A storied bank building will close its doors soon
There are two signs near the drive-through and ATM at Wells Fargo bank, located at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and the Ronald Reagan Drive portion of Central Avenue. One sign says the branch will be closing on Wednesday, October 5 at 12 p.m. Another sign notes the ATM will remain in operation at the current location.
The “current location” has been home to one bank or another for a long time. If you look up at the top of the front of the building, you will see two dates chiseled into its stone front: 1887 and 1925.
A portion of The Story of Hammonton, written by William McMahon in 1966 for the town’s Centennial, tells the story of the bank that began at the location in 1887 and later built a new building in 1925. Here is some of that history from the book:
“The first effort toward establishing banking facilities in Hammonton can be traced to a meeting held in the office of F.F. Hogate in Camden, January 24, 1887. Credited with originating the idea was Edward Whiffen of the firm of Whiffen Brothers and Company, shoe manufacturers of Hammonton. The Peoples Bank of Hammonton was incorporated on March 12, 1887 with the following officers: Richard J. Byrnes, president; Marcellus L. Jackson, vice president; Wilbur L. Tilton, cashier; and the board of directors, Daniel Colwell, Edward Whiffen, J.C. Browning, Elam Stockwell, Z. U. Matthews, Daniel Ballard, George Elvins, George F. Saxton and P.S. Tilton.
“The bank opened its doors for business Monday, April 11, 1887, with an authorized capital of $50,000 divided into 5,000 shares of $10 each. Business was conducted in the front two rooms in the residence of Mrs. Nettie Tomlin at the north corner of Bellevue Avenue and Horton Streets, and a rental of $10 a month was paid for the premises for the first five years.
“On December 29, 1891, the property at Central and Bellevue Avenues, site of the present building, was purchased from a Mr. Whitney for a sum of $2,000, with the provision the bank pay the 1891 taxes and reimburse Whitney for three tons of coal in the cellar, costing $13.82.
On January 28, 1898, plans for a new building, prepared by William Bernshouse, were accepted and the building was completed August 12, 1898. It was opened for business August 22 of that year.
“A new modern bank building was erected at the corner of Bellevue and Central Avenues by the Peoples Bank. The cornerstone was laid June 3, 1925 and the bank opened for business on February 20, 1926. The old building was moved to Central Avenue and Vine Street and served for many years as town hall. It now  houses the Public Library … On January 28, 1932, the Peoples Bank and the Hammonton Trust Company merged under the title of the Peoples Bank and Trust Company.
“A renovation program [on the 1925 building] was completed December 14, 1957 … [Charles B.] Miller was elected president, in November of 1958 and the published statement of that year showed the bank the largest on the Atlantic County Mainland with assets of $11,816,654. The branch bank was opened on the White Horse Pike in June of 1960.
“The Peoples Bank and Trust Company merged with the Boardwalk National Bank of Atlantic City on January 1, 1961. Miller was elected vice president of the Boardwalk National … Property surrounding the building was purchased by the Boardwalk National Bank and modern Drive-in and Walk-in banking facilities were provided for additional service to the public … Its formal opening was June 17, 1963,” McMahon wrote.
The big mausoleum of a bank building currently at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and the Ronald Reagan Drive section of Central Avenue was the site where the former United States President greeted Hammontonians and others following his “Hammonton Address” on September 19, 1984. Yes, a president once stood under the roof of the soon-to-be-vacant bank building, and although there isn’t a plaque inside to mark the momentous local occasion, the Reagan Rock sits next to the building. At one time what is now the town clock, purchased by the Peoples Bank to decorate the exterior of its new bank in the late 1920s, was located near where the rock sits today. The clock was moved decades later, following the original bank building down Central Avenue where it remains, now restored. The old bank building was demolished to make way for the new town hall in the late 2000s.
There must be a good vibe for business at the intersection where the bank sits, which I call the downtown’s “50-yard line.” The Gazette was located on the second floor of the Bellevue and Horton building directly across from the bank for 20 years before moving to our present location; Brian Howell has been practicing law on the first floor of the same building for several decades; Exotic Body Works has been on Central near Bellevue for 25-plus years; so has Marcello’s, located at Bellevue and Horton.
So it’s a good intersection for business.
I still have a business card of my grandfather Frank Donio from when he was a director of the bank, given to me by my father, also named Frank Donio. There are two large, heavy metal plaques from two different eras of the bank’s existence with the names of the directors on them at the Historical Society of Hammonton, one of which also includes my grandfather’s name.
On October 5, 2022, the 135-year run of banking in Hammonton at that intersection (124 years at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and the Ronald Reagan Drive section of Central Avenue) in person will come to an end.
That run was an important part of the town’s history, and is noted here, for posterity.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.