Over One Hundred Years of Banking in St. Elmo

Friday, March 28, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley
American National Bank's St. Elmo branch under construction in 1948, from Chattanooga Public Library photo database
American National Bank's St. Elmo branch under construction in 1948, from Chattanooga Public Library photo database

I recently read a news story on The Chattanoogan.com that brought back memories of growing up in St. Elmo.  It was reported on March 15 that a giant sinkhole poses a risk to the St. Elmo branch of Suntrust Bank (see http://www.chattanoogan.com/2014/3/15/271935/Lawsuit-Says-Sinkhole-Threatening-To.aspx).

The news item may have jogged some memories of how long that a bank has existed in St. Elmo.  Prior to having the Suntrust signage, the bank building housed a branch of the American National Bank.  Even earlier, the St. Elmo Bank and Trust Company was near the site.

The St. Elmo Bank and Trust Company was organized on March 18, 1913 by brothers Zeboim Carter Patten, Jr. and John A. Patten.  The original capital was $22,000, which, after adjusting for inflation, would equate to $521,735.56 today per a Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site calculator.

St. Elmo was a good location for a new bank in 1913.  The community had established itself as a suburb of Chattanooga, but was fairly self-contained in providing its needs.  The industrial area of South Chattanooga provided jobs.  Within sight of the St. Elmo Bank was the Chattanooga Medicine Company, founded in 1879 by Z.C. Patten, Sr. and some friends.   The Bee Dee Stock Medicine Company (see http://www.chattanoogan.com/2006/12/17/98458/What-Did-That-Building-Used-to-Be--.aspx) was across 38th Street to the south.  Throughout St. Elmo were small groceries and shops.

St. Elmo Bank and Trust was able to survive the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression of the 1930’s.  The October 12, 1938 Chattanooga Times reported that Robert L. Hall was elected president of the bank, succeeding Z.C. Patten, Jr. who was elected chairman of the board.  Mr. Hall had been vice-president and trust officer of the local Commercial National Bank headed by Mr. Patten.

The Times reported on October 31, 1948 that St. Elmo Bank and Trust, by then having $50,000 in capital, would be re-opening as a branch of the locally-based American National Bank.  Right away, American National made plans to build a new office in St. Elmo, “just a few steps from the location of the present St. Elmo branch” (May 25, 1949 Chattanooga Times).  The lot was to be raised and Thirty-Eighth Street widened.  

The St. Elmo branch bank has continued to operate in the years since, through consolidation and automation in the banking industry.

If you have memories of one of the St. Elmo banks, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll update the article with some of your comments.

Depression-era scrip of St. Elmo Bank and Trust, from "Chattanooga Money" (http://www.schafluetzel.org/Chattanooga$/) by Dennis Schafluetel and Tom Carson
Depression-era scrip of St. Elmo Bank and Trust, from "Chattanooga Money" (http://www.schafluetzel.org/Chattanooga$/) by Dennis Schafluetel and Tom Carson

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