South Carolina's oldest insurance agency
C. T. Lowndes & Company was founded in Charleston, South
Carolina, by Charles Tidyman Lowndes in 1850 and is the oldest fire
insurance agency in the Southeast.
Since the agency first offered fire insurance for South Carolina National Bank mortgages in the mid 19th Century, we have grown to a full-service agency with 8 locations throughout the Lowcountry and one in Myrtle Beach..
C. T. Lowndes & Company is a family owned and operated agency and has always been owned by a member of the Lowndes family. The owners of the agency are Henry H. Lowndes, Jr., Rawlins C. Lowndes, Willard A. Silcox, Jr., Willard A. Silcox, III, Christopher G. Silcox, and Edward F. Lowndes, III. Thus, the agency is now owned and operated by the 6th generation of the Lowndes family plus a 2nd generation of the Silcox family.
(you may click one of the sections below to jump to a particular timeline)
The early years...
Charles T. Lowndes was born in Charleston June 28, 1808, just 32 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. He was the son of Thomas and Sarah Bond Ion Lowndes and grandson of Rawlins and Mary Cartwright Lowndes. (Rawlins had served as second president of the State of South Carolina.)
By the age of 42, Charles was married to Sabina Elliott Huger, had produced 6 children (3 girls, Mary Huger, Sabina Huger, and Emma Huger and 3 boys, two named Daniel, both dying before their 2nd birthday, and Rawlins, and was described as a wealthy planter and merchant who served on the Board of Directors of the Bank of South Carolina. The 1850 census showed Charleston had a population of about 42,986 with 20,012 whites, 19,532 slaves, and 3,441 free persons of color. The town was a thriving sea port.
In 1850, Charles Lowndes started an insurance agency which he called C. T. Lowndes & Company. Perhaps the bank had started making loans on homes and a place was needed to secure insurance for these loans. Perhaps the devastating $400,000 Charleston fire in May of 1850 was a factor. Whatever the reason, the office was located at 10 Broad Street. Companies selling insurance in Charleston at that time included Savannah Mutual, Augusta Insurance and Banking Company, Commercial Fire Insurance Company of Hartford, Fireman’s, and Aetna.
The 1854 hurricane was a violent storm that heavily damaged Charleston with high winds and much flooding. The early Insurance policies did not provide wind or flood insurance.
Life in Charleston was grand for the wealthier families. Charles Lowndes lived at 51 East Bay Street (he bought the house in 1836), one of the largest homes in Charleston. One can imagine the lively parties and happy times. But troubled days lay ahead and South Carolina seceded from the Union on Dec 20, 1860. Four months later, On April 12, 1861, the first shot of the War of Northern Aggression was fired from the Charleston Battery towards Fort Sumter. From the porches of his home, one can easily imagine Charles, Sabina and their children, along with friends, watching the bombardment of the fort.
The war was tough on the State. Charleston was laid siege and captured in 1865 by Federal troops after a 587 day bombardment of the city, and the end of the war brought incredibly difficult times. The period of Reconstruction was no easier. Charles was named president of the Bank and, through his efforts, the Bank was one of the few that survived the incredibly reckless fiscal policies of the times.
We have a few of the old policies of the era. Major carriers were Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Company and Merchant and Mechanics Insurance Company.
The perpetual policy was common at the time. One such policy provided $5,000 fire insurance on the St. Philips Church parish hall. A one time premium of $350 was charged and the policy remained in effect until cancelled by either party. At the time of cancellation, the initial premium, less 10%, was refunded to the policy holder.
Fires were a serious threat in Charleston. The December 11, 1861 fire started on Bay Street and burned with a gale at its back until about 540 acres of buildings were destroyed. This may well have been the first Catastrophic claims event in the agency’s history. Another major fire occurred on July 23, 1875.
