Welcome to the State of Attakapas. It's small state in the Southern US that rests at the mouth of the Catawba River. Over the course of this journal, I'll introduce you to several of the cities and towns that make up the "Moonshine State." The first stop is the small town of Covington (Pop:14,200 as of the 2010 census). Founded by Jeremiah Covington in 1828, the town beat out the nearby settlements of Shelby, and Kennison to be named the Seat of Sheridan County. It's a typical Southern town, and has often been compared to Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show.
The tour of Covington starts off on the courthouse square. The square is formed by Washington Street, Jefferson Street, Lafayette Street, and Jackson Street. The names Washington Jefferson, and Lafayette were chosen by Jeremiah Covington because of the three men's pivotal roles in winning American independence. Covington chose the name Jackson street because he had been a lieutenant in General Andrew Jackson's army during the War of 1812. The first county courthouse was destroyed by a fire started by Union soldiers during the Battle of Pecan Creek in 1864. Construction on the current courthouse was completed in 1871. Until 1953, it housed both the Shelby County court and Covington City Hall. The building also has one rather dubious distinction: It was the scene of the only political assassination in Attakapas state history.
On June 18, 1902, 19 year old Billy Maddox loaded a pistol, and rode into town. Eight days before, his brother John had been hanged as a horse thief. The men who sent him to his death were County Prosecutor Phillip Faircloth, and District Jude Harry Newton. Billy planned to get into the courthouse, surprise both men in their offices, gun them down, and escape before the sheriff knew what was happening.
As he approached the courthouse, the doors to the West Entrance opened. Phillip Faircloth stepped outside with the Mayor William Ogletree. The two friends were heading out to their weekly lunch at a restaurant on the courthouse square. As they walked down the steps, Billy Maddox recognized Faircloth, and quickly reached for his gun. His first shot missed the county prosecutor, and hit Mayor Ogletree in the arm. Faircloth, being a typical Southern man of the era, pulled out his own pistol and tried to defend himself. His first shot grazed the side of Billy's head, and the second hit him in the chest. Despite his injuries, Billy continued firing, and both the prosecutor and the mayor fell to the steps. When the sheriff and two of his deputies came upon the scene, Billy was reloading his pistol as he tried to stagger up the courthouse steps to find Judge Newton. The three law enforcement officers opened fire. Billy was dead before he hit the ground. It was later said that he had 20 bullet wounds.
Phillip Faircloth died on the courthouse steps, only several feet from the body of his assassin. The mayor, in addition to the wound in his arm, had also taken two bullets to the chest. He was taken into the courthouse lobby, and a doctor was summoned. The doctor couldn't do much, and a surgeon was called. Before the surgeon could arrive, however, Mayor Ogletree died.
A massive, elaborate funeral was held for the two slain men. The governor arrived to pay his respects, and even a statement from President Roosevelt was read. By contrast, Billy Maddox's bullet riddled body was buried in a pauper's grave on a hill overlooking his parents' farm.
Local legend says that Samuel Maddox, the father of Billy and John, went to the homes of Faircloth's and Ogletree's widows to apologize for his son's actions. According to the story, Nellie Faircloth refused to answer the door, and Martha Ogletree actually beat him with her broom until he scrambled off of the porch and vacated the property.
Enough about ancient history. Let's talk about the courthouse square. In it's heydey, the square boasted banks, a grocery store, hardware store, druggist, department store, restaurants, cafes, a tailor/haberdashery, and even a small opera house. By the early 90s, many of the square's old businesses had shut down as owners retired or passed away. Things got even worse in 1993 when a Winn Dixie supermarket (with a full service pharmacy, bakery, florist, bank, and deli) moved into town. Only months after the Winn Dixie opened, well-kknown courthouse square businesses such as Buddy's Flowers (in business since 1951), and Rawls' Butcher Shop (in business since 1924, and owned/operated by 4 generations of the Rawls clan) shut their doors forever. When Wal Mart set up shop in town in 1995, the editor of the Covington Courier wrote a mock obituary of downtown Covington that also served as a scathing indictment of Big Box stores. Soon, all that was left was The Court Square Cafe (which always did great business thanks to the police officers, firefighters, lawyers, and civic leaders that worked nearby), and a few law offices that stayed in the square so the attorneys could be within walking distance of the courthouse.
