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Sunday, June 28, 2020

The story of Kerrville's First State Bank

First State Bank, in the 800 block of Water Street, downtown Kerrville, sometime in the 1920s.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
In 1907, a group of eleven Kerrville citizens started a new bank. This was a bold move in a small town which already had a strong bank, the Charles Schreiner Bank, owned by one of the most successful families in our region. Consider that for a moment: they were going to compete against Charles Schreiner, and later his son, Louis Schreiner. Bold, indeed.
The new banking group included a former Texas state senator and his son, two medical doctors, several merchants, one woman, and some ranchers. They met on May 25, 1907 to organize the First State Bank, and subscribed $25,000 in capital, which was paid in full and placed in the hands of the bank's trustee.
Recently, some friends at Wells Fargo Bank found some historic Kerr County photographs which I've been sharing here over the past few weeks. Among those photographs were several of the First State Bank, taken when it was located in the 800 block of Water Street, and showing several of the buildings through the years that housed the bank.
It makes sense Wells Fargo Bank had some of the old photographs. First State Bank (1907) became First National Bank (1959), keeping that name through several owners; until it was sold and became a part of Norwest Bank (1994); which later became a part of Wells Fargo Bank (1999).
In 1907, First State Bank was located at the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets. During a recent renovation of 631 Water Street, when the original foundations were exposed, the outline of the old bank safe foundation could still be seen. That site is currently the home of Wellborn Engineering & Surveying. No photograph has been found (yet) of that building when it was in use as a bank.
In 1909 the bank moved to a new location in the 800 block of Water Street. It was built on a small lot purchased from George Walther, and it was a one-story building wedged between other commercial buildings there. In 1926 that building was enlarged.
Late 1950s
In 1953 the bank combined and remodeled two adjoining buildings and purchased complete new fixtures. The façade from that renovation still exists, in part, at 804 Water Street, in a building housing several businesses, including Fore Premier Properties and Yeo Bo’s Café.
That site saw further changes when, in 1959, the bank received its national charter and became First National Bank. I remember visiting there as a child in the late 1960s and opening up my very first bank account there, with the help of my father.
In 1973, when Ben Low was president of the bank, a new bank building was constructed at 301 Junction Highway. “We are very proud of this addition to the Hill Country area,” Low said at the time. “We wanted a modern building with the capability of expansion. We believe what we have will serve this community and area for many decades to come.”
My own memory of the new bank building of 1973 was watching armed men riding in loaded pickups and trailers as items were transferred from the old building in the 800 block of Water to the new site on Junction Highway, a strange parade which passed right in front of our print shop.
In researching the very beginnings of the First State Bank, I noticed something which spoke of the times in which was created. In the minutes for the board of directors’ July 20, 1908, meeting, it was decided “that no loan be made for less than twenty-five cents.”
While the bank which had its start nearby in the 600 block of Water Street has undergone a lot of changes and is no longer locally owned, the men and women who worked at those banks over the decades have helped thousands of businesses and even more families with their banking needs – and in providing capital and liquidity have helped our community grow.
Perhaps some of these photographs will bring back memories for you, too.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who appreciates the good a strong bank can do for a community. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 27, 2020.

I have two hardcover books available with tons of historic Kerr County photographs and selected history columns.  Click HERE for more information.  Free shipping to U.S. addresses.

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