Berlin mainstay Calvin B. Taylor Bank turns 125

Berlin mainstay Calvin B. Taylor Bank turns 125

(March 6, 2015) As financial institutions merge and regional, national and even international mega-banks become more dominant, Calvin B. Taylor Bank, headquartered in Berlin, is entering its 125th year as an independent entity.

It continues to be an instrumental part of the small-town lower Eastern Shore community, and, its many modernizations over the years notwithstanding, does so with much the same approach it has always used.

“The recipe for success is a great board, outstanding employees, loyal customers and supportive stockholders,” said Taylor Bank President and CEO Raymond Thompson.

Above all else, Taylor bank is customer driven, which is evident after walking through the front door of its headquarters on Main Street in Berlin.

Thompson’s office can be seen when entering the bank. He can hear every call because his secretary sits outside his office doors.

When making a phone call to Taylor bank, customers should not expect the customary automated answering system to be the first voice heard. During business hours, customers will always hear a person on the other end.

“It is common for banks to have their operations center detached from their main office and to not have it in a public place,” Thompson said. “We wanted to stay in the community and demonstrate the commitment to Berlin by adding to the existing building and rehabilitating it when needed.”

Taylor Bank also prides itself on having its doors open for customers.

“It is part of our culture to make sure our officers are accessible to the community and customers,” Thompson said. “It’s hometown banking and it’s fun.”

Taylor Bank also has stood the test of time because of its well-established directors.

“A strong board of directors is a key ingredient to any successful bank,” Thompson said. “They are our eyes and ears in the community, with members that range from attorneys and accountants to insurance and real estate professionals and hoteliers and public officials.”

The bank’s history dates back to 1890, when Calvin B. Taylor, a Worcester County teacher, lawyer and businessman, opened his bank and called it Calvin B. Taylor, Banker in Berlin.

It is believed Taylor’s wife, Mattie, was his financial backer and she contributed anywhere from a $100 to $1,000 to enter the banking business.

The agricultural economy was not in the best of shape during this time, but Taylor Bank grew by providing capital to farmers. In 1896, crop prices were on the rise and they would continue to make a profit for farmers until the 1920s.

The original bank was on South Main Street, but was destroyed along with all its records in a fire during 1901.

Taylor and his wife then bought land at the corner of Main and Commerce streets. In 1902, the bank opened its doors at the same location where its main offices are housed today, at 24 Main Street.

The reasons for the decision to incorporate the bank in December 1907 are not entirely known.

Private banks began to decline at the turn of the century because new banking laws required less capital and made it easier for citizens to start a state chartered bank. In addition, these banks had more autonomy in lending money.

The financial market experienced panic in 1907 because of money hoarding and banks having insufficient cash on hand to meet customer demands.

Whatever the reason may be, Taylor incorporated the Calvin B. Taylor Banking Company as a state chartered bank in 1907.

The banking corporation continued to grow over the next couple decades and many of the families involved in the new corporation are still represented at the bank by third generation descendants.

In 1929, Vice President William Holloway, who had been the bank’s cashier for 22 years, died unexpectedly. John Smith would have succeeded Holloway by seniority, but he was deaf and declined consideration.

That left the job to Reese Cropper Sr., who would be the youngest cashier in the state at 26-years-old.

In 1932, Taylor died and Ernest Burbage Sr. took over as president.

Cropper became chief executive officer after Taylor died and was responsible for operating the bank under three presidents.

It was common practice during this time for small banks to have the cashier run operations while the president pursed other business outside the bank or, in other words, the presidency was an honorary position given to senior directors.

The same year Taylor died, the Exchange and Savings Bank in Berlin closed, but reopened when multiple Taylor Bank directors bought stock in the bank.

The move strengthened Taylor Bank’s position in the community because several prominent families moved their business accounts from this struggling bank to Taylor.

