In 1986, area resident Dana Love shared with Dorothy Hamill his memories of working in the banking industry in downtown Johnson City. The 88-year-old Erwin native earned his degree from Draughton Business College in Knoxville. After serving in the Army Signal Corp. during World War I, he became interested in the banking business.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Love said, “I’d had my financial training and wanted to use more of it, so I went to work in 1921 with Jim Pouder, president of the Tennessee Trust Company. George Keys, who owned the Majestic Theater, was vice president. The bank was located next door to the Arcade Building on Main Street.”
Love’s job was that of bookkeeper and teller. He recalled that there were only three employees besides Pouder. When the Unaka National and City National banks merged in 1924, Love soon joined the new conglomerate, which was aptly named the Unaka and City National Bank. The business occupied the large building at the southeast corner of Spring and Main streets. Older residents will recall that site being the Hamilton National Bank.
Officers were L.H. Shumate, president; Henry C. Black and William B. Miller, vice presidents; C.H. Hunter, cashier; Tom Roland, note section; and Frances Bewley and Bess Tatum, secretaries. The bookkeepers were located upstairs. Love became head paying teller with the new firm; the others were Dave Hunter, Sid Corpening and Arthur Earnest. Tellers made $75 to $100 a month, a decent sum of money at that time. The bank operated Monday through Saturday noon.
Dana was present on Sept. 30, 1932 when the Unaka and City National Bank was taken over by the Hamilton National Bank. The majority of the employees continued their employment with the new firm, except Henry Black who was hired by People’s Bank located at Spring and Tipton streets. Love recalls when a popular luxury hotel in Linville, NC did business with Hamilton Bank and always wanted new money when they opened for the season each year.
The bank had accounts with most local businesses that included Miller Brothers Furniture, Empire Chair Co. and Harris Manufacturing Co. The Tennessee National Bank was another downtown bank located at the southwest corner of Main and Spring streets. This institute was relatively short lived; it folded after the 1929 stock market crash and onset of the depression.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt closed all banks in early 1933, Hamilton Bank officials made a strategic move. They contracted the Muse-Whitlock Printing Co. to print scrip that would be used when currency was frozen. Scrip was issued in 1, 5, 10 and 20-dollar denominations. The newly printed bills became valid when the president, vice-president or cashier signed it. A 10-dollar one dated Mar. 10, 1933 shows: “Ten dollars of a deposit in the Hamilton National Bank, Johnson City, Tennessee has been assigned by the depositor hereof to the bearer hereof.”
Local stores accepted this paper in lieu of money during the time the banks were closed. When they were allowed to reopen, Hamilton promptly redeemed the script. Dana left the bank in 1933 and returned to the Army. In 1948, he worked at the VA Medical Center at Mountain Home until his retirement in 1960.
Love’s preserved banking memories offer yet another glimpse into Johnson City’s rich past.