Recently, while rambling through boxes in my garage attic searching for memorabilia for my upcoming 50th high school class reunion, I happened upon a box, whose contents took me back….way back…to before I was even born.  The box contained cancelled checks which belonged to my parents and my father’s parents, dating back to the early 30’s forward, which were all drawn on the National Bank of Monroe.

          Looking through these stacks of “historic clutter”, I was able to discern a lot about what Monroe was like way back when and especially what things cost, also giving me a glimpse of the business and personal life of the city.

          Seeing these old checks I was reminded of the time when Monroe had two banks to serve the community, the forerunner of the National Bank, The Bank of Monroe, and later on The Farmer’s Bank.  Remembering my grandfather was one of the bank’s early customers and all of our family banked with the National Bank, I decided to delve into the history of this bank whose service to Monroe and Walton County spanned well over one hundred years.

          Seventy two years after the founding of Monroe, in 1890, the first state bank charter for a Walton County bank was granted December 30, 1890, to the Bank of Monroe.

          The charter granted by the Georgia General Assembly authorized the bank to begin business as soon as paid-up capital of $50,000 was secured.  On April 2, 1891, The Bank of Monroe officially opened its doors for business in an incomplete building.  Until the building was finished, banking was carried on in a second story room next door.

          Prior to this time, there had been several private banking concerns operating but none had the facility to receive deposits, issue exchange or handle checking and savings accounts.

          The original board of directors for the new bank were George C. Selman, Billington Sanders Walker, Robert J. Lowery of Atlanta, John Robert Radford, William Hartwell Nunnally, Coleman Taylor Mobley and Samuel Houston Brodnax.  Mr. Selman was the first president and Mr. Radford the first cashier.  Over the years many of Monroe’s distinguished citizens served as directors, including but not limited to: Col. George M. Napier, Weyman P. Bell, Robert L. Cox, Emmett M. Williams, J. Roy Nunnally, Gov. Clifford Walker, Paul N. Launius, Harry B. Launius, Lewis C. Radford, George R. Cox, J. Preston Adams, Garland Peters, Randolph W. Camp, William L. Preston, John C. Eckles, Lewis C. Radford, Jr., Mary W. Walker, C. Thomas Ruark, Preston Breedlove, Knox Bell, Neal Byrd, James H. Blanchard, Allan Neely and J. Keith Caudell.

          The bank was first located on East Spring Street on the location later occupied by Harry Brown’s Service Station.  In 1908 the bank moved to its long-time location at the corner of Broad Street and Spring Street, leasing the building which was owned at the time by the George C. Selman estate.

          The building was purchased on January 1, 1929 with operations as a state bank continuing until March 5, 1934.  That day the bank was approved as a National Bank and became The National Bank of Monroe. Extensive remodeling was done in 1938 with a marble veneer exterior and modern fixtures and interiors inside.

          When the bank moved to its location in 1908, deposits had grown from $118,000 and assets to to$300,000.  The bank always kept pace with progress and at the time of another remodeling in 1941, deposits had grown to $600,000 and assets to $900,000.

On April 2, 1941, the National Bank of Monroe celebrated its 50th anniversary.  The event attracted statewide interest, marking not only a milestone for one of the state’s most progressive banks but the advancement and prosperity of Walton County.

With another remodeling in 1948, deposits were then at $2.5 million and assets at $2.8 million.  1960 saw the last remodeling of the building, incorporating the building next door as part of the facilities which doubled the size of the bank. At the end of 1960, deposits had increased to $5 million and total assets grew to $5.9 million.

                    Another historic milestone for the bank was on February 15, 1967 with the opening of its Woodfield Plaza Branch.  Prior to the ribbon cutting and opening of the doors, President Garland Radford said, “We look forward to the challenges along with continuing to serve the public as we predict another good year.”

In 1968 officers of the bank were: Chairman Adams, Garland Radford, president and trust officer; D. H. Ford, vice-president and assistant trust officer; Mary W. Walker, assistant vice-president and assistant trust officer; Charles T. Ruark, assistant vice-president; Alvin Ruark, assistant cashier. Directors of the bank were: J. P. Adams, Jack D. Eckles, Dennis H. Ford, Garland Peters, William L. Preston, Garland Radford, Rowland A. Radford, D. Coleman Wright and L. C. McGarity.

The National Bank of Monroe continued to progress forward bringing attention once again to Monroe on January 1, 1974 when executive vice-president and trust officer Mary W. Walker was named president of the bank.  In assuming this position, Mrs. Walker became the only woman bank president in Georgia and one of only eight in the country. Upon her elevation to the presidency board chairman J. Preston Adams said with the proverbial twinkle in his eye, “I raised Mary Walker in this bank!”  Having become a legend in the bank, Adams had become a link between the old and the new as he felt this was what the bank needed in the face of rapid changes in the banking industry.

          Joseph Preston Adams, the bank’s longest serving employee, who joined the bank in 1908, first as janitor and office boy, then moving up to assistant cashier from 1910 to 1925, becoming cashier from 1925 to 1952, then stepping to the role of vice-president and in June of 1952, the board of directors named him president of the bank.  Upon taking the office of president, Adams, in his usual humorous manner quipped, “So you see, promotions were pretty slow, taking 44 years, but I never had any reason to complain.”  Adams continued on with the bank after stepping down as president to become chairman of the board. When he “officially” retired after 65 years with the bank he became chairman emeritus, still coming to work each day to his office to open mail and chat with old friends who came by to say hello and catch up on the news.  He died in August, 1986 at the age of 101.

Another column continuing the history of the bank’s progress well past its hundredth anniversary will appear shortly.