No doubt, many have seen the new WSTA big red Wells Fargo bus around town. That signals the end of the 132 year era of Wachovia Bank. So let’s have a look at the history of banking in Winston-Salem.
Some historians say that in the early days of America a settlement needed three things to become a real town: a blacksmith, a church and a bank. Winston-Salem had the blacksmith and the church right from the start in the 1750s. But as with most settlements, the bank would have to wait.
For well over a half a century, financial transactions, especially lending, were a private matter between individuals. The result can be seen in the court records which are peppered with lawsuits over who owes whom.
It wasn’t until December, 1804, 23 years after the end of the American Revolution, that banks were chartered in North Carolina. The first was the Bank of Cape Fear, chartered in Wilmington on December 17, 1804, followed quickly by the Bank of New Bern.
It would be eleven more years until banking came to the backwoods, when three individuals were appointed as agents of the Bank of Cape Fear in Salem. In July of 1815, Charles F. Bagge became the cashier, and Emanuel Schober and John Christian Blum were named as agents.
This 1866 view of Main Street in Salem shows the Salem Hotel at left, and next to it, the Blum house, which was the home of the Salem branch of the Cape Fear Bank.
After an incident in 1828 in which some money was burned up, Dr. Friedrich Heinrich Schumann became the local cashier, serving through 1847. That year he was succeeded by Israel George Lash, who served until 1866, when the Cape Fear Bank, like almost all southern banks encumbered by leftover Confederate currency, collapsed.
But Lash was a resilient man. That same year he established the First National Bank of Salem. It would serve as the only local bank until just a few years before his death in 1879, when his nephew, William A. Lemly, would move the bank to Winston and change its name to Wachovia National Bank.
William A. Lemly, at left, and Wachovia National Bank, ca 1895, at the corner of Third and Main Streets in Winston, now the site of the old Wachovia Bank & Trust Building.
But by then, Winston had its own financial institution, the First National Bank of Winston. That bank had been founded in 1876 by Wyatt Bowman, James A. Gray, Edward Belo and others, with an initial capitalization of $100,000. It would remain the premier local bank for many years, erecting in 1895 the largest commercial building in the city. It would soon merge with Lemly’s Wachovia Bank.
The 1st National Bank Building (1895) at left, on Liberty Street at Third. Demolished in the 1980s and since then the site of one of our ugliest downtown parking lots. At right is the Phoenix Hotel and in right foreground, the original courthouse square. On the second floor of the 1st National Bank building were the law offices of Buxton & Watson. Cyrus Watson was the first Winston resident to run for governor. The Twin City Club was located in the right side of the third floor. Next to it were apartments, one of which was occupied by R.J. Reynolds just before he moved to his grand house on West Fifth Street, now the site of the Central Library.
But in the meantime, another bank had opened in Winston in1893. Founded by the Fries brothers of Salem, the Wachovia Loan & Trust company would almost overnight become the largest bank in the community. The two Wachovias would compete fiercely over the next fifteen years, but by 1909, the Wachovia Loan & Trust held deposits of nearly $4.9 million, while Wachovia National Bank was lagging well behind with deposits of only $863,000.
The 1895 photo at left shows the Wachovia Loan & Trust Company on Main Street near Third. In the background is the Gray Block, which housed the Wachovia National Bank, facing on the courthouse square. Left to right are brothers Francis H. Fries, Henry E. Fries and John William Fries.
That year, the two agreed to merge, to become the Wachovia Bank & Trust Company. They erected Winston’s first “skyscraper”, a seven story building, on the site of the original Wachovia National Bank at Main and Third Streets.
The Wachovia Bank & Trust building at Main and Third Streets was originally seven stories, designed by one of the South’s most famous architects, Franklin Pierce Milburn. In 1914, pharmacist Edward O’Hanlon built a slightly taller building at the corner of Fourth and Liberty Streets. That may have irritated the Wachovians, because they then added an eighth story to their building to reclaim the bragging rights to having the tallest building in what had, by then, become the city of Winston-Salem. This illustration is an architect’s drawing of the expanded bank building. Both the O’Hanlon and Wachovia buildings are still standing. At one point, Winston-Salem had eight buildings designed by Milburn. The old bank building and the Brickenstein house on the Old Salem bypass are the only ones left.
By 1918, the Wachovia Bank & Trust Company had become one of the South’s premier banks, boasting assets of $18 million, plus another $7.5 million managed by their trust department. The board of directors included a who’s who of local citizens: the Fries brothers, W.T. Brown, H.G. Chatham, L.H. Clement, E.L. Gaither, A.H. Galloway, Jno. L. Gilmer, Eugene E. Gray, James A. Gray, P. Huber Hanes, A.J. Hemphill, T.S. Morrison, William N. Nissen, J.K. Norfleet, C.D. Ogburn, E.W. Ohanlon, H.A. Pfohl, R.J. Reynolds, William Neal Reynolds, Wescott Roberson, W.C. Ruffin, H.F. Shaffner and W.T. Vogler.
Weekly newspapers: The People’s Press (Salem), The Western Sentinel and the Union Republican (Winston)
Daily newspapers: The Winston-Salem Journal and the Twin City Sentinel
Booklets: Published by the local Chamber of Commerce, 1888 and 1918, and by the Norfolk & Western Railroad, 1899.
Website: North Carolina Business History A work in progress loaded with information about a wide variety of businesses in the Tar Heel State.
Images: from Digitalforsyth.org and others scanned from North Carolina Biographical History, a series of books published beginning in 1905 and other publications housed in the North Carolina Room at the Central Branch of the Forsyth County Public Library.