 2009, we opened a full service office in Richland and on May 22, 2009, we opened a full service office in Clinton.
In short, Copiah Bank continues to grow in both loans and deposits which demonstrates our ability to meet the needs of our communities and customers. We take pride in our accomplishments for our entire trade area. We sincerely invite you to Make Our Bank, Your Bank.