Vinton County National Bank founder Daniel Will is remembered for building the bank and presiding over the institution for more than one-third of the bank’s history. He was a colorful character and a self-made man who spent a lifetime pursuing his own version of the American Dream.
Born in Hocking County, Ohio in 1832, Daniel Will came from a family of ten children. He did not come from a wealthy background. Instead, he is said to have started life with no capital, but an abundance of energy and industry. His formal education was confined to the “Three R’s” which allowed him to educate himself through observation and reading. He soon proved himself to be skilled in the areas of business and finance, expertise that proved useful in his early career owning general stores in Zaleski and McArthur.
In 1850, he assisted in driving stock to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an $11 monthly salary. He returned home just as he went to Pennsylvania – on foot – and taught a term of school that fall. By spring 1851, Daniel was employed as a clerk in his uncle Joseph K. Will’s store in McArthur. He remained with his uncle for three years, earning an annual salary of $125. He then entered a partnership with his uncle, remaining in this position until 1858. At that time, he withdrew from the partnership with his uncle and opened a store in the neighboring town of Zaleski. He soon took on another partner, his father Jacob G. Will.
Daniel eventually opened a general store in McArthur, operating not on credit like his competitors but on a cash system that allowed him to buy at large discounts and then sell lower than the general market price. Before long, he was selling more merchandise than the other three stores in town combined.
His brothers Jacob and Aaron began to clerk for him and became his partners in 1865. Two years later, he established the bank of Will, Brown and Company. When this bank consolidated with Vinton County Bank on September 1, 1868, Daniel was chosen to lead the new Vinton County Bank as president.
Daniel Will was a banker for 57 years, making it difficult to separate his life story from the story of the bank. He never married, devoting himself instead to business and community. He served the bank until his death in 1924 when he died at the bank at the age of 92.
Upon his death, he was memorialized by local newspapers including The McArthur Democrat Enquirer which remembered him as “the oldest and best known banker in the state, if not in the United States.”
Daniel is said to have had many interests outside of banking. He was the owner of the Will Hotel and of 1,600 acres of land in Vinton County as well as other real estate in McArthur. He was not a politician but, by all accounts, labored for the advancement and general welfare of his community.
Throughout his distinguished career, Daniel established a reputation for being steady and conservative in every way. Vinton County Historian Lew Ogan wrote, “Daniel Will informed my father once upon a time that he felt he was doing a favor to his friends and fellow citizens when he established a bank for their convenience so they could conserve their life earnings for a profit. This he did as his bank was known far and wide, a reputation, if you please, as a safe institution. When the hard times came in 1893 and 1894, Mr. Will was prepared to meet the situation.”
Daniel Will started life with few resources other than his own wits and a strong work ethic. He proved that hard work and determination could take a young man places in nineteenth century America and he set out to use his businesses to help his neighbors achieve their own dreams. Daniel Will today is remembered mostly by a framed portrait in our first bank in McArthur but he set into motion a business and a small-town banking mentality that can still be felt today.