What’s in a Name: The History of The First National Bank of Akron

What’s in a Name: The History of The First National Bank of Akron

 

In many ways, the stories compiled during Huntington Bank’s 150th anniversary campaign have been stories of consistency and continuity. In an industry like banking, however, change is often just as dominant a theme. The early days of some financial institutions are well-documented, but as leaderships shift, company names change and organizations evolve, the thread can become frayed and harder to follow. Such is the case with the early days of banking, especially the entity that became the First National Bank of Ohio, one of the roots that ultimately grew into the modern-day FirstMerit, now Huntington. Here’s our best attempt to trace this root to its source…

In many ways, the stories compiled during Huntington Bank’s 150th anniversary campaign have been stories of consistency and continuity. In an industry like banking, however, change is often just as dominant a theme. The early days of some financial institutions are well-documented, but as leaderships shift, company names change and organizations evolve, the thread can become frayed and harder to follow. Such is the case with the early days of banking, especially the entity that became the First National Bank of Ohio, one of the roots that ultimately grew into the modern-day FirstMerit, now Huntington. Here’s our best attempt to trace this root to its source…

One of the oldest known resources on the history of Akron, Ohio, and its first banking institutions is Fifty Years and Over of Akron and Summit County, published in 1892. The book states that Akron’s citizens first applied for a bank charter in December 1835.1 Three months later an incorporated Akron received its city charter.2 The city’s population was 1,343 at the time. The bank did not come to fruition, however, and the earliest official bank was the Bank of Akron, established around 1845. While commercial activity accompanied the new city, the bank provided useful service until having to liquidate in 1857 because of financial speculation connected to the Akron branch of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad,3 which was bought and sold and renamed many times by various receivers over the ensuing 50 years.4

Though Huntington is a common surname, we can indeed link W.H. Huntington to Huntington Bank founder Pelatiah Webster (P.W.) Huntington’s familial line: P.W.’s great-grandfather Benjamin was the brother of W. H.’s great-grandfather Elijah.5

Born in East Haddam, Connecticut, in 1832, W.H. Huntington moved with his family to Ohio sometime in the late 1830s.6 After co-founding the First National Bank of Akron, W.H. Huntington moved to San Francisco, where he served as secretary and treasurer of the California and Hawaiian Sugar Refining Company, founded in 1906 and still in existence as of 2016.7 Huntington’s stint at the Akron bank may have been short-lived, but this “small world” connection is too delightful to ignore, and makes the recent merger a kind of return home for FirstMerit in certain respects.

After Huntington’s departure, the First National Bank of Akron’s history becomes even more muddled. It is believed this bank was liquidated, and then reformed in 1890 under the same name.8 We’ll come back to that.

In the meantime, a new incarnation of the Bank of Akron (no known relationship to the former Bank of Akron) had been privately established in 1870, and merged with the Second National Bank of Akron in 1888.9 First National merged with Second National on March 18, 1911, as the aptly named First-Second National Bank of Akron, Ohio.10 The bank was liquidated on April 30, 1923, and absorbed by Peoples Savings & Trust Co. of Akron.11 That bank, founded in October 1890 as The People’s Savings Bank Company, changed its name in 1931 to The First-Central Trust Company.12

In 1904,13 the Akron-based Central Savings Bank (established in 1897)14 merged with the Akron Trust Company (established in 1900)15 to form Central Savings & Trust Company. It occupied Akron’s iconic Hamilton Building, which in 1918 was renamed the Central Savings & Trust Building “in honor of its major tenant.”16 The edifice was later razed and replaced by the 28-story First Central Trust Building, an Art Deco skyscraper completed in 1931.17

In 1947, this bank was folded into First National Bank of Akron18 and converted to a commercial bank19 with the name of the skyscraper changing as well to First National Tower Building.20 Old Phoenix National Bank of Medina became part of First National in 1981, creating the parent holding company First Bancorporation of Ohio.21 In 1985, with the advent of new banking regulations22 that allowed for branch operations in contiguous counties, the bank again changed its name to First National Bank of Ohio.23

More acquisitions followed and, in 1997, the combined bank became FirstMerit Bank.24 As of that year, FirstMerit included six subsidiary banks, 128 offices, 2,330 employees, and an iconic headquarters building gracing the Akron skyline.25 If it’s true that the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts, FirstMerit’s history—one that stretches back to Akron’s founding days—is rich beyond measure. While more acquisitions occurred in the beginning of the 21st century, the combination of FirstMerit and Huntington Bank in 2016 brought together two like-minded organizations with more than 320 years of combined experience.

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First Second National Bank of Akron, Ohio, 1914
Courtesy of Akron-Summit County Public Library; Ruth Wright Clinefelter Collection, First Second National, 21 April 1914.

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Construction of First National Tower, c. 1930
Courtesy of Akron-Summit County Public Library; General Photograph Collection, First National Tower.

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Future FirstMerit Tower, 1931
Courtesy of Akron-Summit County Public Library; Ruth Wright Clinefelter Collection, First Central Trust Building, 24 April 1931.