Wednesday, September 1, 2010



The Largest Country Bank in Georgia

During the score of years between 1895 and 1915, the city of Dublin, Georgia grew astronomically from a new railroad depot town to one of the largest economic centers in Georgia. In order to thrive, the progressive minded businessmen of the city divided into groups to organize banks to finance their personal business interests. At the zenith of Dublin's rise, Laurens County was home to more banks than any other county in Georgia, with the exception of Fulton and Chatam counties. At the top of the list in Laurens County was the First National Bank, which was billed as the largest country bank in Georgia. Regardless of the validity of that claim, the First National, and in particular its board of directors, played a profound role in the growth and development of Dublin during its golden age at the dawn of the 20th Century, the age of the Emerald City.

Five of Dublin's most influential and successful businessman formed the nucleus of the First National Bank. Frank G. Corker, a Waynesboro, Georgia native and University of Georgia law school graduate, was the first and only president of the bank. While Mayor of Dublin in the early 1890s, Corker led the final push to rid the city of illegal alcoholic beverage sales, which had stymied the growth of the town for nearly two decades and which had given Dublin the reputation of being a lawless town. While being an astute businessman and highly successful attorney, Corker realized the importance of education and lent his skills as President of the Board of Education. J.E. "Banjo" Smith, Jr., Dublin's leading businessman of the first decade of the 20th Century, was the first Vice-President. After Smith left to form his own bank, "The City National," the First National had two vice-presidents; William S. Phillips and William B. Rice. Phillips, , who came to Dublin from Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1892, established a large livery and livestock business and in doing so established a small fortune. William B. Rice, known as Captain Rice by the people of his day, was a leader manufacturer of turpentine and a saw mill operator. Rice, who hailed from South Carolina, operated out of the pine rich Adrian, Georgia area, before coming to Dublin in 1900. He too amassed a small fortune, partly from his skills as a planter. Corker, Phillips, and Rice chose Andrew W. Garrett, former exchange clerk of the Dublin Banking Company and cashier of the Laurens Banking Company, as the cashier. Garrett, the only member of the quartet, with previous banking experience, was a former timber dealer from Hancock County. He was respected by all for his financial ability, as well as his stalwart character and unimpeachable integrity.

The First National Bank was chartered in April 1902 with an initial capital stock of fifty thousand dollars. The principal stockholders were Frank G. Corker, William S. Phillips, and J.E. Smith, Jr., the latter being one of the top three movers and shakers in town. C.W. Brantley and A.B. Jones, directors of the Dublin Banking Co., and W.W. Bush, director of the Laurens Banking Company, were chosen to be directors, along with B.H. Rawls, W.S. Phillips, D.W. Gilbert, F.M. Daniel, S.M. Kellam, and John Wilkes. of 1st National, and W.W. Bush, director of Laurens Banking Company. T.O. Dupree, former bookkeeper for the Star Store, was the bookkeeper.

The First National's directors chose a prime location on the northeast corner of North Lawrence (Laurens) Street and West Jackson Street. The location was a part of the Farmers and Merchants Bank for nearly eight decades. The directors chose the highly respected Atlanta architectural firm of Bruce and Morgan, who also designed the Laurens County Courthouse, the Carnegie Library, and the First Baptist Church to design the one story brick building. I.C. Huffman was selected as the contractor. The outside of the building was made of stone and Virginia brick. The floor was built in the Roman masonic style and had to be laid by outside craftsmen. Delivery of the vault was late forcing a delay in completion of the building until September 10, 1902, one hundred years ago today.

In the early decades of the 20th Century, National Banks were allowed to circulate their own currency with their name imprinted on the bills. The First National Bank initially issued $12,500.00 in denominations of ten and twenty dollars, for which the bank purchased an equal amount in U.S. Bonds. Of the thousands of bills issued by the bank less than a dozen are known to remain. Most of the bills were exchanged when the Federal government down sized the size of currency in 1929 and made the "horse-blanket" bills worthless, except to collectors.

