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

Kayak Tour of Chattanooga's History June 27

The Chattanooga History Center will partner with Outdoor Chattanooga to a kayak tour on the Tennessee River on June 27, 2015 beginning at 8:30 am. Join us for a leisurely, beginner-friendly kayak tour and be a true pioneer and get a unique perspective on Chattanooga’s story. Riding the river under your own power, you will get in touch with the environment that has attracted ... (click for more)

Guided Bicycle Tour on Chattanooga's Transportation History July 11

The Chattanooga History Center and Outdoor Chattanooga will conduct a leisurely bike ride through downtown Chattanooga. Participants will learn about the various ways people have cycled through and mobilized the city. A Transportation History of Chattanooga will be guided by a CHC historian and Outdoor Chattanooga staff & volunteers. It will begin at Outdoor Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Bradley County Commission Rejects 10-Cent Tax Rise For Lake Forest MS; Firefighters Get $3,000 Raise

With a small crowd of demonstrators sitting in the back of the room with signs that read, “Vote no on property tax increase,” the Bradley County Commission on Monday night finally rejected a proposed 10-cent property tax increase that would have added funds to the construction of a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School.   Funding for renovations at ... (click for more)

11 Attorneys Apply In 2nd Round For Replacing Judge Stern

Eleven attorneys have applied in the second round of applications to replace Rebecca Stern as judge of Criminal Court's Division II. The applicants are: Christian J. Coder Chattanooga Tracy Cox Signal Mountain Amanda B. Dunn Chattanooga Ardena Juanita Garth Chattanooga Thomas Clifton Greenholtz Ooltewah Andrea DeFay Hayduk ... (click for more)

Could The Marriage Decision Spark A New Independence Day?

I confess that this year I am having a hard time with the idea of celebrating the 4th of July Independence Day. It is not because I am not thankful to God for what was done on that day, what it represents, and the blessings I’ve experienced that flow from it. On the other hand, I want to think that maybe this year’s celebration will mark a period in our history in which a new movement ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Hay Fields Of July

Oh my goodness, July has just arrived and during my formative years, it was the most hated month of the year. When I was 12 years old, my wonderful grandfather decreed the days of begging for money to go to the picture show and burgers at the Krystal were over, that I was on the payroll for a dollar an hour and, in our family, folks worked for what they spent. Now my grandfather, ... (click for more)