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Columbus Bank & Trust: A Trust to Keep (Part 2)

SOURCE: A Trust to Keep: The One Hundred Year History of Columbus Bank and Trust Company, Sara Crawford and Janis Eberhardt, editors. 1988.


1920, the last year of Gunby Jordan's presidency of the two banks, was a time of growth and change for the country, for Columbus, and for Columbus Savings and Third National. The 1920 US Census placed the population at 106,021,537, and for the first time, the urban population exceeded the rural. Illiteracy had dropped substantially. Woodrow Wilson was followed in office by Warren G. Harding in an election participated in by women for the first time and reported on radio – also for the first time. In Columbus, the 1920 population stood at 31,125; the economy seemed healthy; the town continued expanding. New construction projects included the 13th Street Viaduct, which was a half-million-dollar project, and Columbus High School. William Clark Bradley became president of both Third National and Columbus Savings on January 11, 1921, on the strong recommendation of Gunby Jordan. Mr. Bradley was a charter member of the bank from its inception and had served as vice president of the two banks since the office's creation by the bank board. Known as a remarkable business leader, W. C. Bradley was the right man to guide the banks safely through the Great Depression and World War II.

Gunby Jordan and W. C. Bradley were usually in agreement on decisions affecting their banking interests and in other areas, too, particularly in the belief that Columbus' industrial future depended upon its greatest natural resource, the Chattahoochee River, and its enormous potential for hydroelectric power. The two businessmen, with other local leaders, were also instrumental in the early construction of dams to harness the water's energy leading to the organization of Columbus Power Company which in time became a part of Georgia Power. One of Bradley’s first decisions convinced Third National, now completely renovated and a model of "modern banking efficiency," to share the rent of its 12th and Broad banking house with Columbus Savings Bank and Trust on a sub-lease agreement. After a year as joint tenants, the banks purchased the property, approving the proposal of President Bradley. The agreed upon price was $300,000 ($200,000 to be paid by Third National and $100,000 by Columbus Savings Bank and Trust).

The 1920s proved prosperous years for the sister banks providing their separate, but equally valuable, services to the community. Third National's focus, as a commercial bank, concentrated on lending money to farmers and businesses. It showed a healthy 8½ percent earnings increase in 1921, a year of general depression in the United States and was considered a model of efficient banking by the community. A notable investment undertaken by Mr. Bradley for Third National involved the purchase, in September of 1924, of 1,009 shares of preferred stock of the Coca-Cola Company, an acquisition which proved most advantageous for Columbus Bank & Trust's future. At the time of this purchase, Mr. Bradley was Chairman of the Board of the Coca-Cola Company. W. C. Bradley believed in the drink and invested heavily in it. He remained Chairman of the Board from 1919 until 1939. By 1926, Third National’s resources approached $4,000,000. Also at this time, Mr. Bradley proposed changing the name of Columbus Savings Bank and Trust to Columbus Bank and Trust. The proposal passed the proper channels, and the bank assumed the name in 1927.

On May 21, 1930, stockholders voted to combine Third National with Columbus Bank and Trust. The merger of the two banks was easily completed, understandably, as they were largely owned by the same stockholders and shared many of the same officers and directors. The merger stated: "It is believed that combining the resources of the two banks into one institution will enable the combined bank to better serve its customers and the business interests of the community" and that "business can be more efficiently and economically handled by one institution." The law requiring separate institutions for providing commercial and savings services had necessitated the side-by-side development of the two banks by virtually the same leaders for over four decades; now, in response to the Federal Reserve Act, the two would become one. As the two Columbus banks joined forces, chaos hit the financial world. On October 29, 1929, the stock market crash resulted in a one-day record loss of thirty-eight points on the Dow. The day stands in history as "Black Tuesday." Panic spread as fortunes were wiped out, banks folded, and unemployment soared. President Hoover aided banks with emergency loans, but many were still forced to close their doors. In this climate of financial ruin, Third National and Columbus Bank and Trust completed their merger on May 31, 1930. The first meeting of the new Board of Directors for the Columbus Bank and Trust Company took place a month later. The first stockholders' meeting on January 21, 1931, showed an increase in assets at a time when the nation's economic health continued to deteriorate. 2,294 banks failed that year, twice the number of 1930. Columbus Bank and Trust survived the crash and the depression, but the next three or four years were trying ones. Columbus industry, along with most of the industry of the country, stood practically at a standstill; unemployment increased at a staggering rate; money became very scarce. The bank survived this trying period, and not one single employee lost his job. The organization felt very fortunate for the leadership W. C. Bradley provided in the crisis.

