Wilgus, John B.

1824 - 1889

Merchant and Banker.

Captain John B. Wilgus was born in Lexington, Kentucky on March 22, 1824.  After his father's death, when just twelve years old, he was left with the responsibility of caring for his widowed mother, younger brother and sisters.  For the next six years, he engaged in the hauling brick for the buildings being erected around Lexington.

Around 1844 he secured a clerkship in a retail grocery store and for the next few years saved a portion of his limited earnings.  In 1848, at the age of twenty-four, he opened his own grocery store, J. B. Wilgus & Company.  In 1854, he was one of the founders of the Agricultural Deposit Bank of Lexington.  Just prior to the Civil War, his grocery firm was one of the largest in the region.  During the Civil War, he was a strong supporter of the Union and profited greatly from supplying the Union Army.  Captain Wilgus also organized the "Lexington Blues" (a homeguard unit) and served as its first Captain.

During 1865, he retired from the mercantile business to concentrate on banking and became the first Vice President of the Lexington City National Bank.  Five years later, in 1870, he was elected President of the bank.

After two years as President, Captain Wilgus resigned over differences in management policies with the Board of Directors, principally the Stoll brothers.  Retirement did not last long, because within a month he formed the private banking concern of J. B. Wilgus Company.  In 1878, his firm survived an eight-day run after the failure of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank, to which he had advanced a large sum of money.  After the run, Captain Wilgus reorganized the company as the National Exchange Bank and became the Cashier of the new institution.  In January 1881, Captain Wilgus was elected President of the National Exchange Bank, holding that position until 1887 when ill heath forced his retirement.

During 1866, Captain Wilgus organized the Lexington & Richmond Railroad and the Big Sandy Railroad.  In the 1870s, he acquired "Parker Place" and completely rebuilt the house.  He was a noted collector of paintings and sculpture, building a special gallery connected to his house to display his collection.  In 1875, he was among the founders of the Kentucky Trotting Horse Breeders Association, the operator of the Red Mile.  He was also an investor in numerous local businesses, including the gas works.

William M. Ambrose, First Security National Bank & Trust Company (1835-1992), Limestone Press, Lexington, 2007.