Upland Chronicles: Walker Mize recognized as reliable businessman

Aug. 02, 2014 @ 11:04 PM

On June 7, 1911, the Montgomery Vindicator reported, “A big shakeup among business firms of Sevierville is scheduled to take place in the near future. Walker Mize, who has been the efficient deputy trustee under John F. Ingle during two administrations, takes the place of W.S. Murphy as cashier of Sevier County Bank.”

A few months later, Sanders Atchley joined the staff of Sevier County Bank, and for almost four decades, he and Mize worked together building the bank’s business and reputation. Atchley was cashier, and Mize served as assistant cashier.

Andrew Walker Mize was born Sept. 11, 1868, on a farm south of Sevierville, where Governor’s Crossing is now. Throughout his life he was called by his middle name, Walker.

He was a grandson of Jonathan Mize, who was killed during the Civil War while guarding the courthouse, where the federal home guard had imprisoned several Confederate soldiers. Mize's father, who was 18, was injured in the attack but survived.

His parents were James Harold “Dock” Mize and Minerva Lanning Mize. They moved their family to a farm in the Gist’s Creek Community, where Walker grew up. He attended Nancy Academy and later studied at Knoxville Business College.

For several years, Mize taught school at various locations, such as Gist’s Creek School in Sevier County, Porter Academy in Blount County and Decatur School in Meigs County. He returned to Sevier County around 1905 and took a job as the deputy trustee and circuit tax collector.

Mize assessed property and collected taxes all over Sevier County, including remote sections of the Great Smoky Mountains. He worked face to face, explaining the tax procedure to the sometimes unenlightened landowners. He became well respected and was often invited to join a family for a meal or to spend the night.

Investing $500, Mize was among the 51 men and one woman who came together with their money to establish Sevier County Bank on March 9, 1909.

At the time Mize went to work at Sevier County Bank, he was considered one of the county’s most eligible bachelors. In addition to his position at the bank, he was well educated for the time, owned farmland, and had traveled more than most of the people he knew. In 1901, Mize attended the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., where President William McKinley was assassinated.

On July 6, 1912, Mize married Genevieve “Jennie” Bales, a daughter of John H. Bales and Mary Brock Bales. He was 43, and his bride was 32. The couple spent their honeymoon at Dupont Springs Hotel atop Bluff Mountain.

Despite their ages, in the ensuing years they had five children: James, Ola (Albert), George, Martha (Trotter) and Blanche. They raised their family in the house they built on a large lot at New Street (now Park Road). Located across the street from what is now Smoky Mountains Children’s Home, the house is still standing.

Mize had an appealing personality and was known as a reliable and courteous businessman. When customers came to the bank to conduct business, he would shake their hand, and continue to innocently hold a lady's hand throughout their conversation.

One day a customer walked into the bank to cash a check. At the end of the day, when Mize closed his books, he noticed the signature on the check: U.R. Stuck. Everyone in the bank had been told about the joke.

Thomas “Doc” Williams, owner of a downtown pharmacy, had cashed the check to see if Mize would catch the bogus signature. Much to his embarrassment, Mize’s friends had a big laugh at his expense.

It was Walker Mize who piled money on a table in front of a fireplace so customers see the bank had money during the darkest days of the Great Depression, when the bank was forced to close due the bank holiday proclaimed by President Roosevelt.

Throughout his life, Mize continued to buy and sell real estate. He entered several business ventures with Sanders Atchley, including Palace Theatre. He enjoyed spending time at his Gist’s Creek farm.

Mize’s son George worked at the bank when he was a teenager. George was given a job as custodian and worked there before and after school for a salary of $1 per month. During the winter months, he came to work before daylight to get the furnace going so the building would be warm at opening. Later, George Mize served as a member of the board of directors.

Tragedy struck a week before Christmas 1942. On the evening of Dec. 18, Mize’s younger daughter, Blanche, was driving home from a dance in Gatlinburg when the car she was driving hit an icy spot on the road, skidded and crashed. Blanche, 21, was killed. Her brother George was with her but survived, along with two other passengers

Blanche was a graduate of Lincoln Memorial University, where she had been elected homecoming queen. At the time of her death, she was teaching at Crockett School in Sevier County, and engaged to be married to A.J. King Jr. Her family was devastated.

Although Mize was 74 when his daughter died, he was still working full-time at the bank. He continued walking to work every day until failing eyesight forced him to retire in 1947 at age 79. He died Dec. 18, 1959. His death occurred 15 years to the day after the death of his daughter Blanche.

Carroll McMahan is special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or ron@ronraderproperties.com.