In banking, progress is the key to prosperity today and the assurance of stability tomorrow. Celebrating their 125th Anniversary this year, Watertown Savings Bank continues its path of progress throughout Jefferson County while helping to ensure the economic growth, support and development of the local community.
When Watertown Savings Bank opened for business in 1893, it was located at what was then No. 17 Washington Street, also known as the Marble Block (now part of the YMCA). The Bank occupied an 18’ x 25’ space in the front office, while the rest of the floor was utilized for other purposes. Despite its meager beginnings, it wasn’t long before the Bank started to grow. By the end of 1920, resources were showing a growth of over four million dollars since the Bank’s inception. This tremendous growth gave evidence that the people of Northern New York had confidence and trust in their new local bank.
Bank President, Isaac Hunt, knew that in order to better serve the depositors; a larger banking office and more modern equipment were needed. Therefore, in 1921, the Bank secured space in the Woolworth Building four times the size of their original location. Hunt said, “In changing our banking offices from the Marble Block to the new Woolworth Building, we feel that we are taking a step that will win the hearty approval of our depositors and friends.” Watertown Savings Bank had a new home on the busiest block in downtown Watertown where they would reside for nearly four decades.
During this time, the Bank kept pace with the steady economic increase of the community. Annual growth and an increase in customers lead to the development of more products and services in an effort to provide the very best in banking service. However, by the late 1950’s, parking was becoming a problem and it had been years since any kind of modernization had been done to the Bank’s facility. Watertown Savings Bank President, James H. McGowan, and the Board of Trustees knew that if they wanted to continue providing the superior level of service that many had worked so hard to achieve, expansion was once again a necessity.
The bank started planning to construct a new headquarters in Watertown and after considerable debate it was decided that the new location would be on Clinton Street. In 1959, Watertown Savings Bank purchased two properties to facilitate the construction of the new banking office. The first was a large brick mansion at 129 Clinton Street which had been owned and occupied by Doctors Walter S. Atkinson and Lawrence E. Henderson. The second property was a house at 124 Mullin Street, which would provide entrance to Bank parking from either Clinton Street or Mullin Street – hence Dividend Drive was created.
Ground breaking for the construction was held at 10:00 a.m., June 18, 1959. The project took a little over one year to complete and the new Bank opened for business on June 27, 1960 with 30 employees and $32 million in total assets. It was a one-story modern structure with a drive-thru facility, ample parking at the front door, and state of the art modern technology for the time. This new building would serve the savings and mortgage needs of the community for the next forty-one years.
The new technology allowed the bank to introduce a revolutionary new service to its customers by becoming the first financial institution in Northern New York to adopt the policy of having interest compounded daily and paid quarterly on deposit accounts. To facilitate the new method of paying interest, an electronic computer was installed to automatically credit interest on deposits made that day. Mr. McGowan said, “The adoption of this new system will enable us to better serve our customers and a growing Watertown.”
Watertown Savings Bank thrived at the Clinton Street location and enjoyed increasing market share and sustained growth. The advancement of the Bank’s technology and internal systems provided enhanced customer convenience as well as many new products and services to meet our growing customer base needs.
By the end of the twentieth century, with over $220 million in assets, and 75 employees, it became apparent that the bank needed to expand yet again. The Bank embarked on its largest expansion in history on what was the parking lot between its main office at 111 Clinton St., and the office building it owns at 145 Clinton St. by constructing a new two-story, 22,500-square foot main office. The $5 million building opened for business on July 9th, 2001. President Bradley T. Clark said, “The bank is making a statement with this building: that it is committed to the Jefferson County area for the long term; with emphasis on person-to-person service.”
Today, the Bank celebrates 125 years of service in downtown Watertown and 9 locations throughout the North Country. With 125 employees and over $660 Million in assets, Watertown Savings Bank has much to show for its progress.
The Bank focuses on free depository account structures, competitive loan rates and local decision making. In Jefferson County, Watertown Savings Bank is proud to retain the largest deposit market share, the top mortgage lending share over the past seven years and recognition as the top commercial lender. The Bank also offers a wide range of on-line, mobile and electronic services for both personal account holders and commercial entities.
Recognized as the Top Community Supporter in New York State in 2017 by Banking New York magazine, Watertown Savings Bank is the largest charitable donor among all financial institutions in the area which is made possible by our strong and loyal customer base. The bank supports local non-profit and charitable organizations throughout the North Country with a philanthropic mindset second to none in our community.
Bank President & CEO, Mark Lavarnway, said “In stark contrast to the large retail banking institutions that continue to favor big business and increased fees, we have found that providing the highest level of personalized service and community support offers many benefits which are often superior to our competitors. We understand our local economy and the diverse banking needs of our community.”
In 1893, a small group of individuals set out with a goal to conduct business as a financial institution in the best interest of the citizens of this community; today the employees of Watertown Savings Bank work to ensure that goal remains intact.