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The first dollar bill issued by Iron Bank in 1847. Photo submitted

National Iron Bank honors 175 years of iron-clad history

SALISBURY — Not quite as old as the hills, but certainly as old as the iron industry that sprang up from rich ore deposits in the hills, The National Iron Bank this year is celebrating 175 years of service to area communities.

The National Iron Bank is one of the oldest banks in the United States. Founded in 1847 the bank is the oldest private bank in New England and the oldest in Connecticut to have retained its original name.

In the past there have been 100  Connecticut-based banks with actual headquarters in the state. Now there are just 30, said Iron Bank President Steven Cornell during an interview on Tuesday, July 12.

Printing its own currency 

In the mid-19th century the area prospered largely due to the iron industry that created employment for locals and attracted workers from outside the area.

The Iron Bank, as it was called then, was established in Falls Village, opening in October 1847, with $193,725 in assets, and as was customary in those times, the bank designed and printed its own paper currency. The bank’s seal, depicting the iron industry, was printed on the $10 bills. Other denominations were $1, $2, $3, $5 and later, $20.

The Falls Village building was built at a cost of $2,500. The cashiers lived on the second floor over the bank, ensuring security after hours. The bank’s Board of Directors met quarterly for the purpose of burning damaged and worn bills and certifying the amount to be newly printed to replace those bills.

In 1864, under Abraham Lincoln’s administration, a national currency system was initiated to pay the national debt from the Civil War and the bank became a national bank, The National Iron Bank in 1865.

In 1865, the bank installed its first burglar alarm system and as a back-up to the newly invented alarm system, acquired a guard dog. Later came a safe and a watchman.

With such a long history rooted in the surrounding communities, celebrations are scheduled this month and into the fall at the bank’s six locations. Each will offer entertainment, food and specialized activities. Branch websites will provide details.

The main office in Salisbury will hold its celebration on Thursday, Sept. 22, coinciding with a meeting of the Tri-State Chamber of Commerce, and offering a variety of features being imagined and arranged by Branch Manager Lorraine Oler.

“We are a community bank,” Cornell said.

During the pandemic, the bank disbursed $20 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans as the federal funding flowed through.

“In the next 10 years, we’d like to be the community bank for the northwest Connecticut towns,” Cornell said, describing the bank as mid-sized.

“We will continue on the path of  ‘conservative management’. We’ve survived for the past 175 years; we’ll never try to be more,” he added.

In all its history, the bank has never closed,  and now manages assets of $250 million.

Reflecting further on the bank’s strengths, Cornell emphasized the significance of the commitment of Richard Wardell, board chairman, who has worked to create solutions for the area’s affordable housing issues. “Wardell has run the bank with a steady hand,” Cornell said, well in line with the bank’s philosophy of conservative management.

For information about the Sept. 22 event, emailing Lorraine.Oler@ironbank.com or call 860-435-2581.

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