As Dublin grew, so did the First National Bank. The board of directors began to look around for a site to build a new bank. They were looking for a site which would be close to the leading commercial concerns. At that time, the commercial center of Dublin lay between Jackson Street on the north, Washington Street on the east, the railroads on the south and Monroe Street on the west. The center of the district was at the intersection of South Jefferson and Madison Street and that's the spot where Corker chose to build the new bank. Corker chose the old post office site on the southwest corner of the intersection. The directors wanted to erect an impressive structure, not just one which would draw customers from competing banks, but one which would also lure professionals and businessmen from the agri-businesses, which sprung up during the city's golden age.

The bank secured the services of A. Ten Eyck Brown, an Atlanta architect, who was one of the leading architects of the Southeast. While standing nearly one hundred feet tall, the building was narrow, only thirty one feet in width. The first story, twenty two feet in height, featured a mezzanine, which was over the main floor of the bank. As one entered the lobby, the president's office and the cashier's office were located on the right. Behind the main office of the bank in the center of the first floor were the vaults. The director's room was situated at the front of the mezzanine level. The clerical staff kept the records at the rear of the mezzanine.

Most impressive were the marble floors and walls of the main banking room. In the lobby was Dublin's first elevator, one which ascended six floors of the tallest building between Macon and Savannah. Ornamental plaster patterns and elaborate bronze teller screens, as impressive as any in a metropolitan bank, were Brown's finishing touches to Dublin's first skyscraper. The vaults, which included four hundred safety deposit boxes, were designed to be fireproof. As a matter of fact, the building, constructed primarily of concrete, stone, and steel, was itself virtually fireproof. Above the bank were sixty four office spaces, equipped with the modern conveniences of lighting and heating, but alas no air-conditioning, except in the form of electric fans and open windows, the latter of which was most effective on the upper floors, which were impervious to flying insects. Construction was completed in February of 1913.

The First National Bank, the last Dublin bank to survive the economic collapse following the coming of the boll weevil in 1917, closed its doors in 1928. A receiver was appointed to disburse the remaining assets between depositors. Mills Lane, President of the Citizens and Southern Bank of Savannah, came to the rescue of Dublin's remaining business interests by first establishing a private bank, and then in the early thirties, establishing the Citizens and Southern Bank of Dublin, which remained in the First National building until the early 1950s.


Designer of Dublin's Skyscraper

A. Ten Eyck Brown loved to design tall buildings. When the directors of the First National Bank began looking for an architect to design their new bank building, they knew they wanted someone who could design something more than just an efficient office building. They wanted someone who could design a building, which could make a statement about their bank and their community as well. The board didn't have to look beyond the capital city of Georgia. Considered a master architect of his era, Brown designed several of the most famous public buildings in the southeastern United States. What Brown gave the board was the most magnificent building ever constructed in Dublin and one which was known for nearly a century as the tallest building between Macon and Savannah.

Andrew Ten Eyck Brown was born Albany, New York in 1878. His family was of Dutch origin. He was born to be an architect, just like his father, who was prominent in architectural circles in New York's capital city. Brown received his formal training at the Academy of Design in New York. He practiced architecture in New York, Washington, D.C., and Nashville before moving to Atlanta in the early 1900s, where Brown established his offices in the Forsyth Building. His career in Atlanta spanned nearly four decades until his death in 1940.

The First National Bank of Dublin opened for business in 1902 on the northeast corner of West Jackson Street and North Lawrence Street on the site later occupied by the Farmers and Merchants Bank. The board of directors, led by bank president Frank G. Corker began to look for a site to build a new building which would also house professional and business offices. They chose a site on the southwest corner of South Jefferson and West Madison Streets on the site of the old post office. In March of 1912, the board selected A. Ten Eyck Brown to design their building. Corker, in a letter recommending Brown for another project, said of Brown, " believing him to be better equipped after a careful study of his references than anyone else of whom we had knowledge to do our work."

