Bank of Norcross
Have you ever wondered about the history of the solid-looking brick building at the corner of Jones and South Peachtree Streets, in the center of downtown Norcross?
Well, for many years it was the home of the Bank of Norcross, and here is its story.
The bank was founded by a group of local citizens, who bought shares of stock at $100.00 each. The bank received a charter from the state on December 12, 1903, and opened its doors for business on February 1, 1904. See the article below from a “Norcross News” column in a Lawrenceville newspaper dated that February.
For the first 20+ years its offices were several doors down South Peachtree from the corner of Jones and South Peachtree, in the building currently occupied by Norcross Hair Salon. There was at least one break in attempted at that initial bank location – see the newspaper article below from January 1916:
At least one vestige of the bank remains there – this small country bank did not have a traditional vault for storage of valuables at that point, but rather a heavily-reinforced closet, and that closet is still in place and is used today by the current occupants for storage.
Founders of the bank included S. T. McElroy, the owner of what is now known as the Flint Hill property and local businesses; A. A. Johnson, who founded Johnson’s Store, open on Jones Street for over 100 years; Homer Jones, Norcross railroad conductor and farmer; and Dr. O. O. Simpson, local physician who later served as Senator in the state legislature. The bank initially incorporated with a capital of $25,000.00, from the sale of 250 shares worth $100.00 each. McElroy was the first president of the bank and served for a year; by ten years after its founding Johnson had taken on that office, as is shown on the letterhead below, part of a 1914 letter.
The bank was required to report on its financial condition regularly, and by the time it did so in 1916, it had increased it capitalization to $30,000.00, as is shown by the summary below, which was printed in the Gwinnett Journal, the newspaper in Lawrenceville at the time.
But by 1920 economic conditions in rural Georgia were declining – cotton production fell significantly in that period, due to the end of World War I and the arrival of droughts and the boll weevil infestation. With these setbacks the rural Georgia economy faltered. Georgia reorganized its banking laws in 1919, and T. R. Bennett, the banking commissioner appointed to oversee banks in the state, used his powers to close banks as they got into financial trouble. This happened to the Bank of Norcross in the summer of 1920. But, after reorganization and recapitalization, the bank was allowed to reopen the following summer, with much the same owners, including S. T. McElroy serving again as president.
The bank did well enough in the ensuing decade that it was able to move to newly-constructed quarters on the corner of its block in 1930, and that building is still there for us to admire today. The article below, appearing in July 1929 in a local newspaper, detailed the plans for the new building:
Solomon Maloney, who grew up in Norcross, recalled in an interview many years later that his father was a supplier of sand to the construction crew doing the masonry and bricklaying work on the new building, and that his dad used a specialized wagon for transporting the sand from the swamp near where they lived to downtown Norcross. The specialization? The slats in the cargo area of the wagon could be pulled out from the end, allowing the sand to be deposited next to the building site, without any shoveling involved.
Longtime local residents recall the Bank of Norcross as a friendly, “hometown” banking establishment, staffed by local people.
Clifford Jones, who grew up in Norcross, had become president of the bank after his retirement from a long career in the United States Army in 1943. For some years his desk was right next to the front door, where he could greet customers and keep a close eye on banking activities.
Joseph Sylvester Nesbit, born in Norcross into a pioneer Gwinnett family, started working for the bank in 1926, and was still there, as Executive Vice President and Cashier, at the time that C&S took over in the 1960s (see below). He lived for many years in a home on Thrasher Street. A check from about the time that Mr. Nesbit joined the bank, written by his uncle Frank B. Nesbit to his cousin Dr. Frank C. Nesbit, is shown below.
Lottie Burnett Ewing had moved to Norcross as a child, and began working at the bank when she was 17, around 1917. She later worked for other banks, including the Federal Reserve, and then came back to Norcross to the local bank again, prior to her retirement in 1960.
Her son-in-law Billy Weathers recalls that while in high school his future mother-in-law would call upon him to help around the bank. At the start he was doing simple tasks – such as helping roll coins after the day’s deposits were in – but she gradually called upon him for more responsible tasks. “Billy” she sometimes said, “can you go down to Fulton Federal and pick up a deposit for us?” He jumped into his old Chevrolet car and rode down to Brookhaven, received several bags of cash there, stuck them into the trunk of the car, and took off again for Gwinnett County. When he got to Norcross he backed up to the front entrance of the bank and popped the trunk to unload the deposits. He remembers that if Police Chief Grady Simpson were around when the shipment arrived the policeman might help with the unloading, though generally there was not a big law enforcement presence in evidence when Billy delivered his cash shipments.
Long-time Norcross resident Howard Green worked at the bank from 1947 – 1955, after he finished high school, starting his career alongside President Jones, Mr. Nesbit and Mrs. Ewing. He remembers it as a good job where he learned a lot about accounting. In those days the bank’s ledgers were updated at the end of each day on a Burroughs bookkeeping machine, and the day’s deposits were counted after the close of business on a large wooden table in the back, next to the safety deposit boxes. (This counting table is still in Norcross today, in the meeting room of the Norcross Woman’s Club building). The photo below shows the bank building from this era.
The bank’s assets grew over the years, and state banking laws were liberalized in the 1960s, and as a result the bank became a takeover target for larger institutions. Clifford Jones, son of founder Homer Jones and president of the bank at the time, convinced shareholders to resist at least one extended attempt at a buyout. But by 1967 the owners decided to become affiliated with the C&S Bank (Citizens and Southern), the largest bank in Georgia, and sold a 5% interest to C&S, with the understanding that the Bank of Norcross would appoint a board of directors that would be friendly to C&S. Over the next several years the Norcross location became a C&S branch, sprouting their familiar (in those days) green C&S sign on the most prominent downtown corner.
After C&S took over things changed somewhat, including one innovation that several people remember as an update of a long Norcross tradition. Col. Clifford Jones Jr. (son of the bank president mentioned above) described it this way:
After it merged with C&S, a daily event in town was the arrival of the C&S helicopter which on hover picked up the day’s receipts which were hoisted on a tall poll mounted on the bank building. Almost as exciting as the event from my youth when the daily incoming mail bag was thrown from a speeding rail mail car onto the station landing just before its extended arm whipped the outgoing mail bag from a stand just north of the Jones street crossing. This was in the days of steam which enhanced the up-close excitement of the event.
After several years of operations in downtown Norcross C&S closed the branch, concentrating local operations in a location on Jimmy Carter Blvd. The clock in front of the building was given to the city at this time as a thank you for years of support for the downtown location.