In June 1933, it was time to recover from the Great Depression and Taylor Bank made 75 percent of deposits available to customers. The remaining 25 percent were classified as deferred deposits and certificates of indebtedness were issued.

It only took seven years for the bank to pay back deposits to customers.

President Ernest Burbage Sr. and board member John Humphreys are credited with working hard on the bond market and investing wisely to allow Taylor Bank to recover its investments.

Also, Taylor Bank loaned a neighboring bank, The Bank of Bishopville, funds to help with losses from the Great Depression. It gave Taylor Bank stock in return for the money advanced.

As business continued to increase in 1934, Taylor Bank made more hires, including Vincent Holland as a bookkeeper and teller.

In 1937, assistant cashier John Smith died of a heart attack after serving the bank for 30 years and Vincent Holland took over his duties.

After the United States entered World War II at the end of 1941, the value of poultry began to increase and the industry contributed profoundly to the bank’s growth.

The post-war economy was booming and the national banking system was ready to meet the demands for modern items such as televisions and automobiles. Customer buying power also was being fueled by the more liberal lending policies of other banks, some of which found themselves in trouble as a result.

Taylor Bank, true to its conservative roots, continued only issuing small loans.

By 1949, the bank needed additions and upgrades to its branch. Teller counters were installed and a separate bookkeeping department was added along with a larger vault. In addition, a two-story building was added to the rear of the original structure.

The original bank building turned into a lobby and teller counters.

Reese Cropper Sr.’s office was a desk in the lobby area, open to the public with a railing around it and he ran the bank in this space for 18 years.

Businesses started to expand into Ocean City during the 1950s when better highways gave metropolitan area tourists an easier drive to the beach.

In 1960, Taylor Bank opened its first branch in Ocean City on 20th Street. The branch did well from the start because of its convenience, especially to customers who had been traveling to bank’s Berlin offices.

“Mr. Taylor and my father were sold on the success of Ocean City, its growth and the success paid dividends for the bank,” said Reese Cropper Jr., Taylor Bank president from 1974-2002. “There were 11 competitors at that time. We did not change the way we did business and kept serving our customers.”

Also during this time, William Thomas became president for three years, followed by Victor Strickland.

In 1966, Taylor Bank expanded its main offices by purchasing a deteriorating building located behind the bank and a property across Williams Street at a public auction.

In 1970, Strickland retired and Reese Cropper Sr. took over as president.

Cropper was pivotal in having the bank invest in Ocean City and the decision resulted in profits. In his 45 years of operating the bank, its assets grew 3,000 percent by the time he retired from his presidency in 1974.

Under Cropper’s direction, Taylor Bank in June 1971 opened its third location – 142nd Street in Ocean City.

During the 1970s, construction in Ocean City swelled the resort’s summer population and Taylor Bank provided start-up money for new businesses. The bank was more cautious, however, when it came to condominium projects, eschewing the towering structures being built in north Ocean City. As it was, Covington Towers was the largest project it financed.

In the meantime, the Ocean Pines development project was sold to Boise Cascade, with many local property owners having little confidence in that out-of-area company.

 With many owners of properties Boise Cascade needed for its project reluctant to deal with the company, Reese Cropper Sr. and Taylor Bank stepped in as agents between the two parties. When the company transferred a property’s purchase price to the bank, the bank turned over the deed to Boise Cascade, thus allowing Ocean Pines to grow.

The bank installed its first computer system in 1974, leaving behind the time-consuming method of hand-posting all records.

After Cropper retired that same year, his son, Reese Cropper Jr., became the new president of the bank.

In 1975, Cropper Sr. was elected chairman of the board and held the position until he died in August 1976.

Cropper Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps by expanding the Taylor Bank brand to east Berlin in 1974, Ocean Pines in 1982 and opening a third bank in Ocean City on 91st Street in 1985.

In November 1986, Maryland National Bank of Baltimore decided to sell seven Eastern Shore offices and Taylor Bank officials thought it would be smart to purchase Pocomoke City and Snow Hill’s to extend its coverage in Worcester County.