Brown's design of the six-story building included a basement. Brown utilized a technique often used on sailing ships to bring natural light to the basement. Small glass bricks were placed along the sidewalk above shafts, which descended a few feet and turned at a right angles into the basement. There was a mezzanine above the bank's offices, which were situated on the twenty-two foot tall first floor. The floors of the main banking room were made of Georgia marble, while the walls and ceilings were made of ornamental plaster. The elaborately decorated main vault was placed in plain view for all to see. The tellers stood behind an impressive bronze and marble screen. Above the first floor were sixty-four offices, which could be reached by stairway or with a modern elevator, the first of its kind in Dublin. The exterior three-foot tall base of the building is composed of granite, while the remainder is made of terra cotta limestone. The building is supported by a combination of steel beams and reinforced concrete. Very little of the original building contained any wood, making it for many years the only A-rated insurance building in Dublin. Another attractive feature of the building, especially to the tenants, workers, and customers were the modern steam heating and plumbing systems. Cooling was not particularly a problem. Electric fans did well. On the upper floors many people often opened the windows to pick up a cool breeze without the aggravation of flying insects which rarely flew to such heights. Brown designed the building with a foundation which could have supported three more floors. Brown further anticipated future growth of the area and designed the southern face of the building with less expensive brick and with less ornamental features, just in case a neighbor decided to build a twin tower.

Although he was primarily known as a designer of public and office buildings, one of Brown's earliest designs was the fabulous Georgian Hotel in Athens, Georgia, which was completed in 1909. The hotel was as elegant as any hotel outside of Atlanta. Five years later, the Clarke County Courthouse, a four-story yellow brick building, was completed next door to the hotel. The courthouse in Athens was one of three major courthouses designed by Brown and completed in 1914. Brown designed the Neo-Classical Revival style courthouse in Salisbury, North Carolina. The Rowan County Courthouse features huge Ionic columns on its portico.

Brown's other courthouse design which was completed in 1914 was the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. Brown collaborated with Thomas Henry Morgan, whose firms Morgan and Dillon and Morgan, Dillon, and Bruce designed the Laurens County Courthouse of 1895 and Carnegie Library. The Fulton courthouse building, which is still used today, is said to be "the finest example of beaux's arts classic architecture in the South." This massive structure, which was one of the tallest buildings in Atlanta at the time of its construction, was the first "million-dollar" courthouse in Georgia. Brown designed two other courthouses in Georgia; the Spalding County Courthouse in Griffin, which was completed in 1911, but was tragically destroyed by fire in 1981, and the four-story white marble, Cherokee County Courthouse in Canton, which was completed in 1926 and is said to be one of the finest public buildings in Georgia. Brown designed the courthouse in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1911. His design and architectural skills were applauded by city officials who recommended his services to the mayors of Dallas, Texas and New York City for the design of their new courthouse buildings.

Brown is widely known among architectural historians and preservationists as the designer of several other major buildings in the Atlanta area. In 1918, his design of the two-story granite building to house the offices of the Federal Reserve Bank on the old site of the First Presbyterian Church was completed. The building has gone through a series of renovations and expansions over the years. The original building was too small to house the government offices, but not because of Brown's design, but more likely because of limited funds during the economic depression during and following World War I. Thirteen years later in1931, Brown designed the new Atlanta Post Office Building to handle the ever expanding volume of mail coming through the Atlanta office. Today the building is known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building. One of the most unique and popular buildings in the Atlanta area is the Cyclorama Building in Grant Park. The lead architect in the 1921 project was J.T. Browning. Browning utilized the services of other architects, including Ten Eyck Brown.

Other noteworthy buildings in the Atlanta area include: the Ten Park Place Building near Five Points, which features the rare modernistic style of architecture; the Cooper Street School and various schools built in the 1920s while Brown was the supervising architect of Fulton County Schools, Spotswood Hill - the home of Georgia's premier historian, Lucian Lamar Knight - The Atlanta Municipal Market, St. Anthony's Church, the Luckie Street YMCA, and the Thornton Building on Pryor Street. Brown also designed the Third National Bank and the Guarantee Trust Bank. Countless other buildings designed by Brown have fallen victim to the agony of progress.

Brown's most famous design outside of Georgia was the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. Construction on the twenty-seven story, three hundred fifty foot tall, building began in 1925. A powerful 1926 hurricane delayed the construction period to a total of three years. The base of the courthouse is made of Stone Mountain granite, while the upper portion is constructed of terra cotta, much like the First National Bank building in Dublin. Brown designed the four-million dollar building, which was once one of the tallest buildings in Florida, in collaboration with August Geiger

Ten Eyck Brown, in his day, was one of the best governmental and commercial architects and his buildings were tall and grand. Many of them were so well designed that they should continue to be used for more than a century. The next time you are downtown, look, up in the sky, and see the glory and grandeur of Dublin's skyscraper, Ten Eyck Brown's gift to the Emerald City.