Charles Lowndes passed on November 18, 1884 and the insurance agency ownership went to his son, Rawlins Lowndes. C. T. is buried at Magnolia Gardens along with his wife. The inscription on the tomb reads “And now saideth, Faith, Hope & Charity, these three But the greatest of all is Charity”.
Charles and Sabina’s only living son, Rawlins, was born in 1838 and was described as a wealthy rice planter. He enlisted in the Confederate Army, fought with General Wade Hampton, and rose to the rank of captain. Charles’s brother, Edward Tilghman Lowndes, and his second cousin, Edward Rutledge Lowndes, both served as Confederate soldiers. As the War drew to a close, Captain Lowndes was dispatched by Hampton’s superior officer, General J. E. Johnston, to deliver a note and take a white flag and deliver it to the Union forces in Morrisville, NC. Lowndes arrived at the Union camp about midnight, carrying Johnston’s letter suggesting a truce to negotiate surrender terms. The Union commander, Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, asked Lowndes to stay the evening and return to his camp the next day. Lowndes accepted the offer. The two men engaged in pleasant conversation until the topic turned to past battles. Lowndes and Kilpatrick reminded each other of disgraceful events in previous battles and the exchange went on until Captain Lowndes had had enough and issued a challenge to the Yankees.
“Well, General, I will make you the following proposition, and I will pledge myself that General Hampton will carry it out in every respect. You, with your staff, take 1500 men, and General Hampton, with his staff, will meet you with 1000 men, all to be armed with saber alone. The two parties will be drawn up mounted in regimental formation, opposite to each other, and on a signal to be agreed upon, will charge. That will settle the question which are the best men.”
This offer was politely refused. Later, Captain Lowndes returned to the Confederate lines and delivered the agreement for an armistice to Gen. Hampton, who in turn sent it General Johnston. The surrender was complete on April 26, 1865. Rawlins Lowndes would then return home to his beloved plantation and rebuild his life.
Rawlins married a young lady named Sally Preston, niece of the General Wade Hampton. Rawlins and Sally, affectionately known as Buck, had 2 children, Charles and Caroline, before Sally died at age 38 in 1880. Rawlins later remarried, to Mary Evans. Rawlins and Mary lived at 51 East Bay Street the rest of their lives.
The Great Earthquake of 1886, magnitude 7.5 on the Richter Scale, struck Charleston on August 31, 1886 and leveled a large part of the city. 2000 buildings were destroyed. Alas, insurance policies at the time did not provide Earthquake insurance. The insurance agency again survived this natural disaster. (Earthquake insurance did become available until 1916, probably prompted by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.)
In 1893, in August, a huge tempest made landfall near Beaufort and then followed the curve of the coastline north. 2300 people died, 30,000 left homeless. Destruction was widespread.
1900 thru 1970s...
Another major hurricane struck the city in 1911 and flooded Charleston up to the second story porches of the houses along South Battery. Alas there was still no wind insurance and no flood insurance!
World War I started and ended, the agency continued in operation, and Rawlins Lowndes died on December 31, 1919. He is buried in the family plot at Magnolia Cemetery next to his parents.
Rawlins' daughter, Caroline Hampton Lowndes had married Dr. Lane Mullally and they had one son Charles Lowndes Mullally, born in 1896. It was Charles Mullally, Rawlins’ grandson, who took over the agency at the death of Rawlins Lowndes. A graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, Mullally served as a Naval officer in World War I.
The agency was incorporated in 1928 with Charles Mullally and Hassell Rivers as stockholders.
The newly invented automobile was becoming more and more prevalent and soon automobile insurance policies would be sold. The New York Standard Fire policy was becoming the foundation of all building and property insurance. The Great Depression swept the country in 1929. C. T. Lowndes & Company adapted to these changes and remained in business.
In June 1931, a 21 year old named Henry Horlbeck Lowndes graduated from the College of Charleston and decided to become a part of the family business and a stockholder. (Henry Lowndes and Charles Mullally were 5th cousins.) Soon thereafter, Henry Lowndes sold his first policy. He had walked from the agency offices on Broad Street to the corner of Pitt and Montagu Streets to insure a grocery store owned by a German man. On the way home, he was feeling mighty rich after figuring his commission on the policy was 37 cents. Pretty good money in those days! That account stayed on the books until 2004.
Mullally, Lowndes, and Rivers insured many of the plantations in the Charleston area. Lowndes insured one, Medway Plantation, in about 1940 and the agency still has that account today. Mullally owned the Peoples Building at 18 Broad Street and the agency relocated to that location.
World War II started, gas was rationed, food was scarce, and the enemy was winning. Henry Lowndes, having had polio as a child, was unable to serve his country in uniform but did volunteer at the city Police Station, watching the radar for possible incoming German planes. His wife, Alice Lowndes, rode her bike 10 miles one way to work in the secretarial pool at the Charleston Naval Base.
A few years after the war ended, in 1951, Mullally agreed to sell the agency to Lowndes. The office was then rapidly relocated to 12 ½ Exchange Street where it remained until 1981.
In the early 1950s, the homeowners insurance policy was introduced. The SMP or Special Multi-peril Policy was developed to combine commercial lines policies
(As an interesting side note, in 1958, Henry and Alice Lowndes moved to 123 Tradd Street, a house owned by Rawlins Cottenet and his sister Fannie, the grandchildren of C. T. Lowndes. They lived in the house for the rest of their lives.) Alice, or Lish as she was called, died in 1986. Henry and Lish had two children, Edward F. Lowndes, II and Henry Horlbeck Lowndes, Jr.
Lowndes and Rivers ran the agency along with C. Harrington Bissell. Rivers soon retired and Lowndes’ oldest son, Edward F. Lowndes II, joined the agency in 1965 after serving in the US Army. At this point the agency consisted of these 3 men plus one secretary, Sara Young, and a bookkeeper, Ruth Thames.
During the 50s and 60s, C. T. Lowndes & Company acquired several smaller agencies – Schweers Agency, Wehman Agency, and the Stoney Agency
Edward married Marie Thomas in 1973 and they had four children, Elizabeth Behethland, Margaret Alice, Edward Frost, III, and Rawlins Cottenet. Edward and his family lived on the Bluff Plantation in Berkeley County for most of his life.
In 1972, Henry H. Lowndes, Jr., a graduate of N.C. State University, completed his active duty Navy military service and joined his father and brother at the agency. Bissell formed his own agency in 1974. In 1975, the agency celebrated its 125 anniversary with a small function at 12 ½ Exchange Street. The agency continued to do well but remained small with a premium volume of about $500,000.
The agency was one of the first in Charleston to purchase a computer system, called SYSTAMS, in the mid 70s. Later, the agency used the INSURNET system before switching to the current AMS system.
The National Flood Insurance Program came into being in the early 1970s. The Commercial Package Policy and BOP (Business Owners Policy) replaced the SMP about the same time.
1980s thru 2000...
Then, in 1980, along came Willard A. Silcox, Jr., a high school classmate of Edward. Billy, as he is known, was the College of Charleston tennis coach but was seeking another career. He was welcomed at C. T. Lowndes & Company in 1982 and served as the catalyst for the growth that was to follow.
The agency, in quick secession, moved from downtown Charleston to the West Ashley area (1981), opened an office in Summerville (1982) operated by Larry Watson, and an office in Mt. Pleasant (1983) under the leadership of Billy Silcox. C. T. Lowndes & Company was probably the first agency in the Charleston area to have multiple location offices.
