James Biggers Key was noted as one of the most highly esteemed and well known among business leaders in Columbus, Georgia.
He was born to Howard W. and Ozella (Biggers) Key in Harris County, Georgia on June 21, 1877. Key was one of seven children, having four brothers and two sisters. His paternal grandfather was Bishop Joseph S. Key, one of the most notable divines in Southern Methodism. His maternal grandfather was J.J. W. Biggers, a large planter of Harris County.
James went on to marry Lyda May Botts, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.T. Botts of Jackson, Tennessee. Together the couple had five children: Jack B., Lyda May, Jamie W. (deceased), Josephine, and Dorothy A. Key also has four grandchildren: Betty and Barbara Golden, Herbert D. Groover, Jr., and Jack Key, Jr.
He attended public schools in Columbus, Georgia, as well as being educated at Webb Bros. Preparatory School at Bell Buckle, Tennessee. James’ father, Dr. Howard W. Key, was known for opening up the Columbus Polytechnic Institute on 3rd avenue, in the well-known Lion House. James attended his father’s school, along with several of his friends. He also attended Southwestern University in Tennessee also.
James B. Key began his business career right here in Columbus, Georgia. In 1898, he organized a wholesale grocery concern for 18 years, and worked in the cotton warehouse business for four years. Alongside his many business adventures, Mr. Key was an active part of the community. He was an active member of the Rotary Club as president, an official at St. Luke Methodist Church, a director at Y.M.C.A., and served as a president of the Boy Scouts of Columbus.
Key took pride in participating in several city boards. He was a member of the city planning board, and was also one of the trustees for the Columbus Board of Education for many years. Through his position in education he was instrumental in improvements and innovations, which placed the local school system among the first in the country.
In the local and civil political circles he had a large influence, and has held many important offices within these sections. He did so all entirely without compensation. At the age of 21, Key was an alderman of the city, and just two years later was made a police commissioner. In his time as a chairman of the Muscogee County Commission of Roads and Revenues, he was one of the promoters of the resulting movement in paved highways throughout the county. He was very active in many projects also concerning the welfare in the county and state.
For 13 years James Biggers Key was involved in the banking enterprises of the city. During the World War, Key was chairman of all the Liberty Loans for West Georgia. Due to his efforts and success, the Government of the United States bestowed a special medal upon him. He was the head of Merchants and Mechanics Bank, the oldest institution of its kind in the city. The bank received its charter in 1871.
Key became the president on January 6th 1919 of the bank after being the vice president since 1916. Since that time there has always been a member of the Key family in banking. Jack B. Key, James’ son, took over his father’s position as president at Merchants and Mechanics Bank on January 4, 1939. In 1953 the bank joined with First National, and Jack B. Key then served up until 1963. Following in the footsteps, another Key family member served as the head of the bank. James Williams Key, Jack B. Key’s son, became the president in 1972 and served in the position until 1980when he was elected chairman of the board. The three Key family members collectively served 52 years as president.