Farmers Bank at Clintonville, Kentucky
Farmers Bank at Clintonville, Kentucky. Photo by the author (Click to enlarge)

Last week, while Clare and I were tak­ing our grand­daugh­ter to horse camp in Bourbon County, we passed through the old vil­lage of Clintonville.  Stopping at the inter­sec­tion and notic­ing the pho­to­genic bank build­ing on Austerlitz Road, I took the pho­to­graph above.  I recalled the bank had a trag­ic his­to­ry and decid­ed that Clintonville would be an inter­est­ing top­ic, even though it’s not in Clark County.  (It is only a mile north of the coun­ty line, however.)

The place was set­tled in the late 18th cen­tu­ry and was orig­i­nal­ly called Stipp’s Cross Roads after ear­ly set­tlers, John and George Stipp.  The name Clintonville came from the local Masonic chap­ter, orga­nized in 1825 as the “De Witt Clinton Lodge.”  The cross­roads was a thriv­ing place well before the Civil War.  It had a tav­ern, two dis­til­leries, a hemp fac­to­ry, a black­smith shop, two doc­tors, a saddler’s shop, a cig­ar fac­to­ry, a ten-pin alley, and four saloons.  The post office there last­ed for over a cen­tu­ry (1831−1958).

The Farmers Bank was estab­lished in 1903 by William F. Heathman, a Clark County native who also served as the bank’s first pres­i­dent.  One night in May 1924 unknown per­sons attempt­ed to break into the bank’s vault.  They used an acety­lene torch to cut through the lock on the entrance door and then attempt­ed to blow the safe with nitro­glyc­erin.  They breached the out­er safe door but could not get the inner door open.  A neigh­bor sound­ed the alarm and the bur­glars fled, leav­ing all their tools behind.

The fol­low­ing month saw an attempt­ed armed rob­bery at the bank in broad day­light.  About 9:30 a.m. one morn­ing, four men rolled up in a stolen Cadillac, and three of them entered the bank.  Only two occu­pants were inside at the time, Frank Buchanan, a bank direc­tor, and Walter Gibson, the cashier.  When ordered to put their hands up, Buchanan refused and grap­pled with one of the armed men, get­ting shot in the process.  Gibson retrieved a weapon and fired on the flee­ing gang.  Buchanan died at the scene; two of the would-be rob­bers were wound­ed but all four got away.

Cast of characters (from the Lexington Leader, June 15, 1924)
Cast of char­ac­ters (from the Lexington Leader, June 15, 1924)

Within days the fugi­tives were iden­ti­fied as Newport men with shady pasts.  Following their arrests, all four were tried and con­vict­ed in Bourbon Circuit Court.  The dri­ver of the get­away car, Robert Mullen, was sen­tenced to life in prison.  Elmer Hall, George Farrell and Richard Newhouse received the death sen­tence and were exe­cut­ed the fol­low­ing year.

Farmers Bank closed short­ly after the tragedy.  According to a local, William Ware, “it was used as a res­i­dence for approx­i­mate­ly 30 years, a Baptist church for anoth­er 20 plus years, and then became a clog­ging stu­dio for nine years.”

Clintonville is a qui­eter place these days.  They have Nannie Pearl’s Clintonville Store, a vol­un­teer fire depart­ment, two church­es — and a hand­some aban­doned bank building.

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.