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Bank of Cape Fear, Wilmington, NC

The first two banks in North Carolina, the Bank of Newbern (later New Bern) and the Bank of Cape Fear, were chartered in December, 1804. The Bank of Cape Fear was very aggressive in establishing branches, the first being Fayetteville, Raleigh and Salisbury (1807), followed shortly by Hillsborough and Salem (1815).


John Christian Blum

In July, 1815, the Bank of Cape Fear appointed three agents, Charles F. Bagge (cashier), Emmanuel Schober and John C. Blum, to run their Salem branch. In 1828, they were superseded by Friedrich Heinrich Schuman, agent and cashier, who served until 1847, when Israel George Lash took the reigns.


Blum house, printery & bank

In the early years, the Salem branch operated out of Blum’s house. When Schuman took over, he moved the operation to his office on Church Street, but kept the cash and other assets in the vault at the Wachovia Land Office. During this whole time, the bank was an agency of the main bank in Wilmington.


Independent Salem branch at Main and Bank Streets…photo taken 1966 during renovation for art gallery that would eventually become SECCA

In 1847, when Israel Lash took over, Salem became an independent branch and a new building was erected at the corner of Main and Bank Streets. William A. Lemly was the cashier. The Bank of Cape Fear collapsed when Confederate money became valueless.


Forget the $3 bill jokes…how about $4…there were “coin” notes for amounts such as 12 1/2¢ as well…bank notes were a lot like checks, not valid without the agent’s signature and date…this image was so faded that it took a bit of Photoshopping to discover that the note was issued in Salem on July 1, 1859, signed by Israel Lash

At that point, Lash founded the First National Bank of Salem with $100,000 authorized capital. Lemly continued as cashier in the old Cape Fear bank building. Upon Lash’s death in 1878, the stockholders sold the good will and assets of 1st National Bank of Salem to the newly formed Wachovia National Bank in Winston.


1st National Bank of Salem bill


Wyatt Fletcher Bowman, 1st preseident of Wachovia National Bank

Wachovia National Bank was organized in March, 1879 and opened at 232 North Main Street on June 16, 1879, with an authorized capital of $100,000. The officers were Wyatt F. Bowman, president; Edward Belo, vice-president; Willaim A. Lemly, cashier; and James A. Gray, assistant cashier. When Bowman died in 1882, Lemly became president, with Gray moving up to cashier. Lemly retired in 1906 and Gray became the new president.


Edward Belo, left, with two of his sons, spring, 1861


William A. Lemly


James A. Gray

When the commissioners of the newly formed Forsyth County auctioned off lots in what would become the town of Winston on May 12, 1849, Robert Gray bought the first lot, at the corner of Third and Main Streets, where he built a small frame store. Five years later, he tore down the wooden building and built a three story brick building, which over the next three decades would be occupied, first, by his general merchandise store, then W.W. Norfleet’s grocery, then S.E.  Allen’s hardware store. At the time of construction, the population of the town of Winston was about 75.


A $20 bill issued by Wachovia, 1882. Collectors call these brown backs… there are only four known to exist


Teller George Brooks, James A. Gray and R.J. Reynolds, ca 1888

In 1888, the building was completely renovated and modernized to become the new home of the Wachovia National Bank and Ashcraft & Owens drugstore. Over the next two decades, the upper floors would be used by Dr. Robert F. Gray, Dr. H.V. Horton, Dr. R.D. Jewett, Dr. H.H. Kapp, Hon Spencer Blackburn, the Reuben Rink (Jules Korner)Decorating Co. and others.


The new building had a room where ladies could do their banking away from the presence of uncouth men…some banks had separate entrances and even female tellers


Bank interior, ca 1888. At center in the cage is William A. Lemly. Flanking him to the left is teller George H. Brooks, while on the other side is bookkeeper A.H. Galloway, and at far right is James A. Gray. At the moment the customer is unidentified, but he looks familiar.

By 1909, the bank needed more space and a new image, so contracted with the architectural firm of Milburn & Heister of Washington, D.C. to design a seven story steel framed skyscraper on that site. Franklin Pierce Milburn, who designed most of the Southern Railway stations and many courthouses in the region, was a familiar face in the Twin City, having designed six other local buildings, including Lampson Hall at the Slater Academy (now WSSU), the second Winston-Salem railway depot and the grand second Forsyth County courthouse.


