A look back at where we began.
The history of C. T. Lowndes & Company
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C. T. Lowndes & Company has been in business since 1850. Over the years we have had much success and growth. To share our history with you, we have outlined a few of our most treasured moments over the last century and a half.
The Early Years
About the founder.
Charles T. Lowndes was born in Charleston on 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 the second president of the State of South Carolina.)
By the age of 42, Charles was married to Sabina Elliott Huger, had produced six children; three girls, Mary Huger, Sabina Huger, and Emma Huger, and three boys, two named Daniel, both dying before their 2nd birthday, and Rawlins. Charles was described as a wealthy merchant who served on the board of directors of the Bank of South Carolina. Charles was elected president of the bank on April 16, 1865, and, through his efforts, the bank was one of the few that survived the incredibly reckless fiscal policies of the times.
The 1850 census showed Charleston had a population of about 42,986. The town was a thriving seaport. Charles Lowndes lived at 51 East Bay Street (he bought the house in 1836).
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. 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 canceled by either party. At the time of cancellation, the initial premium, less 10%, was refunded to the policyholder.
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”.
Taking over the reins.
Charles and Sabina’s only living son, Rawlins, was born in 1838. He enlisted in the army and rose to the rank of captain. Rawlins married a young lady named Sally Preston. Rawlins and Sally, affectionately known as Buck, had two children, Charles and Caroline before Sally died at age 38 in 1880. Rawlins later remarried, to Mary Evans and they lived at 51 East Bay Street for 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 August 1893, a huge tempest made landfall near Beaufort and then followed the curve of the coastline north. 2,300 people died. 30,000 left homeless. Destruction was widespread.
1900's through 1970's
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.
Continuing the family tradition.
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 the 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.)
A bold, but smart move.
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 felt 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 homeowner’s 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 army. At this point, the agency consisted of these three 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.
Ahead of the times.
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 at about the same time.
1980's through 1990's
A friend turned partner.
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.
Relocating to new foundations.
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.
All about Henry.
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. 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 its 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 within 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.
Taking over Lowcountry.
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 he died 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, the 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.
Turn of the century.
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 was invaluable to the agency over the years. Lee retired on March 31, 2016.
Paul Pye joined the agency as an outside salesperson in 2001, working from the Walterboro office.
Wood Cleveland joined the agency in 2002 in sales and became a top producing agent.
Terence Jenkins became an account executive in 2003. Terence left the agency in 2017 along with Jason Besse.
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 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 closed in December 2011.
A seventh office opened in Goose Creek, SC 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. The agency’s processing center, under the direction of Tina Rollins, is also located in the Goose Creek office.
On January 1, 2006, Edward Lowndes, vice president for 21 years, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in less than three 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.
James Teske joined the agency in 2007 as a personal lines inside sales agent and developed into a successful outside salesperson. James departed to open his own agency in 2019.
Paula Stubblefield began working for the agency in 2008 and progressed up the ladder becoming an outstanding outside salesperson in the Mt. Pleasant office.
For many years (since 1992), Bill Hackett, a WWII veteran, worked as a salesperson 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. Bill worked for C. T. Lowndes & Company well into his 90’s, until his death in 2018.
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 remained HRO, James Turner III, CIO, and Edward F. Lowndes III became Secretary. Walter Cuthbert was placed in charge of the new training department.
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.
Adapting to the times.
The agency began its first television advertising in 2009 with 30-second commercials on WCSC, Live 5. The social media age arrived about this time and Pixie Melfi assumed the duties of Social Media Coordinator. In 2018, a Social Media intern, Pierce Moreland, was hired to assist the agency’s emergence as a player in this arena.
Under the guidance of a facilitator, Tom Leonard, the agency developed a 2010 strategic plan, the first in the agency’s history. The planning was so successful the agency has continued developing a strategic plan each year.
Elliott Phillips, the son-in-law of Billy Silcox, started with the agency in 2010 and became a very successful salesperson.
Further growth and acquisition.
On February 1, 2011, C. T. Lowndes & Company purchased the Dennis Insurance Agency in Moncks Corner. The Dennis Insurance Agency 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 Main Street America).
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 daughter.
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. The St. George office closed in early 2015 as Danny Robbins left the agency to start another career and Doug retired.
In May 2011, C. T. Lowndes & Company purchased the Harleysville Insurance Agency in Harleysville, 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 has remained a leading producer of life policies for Auto-Owners.
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.
The agency’s ninth location, primarily a sales office, opened in September 2012 in Myrtle Beach under the direction of Robert and Lori Bellamy.
Alice Lowndes Taylor, daughter of Henry Lowndes, Jr. joined the business on December 1, 2012.
In late 2012, the agency hired Matt Ayer as a new account executive. Matt’s father owned an agency in Vermont.
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 and life insurance. Jeff retired in 2016.
Christopher Campbell joined the agency in 2015 and developed a niche in writing commercial transportation insurance.
The Sandridge Agency in Holly Hill was purchased on November 1, 2015, and the book of business merged into the Goose Creek Office.
On October 1 of 2015, Rawlins Lowndes assumed the position of CFO. At the same time, Sarah L. H. Lowndes, daughter of Henry Lowndes, Jr. joined the agency as HRO, relieving Lee Besse who retired on March 31, 2016. Sarah also assumed the role of secretary for the board of directors.
On February 1, 2017, Henry Lowndes stepped aside as CEO to make way for the “next generation” to run the business. Bill Silcox assumed the role as CEO while Henry remains active in the agency in a semi-retirement stage. Henry is the special projects officer for the agency.
Success is giving back.
For the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, C. T. Lowndes & Company was the title sponsor of the Sertoma High School Football Classic. This event has been staged by the Sertoma Club of Charleston since 1970 and is the kick-off to the local high school football season.
24 high school teams participate in the Classic and, in 2015, four 8-man high school teams were invited as well as six powder puff teams from a league sponsor by the North Charleston Police Department. As part of the Classic, the agency started the Cheerleader Football Throw competition with cash prizes to the winners. All proceeds raised by Sertoma are donated to local charities helping less fortunate kids.
Further development toward modern times.
In September 2018, C. T. Lowndes & Company purchased the excess and surplus lines book of business from the Holly Hill Agency. This book was merged into the Goose Creek and Moncks Corner offices.
Billy Silcox stepped down as CPO in early 2019. Elliott Phillips assumed the CPO position. The agency is now in the very capable hands of the next generation.
In light of a global pandemic.
The 2020 pandemic, Covid-19, caused the agency staff to be out of the office working from home for much of the year, beginning in March 2020. Fortunately, the agency had the technology and equipment on hand to allow this transition to happen rather seamlessly and the agency operations were only slightly affected.
Face-to-face interaction with clients was impossible, but the pandemic affected everyone, and our clients were very understanding. Even with all the disruptions, the agency grew in size by about 2%, up to a premium volume of almost $69,000,000. In September, the agency bought the small Riggar Agency in Summerville.
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