A funny thing happened in the early 2000s, however. Thanks to the work of Mayor Anthony Jarvis, and some dedicated members of the Covington Chamber of Commerce, downtown saw a bit of revitalization. A couple of boutique clothing shops, and a Mexican restaurant opened up. Then, Sun Bank decided to set up their Covington branch in one of buildings on the old square. By spring of 2017, some of the old hustle and bustle had returned to the Covington town square. In a later post, I may give you a little more background on the square's current businesses.
One block down Jackson Street from the courthouse is the Covington City Hall. In 1949, it was decided that both the town and county were growing too quickly (what with all those GIs coming home from overseas, getting married, and making babies), and that both entities needed their own separate office spaces. So, in 1951 construction started on this gray, two story, somewhat utilitarian, city office building. Mayor Mays Morrison cut the ribbon and opened the building for business in September 14, 1953. The current mayor, Anthony Jarvis, has been in office since 1998. However, he recently stated that he would not be a candidate for reelection in 2017. After 20 years as the city's chief executive, he's decided to retire. Most people say that he's hoping to spend time with the twin grandsons that his daughter gave birth to last fall. The more cynical folks in town say that he was embarrassed and left nearly broke after spending a disgusting amount of his own personal fortune on a failed State Senate bid last year. Either way, Covington will be electing a new mayor this November.
Right next to city hall is an older building: The Carriage House Hotel. The Carriage House was built in 1858, and is one of the few downtown structures to survive the fire started by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Though ownership has changed hands seventeen times over the last 160 years, the hotel still remains in operation today.
Ok, so it's not exactly a skyscraper but it's still a little unusual to see a mid-rise office building in a small town like Covington. This little art deco beauty is the world headquarters of PM Bank, and it's one of the many things that makes Covington unique. The story of PM Bank starts in Jackson City (the capital city of Attakapas) in 1818. A man named Edward Pope opened Planters Bank that year, and the business quickly prospered. However, during the Civil War the bank's assets were seized, and soon after, Planters Bank ceased to exist. In 1869, two Covington businessmen named Herschel Eckels, and Jules Godchaux borrowed some money, and opened up Merchants Bank on the courthouse square. As they struggled in those first few months, they devised a scheme to capitalize off of the good name of the now-defunct Planters Bank. In 1870, they renamed their bank Planters and Merchants Bank. During the next 50 years, Planters and Merchants acquired smaller banks in the area, and continued to grow.
In the 1920s, bank president Jefferson Godchaux (son of Jules) made plans for a "Magnificent, imposing edifice" to serve as the bank's headquarters and main branch. Construction was started in 1925, and the building opened for business on October 10, 1929. People from all over the county, and even the governor, arrived for the grand opening. The Covington Courier boasted that the "Covington Skyscraper is the biggest building between Jackson City and New Orleans." Less than three weeks later, the stock market crash in New York triggered the beginning of the Great Depression. While the bank would eventually ride out the Depression, Jefferson Godchaux lost most of his fortune (which was heavily invested) on "Black Tuesday." On November 6, 1929, he opened one of the windows in his penthouse office, and jumped from the ledge of his "magnificent, imposing edifice." The county coroner was said to have told his friends that what was left of Mr. Godchaux "could fit in a couple of Mason jars."
In the 1990s, the bank's board of directors decided the name Planters and Merchants Bank was a little too politically incorrect. After all, the planters who did business with the original Planters Bank were plantation (and slave) owners. They didn't want potential clients to associate anything as ghastly as slavery with their bank, so they decided that a name change was in order. After much debate, Planters and Merchants Bank was re-branded as PM Bank in 1997.Today, they have 75 locations across three states. However, the headquarters and main branch remains in the 10 story building on the corner of Jefferson and Winn streets in the small town of Covington.
Across Winn Street from the bank is Memorial Park. The park was built in 1933 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the end of World War I, and has a small structure in the middle originally has a small plaque with the names of the three men from Covington who were killed during that war. Thirteen years after that, the names of the 15 Covington men killed during World War II were added to the plaque. Over the decades, the names of the men (and one woman) killed in Korea, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and the Iraq War have been added. Despite its somber purpose, the park has become a quiet shady spot to relax. Many of people who work in the PM Bank building retreat to the park to enjoy their lunch breaks.
That's all for now. I always enjoy coming with stories and histories for my towns. So, hopefully, you don't find my updates to wordy. I'll be back soon with more pictures and stories from Covington.