The Trenton Bank, A Caretaker of a Community

Online Ed. Note: This is a posting of a Days Gone By column that originally was published in the print edition of  The Edgefield Advertiser in June of 2004.

The mention of the Trenton Bank – of old, that is – brings an immediate story of how it was one of the few banks that did not fail during the years of the Great Depression. As told by an old ad which ran in the 1936 edition of the Advertiser, the Trenton Bank sought to serve both the community and the individual.

When Dot Mims heard of the bank story for this week’s Ridge Peach Edition, she readily gave a story of her own, her first time to know the bank. In 1948, she and her husband Lovick were borrowing money for a mortgage. She was told that she had to sign a paper; it was for renouncing her dowry. She said to the powers-that-be in the bank that “I will not sign anything I do not understand.” So, Mr. Willie Miller took her into the back room where he gave her a favorable explanation of what the procedure meant (the issue of dowry is now outdated). She signed.

How many others over the county knew the services of this bank!

In 1980, the Trenton Bank was sold to First Citizens, which continues to serve the community and surrounding area, and from the same marble counters.

Caro Cassells, granddaughter of Mr. Willie Miller, and daughter of the last Miller to run the bank, the late Hite Miller, shares here some wonderful memories for our readership.

Memories of the Bank of Trenton

– Caro Miller Cassells

E.H. Miller, assistant cashier of the Bank of Trenton, right, above, discusses with H.B. Kemp, cashier, a holdup on Thursday afternoon at his bank when a robber shoved a note through the teller’s window demanding cash and informing Mr. Miller that he had a gun and “five sticks of dynamite and don’t want to blow this place up.” From the Advertiser archives of November 12, 1952.

The clock strikes one on a lazy summer day and I walk to the front porch of our rambling old house to watch my father exit the doors of the bank and head home for dinner as we referred to the mid-day meal when I was young. Without fail, he locked the door behind him, put his keys in his pocket and shook the door for three seconds to ensure that it was securely locked. Then, as was his ritual, he spoke briefly to the men sitting in front of Huiet’s grocery store, calling each by name and asking about their families: Gantt, how’s your boy? Slim, your wife feeling better? Fat, is your daughter finishing school next year? After that brief encounter, he walked at a predictable pace toward home and a hearty meal.

Afternoons in the summer were filled with wonder and adventure. The days were spent outside playing all sorts of games invented by the neighborhood children. However, without fail, at 3 o’clock, my brothers and I went to the bank to secure our daily allowance of a dime from my grandfather and a nickel from my father. Then we left the bank for Huiet’s or for Lewis’s store for candy and maybe a coke with peanuts.
E.H. Miller at the cashier desk and marble counter that is still used today. Hite Miller came to work with his father in the bank just before he married Jean Padget of Saluda on June 29, 1949. They had 3 children, Caro, Hite Jr. and Clay.

I knew that when we entered the bank, we would find things the same as they were the day before. Granddaddy would be in his office, or behind the high marble counters doing what bankers do. We were impatient to receive our dimes and nickels and interrupted more than a few loan applications for the important allocation of the day. Granddaddy was always humming some unrecognizable tune and smoking a big fat cigar. My father was often pouring over profit and loss statements or trying to help one of the employees balance a cash drawer. I can remember when the bank was first air conditioned, and the Trentonites came in to marvel at the cool, crisp air. The window units hummed noisily, but then, no one seemed to mind the noise.

I can remember showing my brothers the snail fossils in the marble and knowing that they were special, but not really being able to explain why. Those beautiful marble counters are still in the bank today. On Friday afternoons the bank filled with the peach pickers and packers cashing their weekly checks. Even with the air conditioning, the smells of sweat and peach fuzz pervaded the air. On Thursdays in the summer, I would often drive my father to Augusta to Georgia Railroad Bank to get money. I never thought for a second that this might be dangerous. We would enter Georgia Railroad with a check in hand, and walk out with two paper grocery bags with thousands of dollars in each. We would get into his blue Volkswagon bug and motor back to Trenton, never worrying for a second about being robbed. And what better disguise might we have had than a man and his daughter walking down the street with grocery bags to their little car?

Pictured above is W.W. Miller (Mr. Willie), grandfather of the author of this article.

Many people have told me how much my grandfather and father helped them as they worked to build businesses and support families. Often they mention that the longest moments they spent were the moments between when they asked for a loan and the hymn they knew would have to be hummed before they got the answer from my grandfather. Granddaddy worked every day at the bank he loved so dearly until two weeks before he died. He was always happiest there and was most proud of the fact that the bank was one of only a very few in South Carolina that remained viable during the Great Depression. 

As my father moved through the ranks at First Citizens after the merger, he kept to the principles that made the Bank of Trenton successful. I have been told over and over that he acknowledged the dignity of each man or woman at the bank regardless of job title. He called each by name and asked about their families or listened carefully to their thoughts and opinions.

The only constant in life is change. Every time I use an ATM machine, I am convinced that it is magic. Every time I check my account online, I marvel at the difference that the Internet and computers have made in the act of banking. In this day and time, we will never know our bankers with the intimacy that our parents did, nor will our bankers know us. The past had its own magic, even without ATMs, fax machines, and the Internet. We cherished the art of conversation and received the most excellent customer service without even knowing those words and certainly never “teaching” an employee to provide it. It was part of the culture of the business of banking. However, I remember my grandfather always saying that all things come full circle. I will be interested to see how this circle completes itself.

Early morning Tuesday, the photographer waited with the man on the motorcycle to get inside the building for a picture. The train came through just as customers were allowed entry, singing the “song” of years gone by, and reassuring the Town of Trenton that life goes on as a new business day dawns. This same message is reflected in the service of this old bank, turned “new” in name, as it continues to serve its community in its 99th year.
Ad from a 1936 Advertiser.

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