Taylor Bank also bought the Burbage and Powell clothing store in 1983 and began renovations. Executive offices and the computer department were housed there in 1985, with loan offices taking up the space today.

Taylor Bank began installing ATMs in December 1989 and there are currently 11. Each bank location has an ATM, in addition to one at the Atlantic General Hospital.

The West Ocean City branch opened in 1991 and it has become one of Taylor’s fastest growing offices.

In 1993, Atlantic General Hospital opened in Berlin and two of Taylor Bank’s retired directors worked to lead fundraising efforts. Taylor Bank was an early supporter of the hospital and continues making annual contributions to it foundation.

A new bank was chartered in 1998, Calvin B. Taylor Bank of Delaware, to allow for expansion over state lines into Ocean View, Del.

The same year, a branch office was built in Pocomoke to replace the old downtown branch office. The aging building was donated to the Pocomoke City Chamber of Commerce and the south Pocomoke office was consolidated into a new location in front of WalMart.

In 1991, Taylor Bank bought the vacant building next door to the main office in Berlin and an 8,000-square foot, two-story addition was added to the existing structure. A two-lane drive through, new data center on the ground floor, the bookkeeping department, boardroom and offices on the second floor all were housed in the new building.

The new addition was dedicated and named the Cropper Building in 2003 to recognize the almost 100 years of service from the two Croppers combined.

“I was there for 52 years and my father served the bank for 56 years.  I couldn’t compete with him,” Cropper Jr. joked.

Imaged statements were provided in 1999 and a new computer system was installed in November 2001.

Electronic data storage was upgraded, a teller system was installed, Internet banking and telephone banking were added to provide customers with ‘round-the-clock access to their account information.

Raymond Thompson became the bank’s seventh president in 2002.

He began his banking career in 1985 as a bank teller with Equitable Bank in Ocean City and joined Taylor Bank in 1997. Thompson grew up in Berlin and his grandfather was the cashier at Exchange and Savings Bank, a rival bank in the area.

When Thompson started working for Taylor Bank, he recalls it rained for three days straight. Reese Cropper Jr. relayed to Thompson it was because he started working for the competition and his grandfather was sending a message.

Reese Cropper Jr. continued as chairman and CEO until Jan. 2006, when Thompson assumed those duties, while Cropper retained the position of chairman of the board.

Cropper would be chairman until May 2014, when he had to step down because of the mandatory retirement age. Ironically, the age was extended to 74 shortly after Cropper retired, Thompson said.

“Banking in general is rewarding because you feel like you’re helping people,” Cropper said. “Being with a small independent bank allows you to get to know the community and I am proud we could do things person-to-person instead of everything being based on a credit score.”

Cropper added that it paid off being customer-driven and conservative because the bank’s officers were able to run a successful business, did not have the typical problems during economic struggles other banks faced and were fortunate to maintain stockholder support.

Last June, Taylor Bank introduced mobile banking and deposits.

Currently, it is working on opening a new branch in front of Home Depot in Berlin and it is scheduled to break ground later this summer.

Taylor Bank will have a year-long celebration to honor its 125th birthday.

Thompson promises Taylor Bank will “celebrate with customers and stockholders throughout the year.”

During the warmer months, there will be picnic celebrations at branch locations and Taylor Bank is returning to the air show as a sponsor.

During air show week, customer appreciation events will take place.

In addition, there will be giveaways having to do with Taylor Banks new logo.

“The bank has always been dedicated to the area and people,” Cropper Jr. said. “We have been successful and profitable. The community has been good to us and I hope the bank has been good for the community.”

Raymond Thompson became Taylor Bank’s seventh
president in 2002. Calvin B. Taylor Bank, headquartered
in Berlin, is entering its 125th year as an independent entity
and continues to be an instrumental part of the small-town
lower Eastern Shore community.