Milburn submitted a design, which was accepted by the directors, and Wachovia began preparations. On Monday, January 24, 1910, the bank moved temporarily back into its old quarters at 232 North Main. Demolition of the old 1854 building began the same day. But the plan was about to change.


Wachovia Loan & Trust, 220 North Main Street, 1895. The tree is in front of Mrs. F. J. Hardy’s boarding house…beyond that is the original site of the Wachovia National Bank

The Wachovia Loan & Trust company was organized in 1893 with $200,000 in authorized capital, which was increased to $600,000 ten years later. By then, it was the largest financial institution in North Carolina and had branches in Asheville, High Point, Salisbury and Spencer. It was located at 220 North Main Street, just one lot down from the original Wachovia National Bank.



Francis H. Fries


Henry F. Shaffner


The Wachovia Loan & Trust originally opened in a former Chinese laundry, left, but soon occupied its own building at 22 North Main

The founding president was Colonel Francis H. Fries, who was also involved, with his brothers, in varied other interests, including the Fries Power & Manufacturing Company. Henry F. Shaffner was secretary and treasurer. A.B. Daingerfield managed the insurance division and Meade H. Willis handled the bond division.


Interior of the Wachovia Loan & Trust building…note the spittoons


But on February 3, 1910, local citizens awoke to a stunning headline in the local papers. The Wachovia Loan & Trust Company and the Wachovia National Bank had agreed to merge, becoming the Wachovia Bank & Trust Company. The official consolidation would not take place until the first of 1911, but the new company, which would be the largest in the southeast, would need more space. So architect Milburn was recalled and an expanded space was designed. The contract was let to the Central Carolina Construction Company of Greensboro for $150,000. Construction began in May.


The merger became official on Tuesday, Jan 3, 1911. Since Wachovia National Bank had actually built the new skyscraper, a bit of legal formality was required. The seven story steel framed edifice was handed over to the new Wachovia Bank & Trust Company for the sum of $1.


The new seven story Wachovia Bank & Trust Building, ca 1911. The projection above the roofline at right was the top of the twin elevator shaft

 At the time of the merger, Wachovia Loan & Trust had assets about six times the size of Wachovia National Bank. The beginning capital of the new firm was $1.25 million, with a surplus of $300,000, and deposits totaling almost $6 million. The founding officers would be Col. F.H. Fries from WL&T, president; James A. Gray, from WNB, vice-president; Henry F. Shaffner, from WL&T, treasurer; James A. Gray, Jr., from WNB, secretary & assistant treasurer.


At left, the brightly lit SPUCO sign…Southern Public Utilities Company, which would become Duke Power. Beyond on Main Street is the Jacobs Block, which was the first home of the official Winston-Salem Post Office, next to the second Zinzendorf Hotel, and beyond that, the Gilmer Brothers Department Store

The new bank moved into its new building a few weeks later. It would reign as the Twin City’s tallest building for four years, until Edward W. O’Hanlon put up his long promised drugstore tower across the square at Fourth and Liberty. At eight stories, it topped the Wachovia building by about eighteen feet.

But Wachovia was growing at a fantastic rate. By 1917 they needed a lot more space. So architect Milburn was recalled for a second time. His third design added one bay to the west, four bays to the south and an eighth story, thus eclipsing the O’Hanlon building by a few feet and nearly doubling the square footage of the original building. But Wachovia’s fame was fleeting. In 1922, the Robert E. Lee Hotel claimed the honor of Winston-Salem’s tallest building. A couple of years later, the Nissen Building, on West Fourth Street, became the tallest building in the southeast, followed by the Reynolds Building in 1929, which would hold that honor for some years to come.


In 1915, George Polly, who billed himself as the “Human Fly”, attempted to climb the O’Hanlon Building and failed. In 1918, and again in 1919, Bill Strother, the “Human Spider”, climbed the same building. As far as we know, no one ever attempted the Wachovia Bank & Trust building.

The story of the “Human Spider” is here:


But the original Wachovia Bank & Trust building did eventually face a different challenge. After the second Wachovia building was completed in 1965, the old building was acquired by the Forsyth County government. In the mid-1970s, the county announced that the building would be demolished to make way for a new, high rise county office building. Local history buffs objected. The county responded by claiming that a new building would cost less than renovating the old building. The history buffs responded by proving that that was not true. For once, truth triumphed over fiction, so the original Wachovia Bank & Trust building is still very much a part of our community.

The story of our first skyscraper in three maps: