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If you drive the backroads of the Florida Panhandle; you’ll pass through one poor dilapidated town after ‘nother. It can be a sad sight. I grew up in this neck of the woods and I can tell you, the Panhandle and the southern parts of Alabama and Georgia are known to be some of the poorest in the country.
But it wunn’t always this way.
The oldest continuously occupied European city in America, St. Augustine, is located in the Great State of Florida. St. Augustine is over 450 years old (1565). Despite this singular fact, Florida remained mor’ or less unsettled, lawless, and wild until the 1800’s. At one time or ‘nother, Florida was under the control of Spain, France, and Great Britain before being ceded to the United States in 1819.
At least on paper they controlled it. In reality, Florida was a vast wilderness inhabited by Indians, free blacks and runaway British slaves before becoming a territory of the United States in 1821. Two decades later, in 1845, just after the Second Seminole War, Florida became a state and the boom times began.
In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, fortunes were being made in the Panhandle from timber and plantation crops. Plantations from 1,000 up to 7,000 acres were being farmed. But by 1930 and the great depression, most families living in the Panhandle weren’t livin’ off much mor’n pride. Times were hard and families were doing all they could to just survive……. which makes the legend of the “Coca-Cola Millionaires” found in Quincy, Florida all the more compelling.
The Legend of the Coca-Cola Millionaires
The legend of the “Coca-Cola Millionaires” began with a man born just before the Civil War (1860) in Quincy, Florida. He grew up to be a banker, had 10 children with his first wife, Mary, and after her death, remarried and had 8 children with his second wife, Edith. If you visit the Western Cemetery in Quincy, you’ll find his tombstone with a wife buried on each side and row upon row of the same white granite headstones that designate his family members.
And nope, the man ain’t famous for his work expandin’ the family name, although, come to think of it, he could be.
No, what he’s famous for —— is single handedly changing the fortunes of the town and making Quincy the richest town in America on a per capita basis — at least for a time (1930’s) — than anywhere else in the country.
You might be askin’ …. how?
Would you believe… it was ’cause he was a fanatic for Coca-Cola? Not the actual drink, but the stock. That’s right. Coca-Cola stock.
You see, the banker or “Mr. Pat”, as the town folk called him or “Daddy Pat” by family members, was the president of Quincy State Bank and a longtime friend of W. C. Bradley who became Chairman of the Board of Coca-Cola when it went public in 1919. What many don’t know – who retell this legend – is that Mr. Pat had served on the board of a company owned by Bradley in Columbus, Georgia. The two men knew each other well. W. C. Bradley got Mr. Pat in on the Coca-Cola deal.
So, what did Mr. Pat do? Why… he started tellin’ everbod’d that’d listen to buy Coca-Cola stock, startin’ with the 1919 initial stock offering at $40 per share. And, he put his money where his mouth was and bought stock too! Even after the stock dropped to $19 a share shortly after Coca-Cola went public, he kept tellin’ everbod’d to buy more.
Mr. Pat’s son-in-law and former State Representative Bob Woodward, Jr. frequently told the story of how his father went to the bank for a $2,000 farm loan. Mr. Pat insisted on writing Woodward a $4,000 loan, if he promised to invest half in Coke stock. It paid. “Coca-Cola helped my family survive the depression…. It was like gold to the Quincy State Bank” said Bob Woodward, Jr.
Not only did Coca-Cola stock help families survive the depression, it helped Quincy State Bank survive the depression. And, it nearly got Mr. Pat arrested – so the legend goes.
You see…. in 1933, after a month long run on the country’s banks, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared a bank holiday and shut down nearly every bank in the country. Quincy State Bank, under the tutelage of Mr. Pat, refused to close, defying the president. Legend has it that Roosevelt sent federal agents to arrest Mr. Pat for keeping his bank open during the “bank holiday.”
The agents ran into a problem though. The warrant they had was for a Mr. Pat Munroe or “Mr. Pat.” The funny part…. there was no such person! Mr. Pat Munroe did not exist!
Now….. had the warrant been made out for Mr. Mark Welch Munroe… a.k.a. “Mr. Pat” …… the hero of Quincy might have spent a few nights in the hoosegow.
To sum up Mr. Mark Welch Munroe’s life, all you have to do is read the words etched on his tombstone, ——- “The influence of his personality was so great and his advice so widely sought, that he seemed an institution in the community, hardly subject to removal by death.”
Other notes of interest:
- According to “The Motley Fool,” if you bought one share of Coca-Cola stock in 1919, you’d have 9,200 shares today. If you would’ve reinvested all the dividends since then, that $40 investment would be worth over $10 million today.
- In 1971, long after many of the Coca-Cola millionaires had moved away from Quincy, Florida, the Office of Economic Opportunity reported that rural Gadsden County still had 21 millionaires listed.
- In the 1920 Census, Quincy had a population of 3,118. In the 2010 Census, the population was listed at 7,972.
- Capitol City Bank bought the old Quincy State Bank. They have a display inside the bank highlighting the Coca-Cola connection and history.
- The first Quincy State Bank building is actually at the other end of the block (going east) from the Capitol City Bank building (see picture below).
- Legend has it, that Mr. Pat Munroe, a.k.a. Mr. Mark Welch Munroe, upon his death in 1940, just a short 20 years after Coca-Cola went public in 1919, bequeath every living child he had $1,000,000 in Coca-Cola stock.