It was also during this time of crisis that the first president, George Gunby Jordan (above), died on May 9, 1930, at the age of eighty-four at his home, Green Island Ranch. A tribute by the directors of Columbus Bank and Trust ascribed the phenomenal success of the two banks to his "vision, integrity, and business sagacity!" He was truly a man of unusual energy and intellect. "Wherever he touched the affairs of men, he was a leader." Throughout 1931, the suffering continued for the American people. At least 9,000,000 were unemployed. The situation grew worse in industrial areas where often one out of three workers remained idle. The movement from the farm to the city was reversed for the first time. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President on November 8, 1932, by 57.4 percent of the popular vote. In a historic move, he declared a nationwide bank holiday from March 6 - March 9, 1933, closing virtually every financial institution in the country. No one knew how long banks would be under orders to keep their doors locked, and Mr. Bradley worked hard to gain permission for the bank to reopen. The bank was in solid financial condition and its president could see no reason for it to remain closed. He tried repeatedly, but in vain, to reopen Columbus Bank and Trust Company.

All local banks did gain permission for an alternative relief for their customers. Bank members of the Columbus Clearing House met and voted to issue scrip for primarily mill workers during the emergency. Each bank pledged collateral to a central fund and signed for its share of the paper money which was printed by Southern Printing Company under the watchful eyes of two guards, one of whom was Parley Davis of Columbus Bank and Trust. The scrip, resembling currency in size and shape, was provided in denominations of one, five, ten, and twenty dollars, each bill being signed by a participating bank officer. Just preparing the emergency money presented a tremendous undertaking, but local banks were thus able to reopen, using the scrip in lieu of cash. The banks distributed scrip to the mills to pay their employees; and when the banks reopened, it returned through regular circulation. Banks retained, counted, and recorded the scrip. Again, under guard supervision, the scrip, all but approximately $100.00 which remained in public hands, was burned at Merchants and Mechanics Bank. Interestingly, no Columbus banks failed because of the panic. By March 12, 1933, banks began to reopen and within two weeks seventy-five percent of all the nation's banks were operating. In the following years, confidence recovered gradually as the U.S. rebuilt its economic base, and Columbus Bank & Trust made money. Resources climbed steadily with both loans and deposits growing substantially.

The 14th Street Branch of Columbus Bank & Trust operated from this corner for many years.

The next interruption to normal banking business came with World War II in 1940. The depression and its memory were fading into the past and business was healthy. The war brought full capacity operation to manufacturing, creating a huge demand for labor, and improving the salary scale proportionately. At home, Fort Benning bulged with activity training and equipping young servicemen for war. Columbus experienced a cash flow it had never known; therefore, local banking had a unique problem-a surplus of cash. The conservatism of Mr. Bradley kept him from investing in bonds. Loans were running off because no one was borrowing money; thus, Columbus Bank and Trust reduced interest on savings to one percent. Despite its economic problems, Columbus Bank and Trust continued its wide charitable contributions such as support of the Community Chest and the granting of favorable loans to deserving civic projects. In September 1942, Columbus Bank and Trust accepted a W. C. Bradley Company offer to purchase 2,150 shares of Eagle and Phenix Mill preferred stock at $145 per share. The Executive Committee also authorized the pledge of $50,000 in government bonds to secure a like amount increase in control of Georgia Railway deposits.

Columbus Bank and Trust was growing rapidly by this time. By October 1, 1943, resources were $21,009,825.14. The last financial statement during W. C. Bradley's presidency on July 18, 1947, detailed the bank's amazing growth during his seventeen-year direction as president. The minutes of that July 18th meeting were never signed by Mr. Bradley because of his last illness. He died on July 26, 1947, at the age of eighty-four. The tribute paid him by directors read, in part, "On the 26th day of July 1947, this Board sustained an irreparable loss in the death of their president and beloved friend, William Clark Bradley!" It continued: "wise planning, cool judgment, integrity, and square dealing marked his every endeavor." The death of Mr. Bradley brought about important changes in the organization of Columbus Bank and Trust which he had served for fifty-nine years. The new pattern of command that emerged on August 1, 1947, raised J. J. Pease from executive vice-president to the president's chair and D. Abbott Turner, Mr. Bradley's son-in-law, to the newly created position of Chairman of the Board. With the death of Gunby Jordan and then the death of W. C. Bradley seventeen years later, Columbus Bank and Trust had passed the first remarkable period of its existence. These fifty-nine years were dominated by two men who guided its formation and growth.

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