Wellesley’s First Bank

The following article appeared in the Wellesley Townsman on May 25, 2015.

Wellesley National Bank in the Taylor Block  Source: History of Norfolk County (1918)

Wellesley National Bank in the Taylor Block
Source: History of Norfolk County (1918)

How many is too many? Take for instance, the number of banks in Wellesley. There are twenty-two separate branches located within this town. Seems a little excessive for a community of 28,000 residents, right?

Yet a little over a hundred years ago, Wellesley faced the exact opposite problem. Too many people, but no bank. Where could the five thousand residents of the town keep their money and store their valuables? Indeed, the nearest banks at the time were located in Newton and Natick. And in an era of horse-drawn carriages and streetcars, it could very well take an hour or two just to run a simple errand.

The establishment in 1904 of Wellesley’s first bank — the Wellesley National Bank — can be attributed to the efforts of one man, Charles Norton Taylor. A water and sewer construction engineer by trade, Taylor arrived in Wellesley only four years earlier and — just like Horatio Hunnewell and Isaac Sprague — had a vision that this young town would become the finest suburb of Boston. In order to attain that status, however, it would need a bank. But not just any bank. It had to be organized and managed by local businessmen, citizens who had a strong interest in the development of the community.

Many people thought Taylor was crazy. Surely, a town as small as Wellesley couldn’t support its own bank. And furthermore, how in the world could he raise the necessary $50,000 to open such an institution?

Nevertheless, Charles Taylor brought together a group of local men — including a few from Needham and South Natick given the lack of financial services within those communities — in order to discuss the logistics of how to get this venture off the ground. Little did they know that Taylor actually had already begun this process months earlier, even receiving the necessary permission to establish a bank from the Comptroller of the Currency in Washington.

Taylor had also solved their biggest problem: no adequate location for a bank. Part of his vision for Wellesley included a greatly enhanced business district. So in the summer of 1903, construction began on the first of three buildings Taylor would build over the next decade on the south side of Washington Street in Wellesley Square. This three-story brick building — known appropriately as the Taylor Block — would house the bank on the first floor with offices and apartments above.

The Wellesley National Bank opened its doors to business on June 20, 1904. It was an immediate success, as both the number of depositors and amount of money deposited and borrowed far exceeded expectations. But should this really have been a surprise to anyone? After all, the bank’s organizers and directors included some of the most financially savvy members of the community: Charles Taylor, Isaac Sprague, Clarence Bunker, Charles Shattuck, and Roger Babson, to name a few.

Over the years, as Wellesley grew, so did the Wellesley National Bank. This despite the organization of two other local banks: the Wellesley Co-operative Bank in 1911 and the Wellesley Trust Company in 1923.

And with growth came expansion: its first branches were established at Lower Falls in 1923 and at the new campus of the Babson Institute (now Babson College) the following year. Two more branches would open in Wellesley Hills and the Fells in 1951 and 1955, respectively. The bank would also extend its reach into Millis and Dover in the 1960s.

All that success, however, eventually led to the end of the independently operated bank. In 1966, Wellesley National Bank merged with the larger Quincy-based South Shore National Bank in order to create a countywide bank that could better serve residents and the growing corporate sector of the Metro Boston region.

Wellesley residents had mixed emotions about this news. Sure, they were proud that their hometown bank had evolved from a single branch into a major financial institution. But many were disappointed that their local bank — which had been organized, managed, and staffed primarily by Wellesley residents — would now just be another branch of some other bank whose officers and personnel had little connection to the town.

Technically, this larger bank is still in existence today — albeit part of Bank of America after a complex series of mergers, acquisitions, and name changes. But let’s face it. Banking in Wellesley is hardly a local enterprise anymore. (Except, of course, for the Wellesley Co-operative Bank — now known as Wellesley Bank — which has been serving our community for 104 years.)

The origins of our town’s banking history are, however, unmistakably present in Wellesley Square, with the Taylor Block still anchoring our commercial district. And if you look closely on the facade between the second and third stories, you’ll notice the inscriptions “Taylor” and “1904,” a reminder of the efforts Charles Taylor and his associates took to organize Wellesley’s first bank over a century ago.