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If Bank of Cape Fear is the oldest bank in the area, what information is available on the Guardian Security and Trust in Wilmington? Is it older?

Ben Steelman

The Bank of Cape Fear wasn’t just the first bank in the Lower Cape Fear, but the first in North Carolina — chartered by the General Assembly in 1804. (According to banking historian T. Harry Gatton, North Carolina was the last of the 13 original states to charter any banks.) It folded after the Civil War, although investors in its Salem branch managed to hold onto their assets and eventually reorganize as the Wachovia National Bank, the corporate ancestor of the Wachovia Corp.

The Guardian Security Trust & Deposit Co. came along considerably later — organized on March 23, 1900, to be precise. It can claim, however, to be the region’s first savings bank and the first bank in Wilmington “to own its own home,” according to press accounts of the day.

The bank was organized by a group of prominent Wilmingtonians; Walker Taylor was one of the key early investors, and the first board of directors included Isaac Bear, J.H. Chadbourn Jr., M.J. Corbett and E.C. Holt. Henry C. McQueen (who was also an officer of Wilmington’s Murchison National Bank) was first president, John S. Armstrong, the first vice president, and Fred W. Dick, the first cashier. Initial capital was $30,000, with 70 shareholders.

Guardian Security Trust opened for business on April 1, 1900 (nobody thought it was funny),  in the former home of Murchison National Bank at 119 N. Front St., “just south of the Orton” (Hotel). Like many financial institutions of the period, it not only stayed open on Saturdays as well as weekdays,  but also opened its doors from 7 to 9 on Saturday nights, in case any customers could not reach it at other times. It functioned as a savings bank, leaving commercial work to other banks and focusing on savings deposits and trusts.

After less than a year in business, in fact, directors voted to change its name to Peoples Savings Bank. By this time, deposits exceeded $200,000.

By 1903, deposits were up to $425,000, and the bank could move into larger quarters at 115 N. Front St., advertising such amenities as “a separate department for ladies” and a “writing room.” By 1911, with $1.1 million in deposits, People’s Savings was in even more prestigious quarters, in a beautiful, Mansard-roofed building at the northwest corner of Front and Princess streets. (This was the former home of Bank of New Hanover; a picture of it appears in Beverly Tetterton’s “Wilmington: Lost But Not Forgotten.”) A barber shop was opened in the basement, and apartments were leased in the upper floors. In 1915, Fred W. Dick was promoted to president, with H.C. McQueen becoming chairman of the board.

The bank survived the Depression, changing its name in 1930 to “Peoples Savings Bank & Trust,” with the slogan “Home of Safe, Conservative Banking.” By the early 1950s, in addition to the home office at 101 N. Front St, Wilmington [Map this], it also operated a branch at 1616 Dawson St., Wilmington [Map this]. It remained in business through 1955.

The old Peoples Savings building was demolished and was replaced in 1959 by the Wachovia Bank building. Wachovia remained there until 2003, and the new, modernist structure was demolished in 2008 to make way for The View on Water Street, a condominium complex currently under construction. The branch site at 1616 Dawson St., Wilmington [Map this], was a Wachovia Bank branch for many years.

Note: This Peoples Savings Bank is not the same as the Peoples Savings Bank Inc. SSB, formerly headquartered at 315 Market St., Wilmington [Map this]. Founded in the 1920s as Peoples Building and Loan Association and later renamed Peoples Savings and Loan (and still later, Peoples Savings Bank), this institution merged in 1996 with First Citizens BancShares.

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One Response to “ If Bank of Cape Fear is the oldest bank in the area, what information is available on the Guardian Security and Trust in Wilmington? Is it older?”

  1. On January 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm cp cline wrote:

    That was a great answer. Thanks, very thorough.

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