Henry Lowndes, Jr. married Esther Moseley in 1981. (In another interesting side note, Esther lived with her family at 51 East Bay Street, the ancestral home of C. T. & Rawlins Lowndes. The Moseley family even possessed the house insurance policy on 51 East Bay Street (then known as 39 East Bay)dated March 12, 1883 with the named insured as C. T. Lowndes and later endorsed (June 15, 1899) to show Rawlins Lowndes as the named insured.) Henry and Esther had two children, Alice Kathleen Matilda and Sarah Lee Holleman, and the family lived at 8 Country Club Drive on James Island.
On July 19, 1984, Charles Lowndes Mullally passed and was buried in St. Philip’s Episcopal Churchyard.
In 1985, the agency restructured with Henry Lowndes, Jr. as president, Edward Lowndes as Vice President, Billy Silcox, secretary and Larry Watson, treasurer. Lynn Stokes and Gloria Silcox (Billy’s wife) were hired on June 1 of that year and are still employed at the agency.
In 1987, the agency purchased the Leddy Smith Agency in Walterboro, thus becoming the fourth location for the agency. This office was managed by Sharon Warren. Sharon is still with us these many years later and that office has seen sustained growth.
Silcox’s oldest son, Bill (Willard A. Silcox, III), joined the agency in June of 1989.
On September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo smashed into South Carolina, its eye and top winds of 140 MPH passing over Charleston. The damage was awesome but the agency was ready to handle the thousands of claims that followed. The agency survived the hurricane and its immediate aftermath. But more trouble was to follow as some insurance companies fell victim to the hurricane and went out of business and many others ceased writing coastal insurance and non-renewed their existing policies. By 1993, the agency was tightening its financial belt as it fought to survive. The agency lost most of it standard carriers and was at one point “one phone call from going out of business”. General Accident Insurance Company (contracted through Johnson & Johnson Insurance Managers) stuck with the agency and Bankers Insurance Company was contracted with in 1993. By 1995, however, the agency’s good name and reputation had caused life to return to almost normal and the agency began to grow again.
In 1991, Henry Lowndes retired from the agency at age 82 and after 60 years of service to C. T. Lowndes & Company. Under his leadership, the agency became well known for its integrity and enjoyed an unsurpassed reputation within the insurance industry. Mr. Lowndes passed on July 28, 1998 at age 88 and is buried at Magnolia Cemetery next to his wife.
During the 90s, the agency continued purchasing other smaller agencies including the Zorn Agency, Read & Read Agency, the Storen Agency, and the Holcombe & Jenkins Agency.
In 1996, the agency purchased the Patricia Drake Agency in Moncks Corner, thus adding a fifth location. With this purchase came Charles R. Drake Sr. who helped the office grow. Mr. Drake, an avid West Virginia University alumni, remained with the agency until his death in 2008. Norma Prioleau, Commercial Lines CSR, also came along with the purchase and she brought her bright smile and happy face to the office until her untimely passing in December 2010.
Jason Besse began work at the agency in 1997 and Chris Silcox, younger son of Billy Silcox, started in 1998. These two men would become the leading producers for the agency in the first decade of the 21st century.
By 1998, the agency had joined the Internet Age with a website.
In June 2000, the agency celebrated its 150th anniversary with its employees and company representatives at the South Carolina Society building on Meeting Street.
Lee Besse, Jason’s father and very experienced insurance agent from Miami was hired in 2001 to become the agency’s first Operations Manager and Human Resources Officer. His expertise has been invaluable to the agency over the years.
In 2003, Edward’s two sons, Ed and Rawlins, joined the agency, both having recently graduated from the College of Charleston.
The next expansion occurred in 2004 with the purchase of the Guaranty Caldwell Agency with offices in Sumter and Hartsville. Joseph Givens, Sr. had operated the Guaranty Agency in Sumter since 1951. The Hartsville location was merged into the Sumter location in 2007 under the guidance of Irma Straker. Due to the poor economic conditions from 2008 to 2011 and distance to this location, the office in Sumter was closed in December 2011.
A seventh office was opened in Goose Creek with the purchase of the Tri County Insurance Agency in 2005. This location has seen rapid growth and has become the IT center of the agency under the capable direction of James Turner III, CIO.
