The Way We Were: The Georgia Railroad Bank
By: Bill Kirby
October 26, 2015 (Augusta Chronicle (GA)) This week for the first time since the 1830s, there will not be a bank operating at the corner of Seventh and Broad streets. Wells Fargo closed its branch Friday, ending an Augusta banking tradition.
This week for the first time since the 1830s, there will not be a bank operating at the corner of Seventh and Broad streets. Wells Fargo closed its branch Friday, ending an Augusta banking tradition.
For most of those decades, the Georgia Railroad Bank -- affectionately called "The Georgia" -- had operated there, first on the northwest corner, then after 1967, on the northeast.
The Georgia combined with First Union in the 1980s. That union next became Wachovia, which is now part of Wells Fargo. The Georgia might be gone, but most Augustans remember it fondly. It all started in 1833 when the then-Athens-based bank was started to help develop a railroad into the heart of north central Georgia, the area we now call Atlanta. It soon moved to Augusta and grew in state importance.
The railroad was completed, then the bank helped finance another project of enormous civic benefit: the Augusta Canal. The banking side of the business was quickly more successful than the railroad side. The Georgia Railroad & Banking Co. was perhaps the strongest bank in Georgia for many years.
Its image took an impressive turn in 1967 when it moved into a newly completed black-windowed skyscraper. It was a big deal for Augusta.
"We designed it to be ahead of its time," said Robert C. Beattie, of the architectural firm that did the skyscraper. "It's the kind of structure that evokes strong feelings."
County Commission Chairman William Weltch called The Georgia "as much an Augusta landmark as the Savannah River," and a Chronicle editorial called it a "mark of strength" in the business community.
A news story on the new bank furnishings reported that purple was the dominant color and it had "16,000 square yards of spun fiberglass in draperies throughout the building."
The bank's advertisements invited the public to come and see for themselves, including "original oil paintings in executive offices!" They probably meant the painting done by Betty Sanders, the wife of Gov. Carl Sanders, hanging in President Sherman Drawdy's office.
The newspaper also reported that the bank chairman's office featured an avocado-colored sofa that was also "stain resistant." On the day they opened the bank, U.S. Rep. Robert Stephens headed the list of an estimated 350 distinguished guests. He helped Drawdy cut a ribbon, and both officially opened the bank.
The building's still here, towering over Broad Street and Augusta. The banking, however, has moved on, leaving us with memories.