On January 1, 2006, Edward Lowndes , vice president for 21 years, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in less than 3 months, on March 21, He, like his father and the previous owners of the agency, makes his final home at Magnolia Cemetery, resting near his mother and father.
For many years (since 1992), Bill Hackett, a WWII veteran, worked as a sales person for the agency out of his home on Edisto Beach. In 2007, it was decided to open a small office on Edisto island, just off the Beach, and a year later Bill’s grandson, William, joined the agency at the Edisto Office after his graduation from USC.
As the years sped by, it was time for another restructuring. Henry Lowndes, Jr. stepped aside as president in October 2009, allowing a younger generation in the form of Bill Silcox to assume the role of the day to day operation of the agency. In this restructuring, Henry Lowndes, Jr. became CEO and CFO with Bill Silcox the COO. Billy Silcox remained in charge of production as CPO. Lee Besse became HRO, James Turner III, CIO, and Edward F. Lowndes III, Secretary.
The recession of 2008-2010 was a challenge to the agency, but through sound financial practices combined with an outstanding sales team and dedicated CSRs and support staff, the agency successfully navigated the rough waters. A reputation for stability, longevity, and integrity has been the major factor in this success as well in attracting new insurance company partners and new insurance clients.
The agency began its first television advertising in 2009 with 30 second commercial on WCSC, Live 5.
Under the guidance of facilitator, Tom Leonard, the agency developed a 2010 Strategic Plan, the first in the agency’s history. The plan was so successful, the agency has continued developing a Strategic Plan each year.
On February 1, 2011, C. T. Lowndes & Company purchased the Dennis Insurance Agency in Moncks Corner. The Dennis Insurance Agency, located in Moncks Corner, South Carolina was founded in 1951 by Mr. Edward A. Dennis. Mr. Dennis started the independent insurance agency from scratch and, by the time he passed in 1970, the agency was very successful and prosperous. After his death, his widow, Mildred A. Dennis became the sole owner and operated the business by herself for eight years. In 1978, Al and Sharon Dennis purchased the agency from Al’s mother. The main insurance companies represented were, and still are, Auto Owners, Foremost, and National Grange Mutual (now NGM). Thanks to Al and Sharon, the Dennis Agency is well known in Berkeley County for its excellent customer service and its reputation for honesty and integrity. The Dennis Agency office moved to the C. T. Lowndes & Company location at 513 E. Main Street, Moncks Corner. Al and Sharon Dennis continued to work with the agency along with their daughters, Allison D. Sullivan and Charlotte D. Mims.
In mid-February, 2011, the agency opened a small sales office in St. George under the guidance of Doug Robbins and his son, Danny Robbins, who became licensed in December 2010. Doug had been working out of his home in St. George for several years.
In May 2011, C. T. Lowndes & Company purchased the Harleyville Insurance Agency in Harleyville, SC and serviced that small book of business from the Summerville Office.
With the addition of Auto-Owners Insurance Company, acquired in the Dennis Agency purchase, Rawlins Lowndes assumed the task of building a life insurance department for the agency. The agency’s first full time, life insurance account executive, Chelsea Walsh was hired in November 2011. Chelsea graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in insurance.
Rawlins C. Lowndes became an owner of the agency on March 1, 2012. Edward F. Lowndes, III became an owner on June 15, 2012. Thus a 6th generation of the Lowndes family will lead the agency into the future.
In late 2012 and early 2013, the agency hired 3 new account executives - Matt Ayers, David Christopher, and Newton "Cookie" Boykin.
C. T. Lowndes & Company purchased the Dantzler Insurance Agency in Walterboro on January 1, 2013 and those policies were merged into the Walterboro office. The owner of the Dantzler Agency, Jeffrey L. Saunders, became an Account Executive for C. T. Lowndes & Company, specializing in commercial insurance.