Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The History of Citizens Bank & Trust, Covington

Citizens Bank & Trust Co. celebrated its 70th anniversary on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, with food, refreshments and visits by bank dignitaries. The North New Hampshire branch of the bank in Covington welcomed customers with a variety of special treats, including jambalaya, brownies and iced tea.

The picture above shows some of the bank dignitaries and staff on hand for the special occasion. 

This picture shows two of the appreciative visitors who dropped in on the anniversary celebration event. 

The History of Citizens Bank & Trust As told by Louis Ross Jr.

At the end of World War II, as all the soldiers were returning home, there arose a need to help them return to civilian life. They were going back to their hometowns looking for a place to live, a place to buy their needed appliances and furniture, and a place to bank. Citizens Bank & Trust was formed to help meet their needs, chartered on December 31, 1945.

Prior to that, there had been only one bank in Covington, and all across America, new banks were being chartered to handle the growth in the economy that was expected now that the soldiers were coming back home and setting up new households. The hardships caused by the war made certain things hard to buy, like cars, but the banks saw an opportunity to help people borrow the money needed to buy cars now that they were being made available again after the war. 

Louis Ross Sr. was president of the St. Tammany Homestead Association at the time, and he and several others on the Homestead board of directors decided the time was right to open another bank in Covington. That group included Alfred Alexius, Archie Smith, Thomas Champagne, Theodore Dendinger, Weldon Poole, RIchard Privette, and Hebert Frederick.

The paperwork and applications were filled out with the state banking commission, and a "feasibility study" was done that documented the need for a new bank. It opened in 1946 with $105,000 in capital at a location in the 300 block of New Hampshire Street, next to the St. Tammany Farmer office, across from the Star Theater. The bank opened its doors with 8 employees.

  Renovating that first building owned by Weldon Poole took some time, as did outfitting it with all the modern bank machines, including adding machines and typewriters.  Its name was chosen as "Citizens" to make it sound more people friendly than some of the other bank names that were popular at the time. 

A photograph taken in 1946 at the new bank.

Those were the days in banking when everyone knew the local banker and the local banker knew everyone's signature. "People found that the bankers at Citizens Bank were nice people to deal with, and the bank grew and grew," said Louis Ross Jr. who joined the bank in 1954 after returning from duty with the Air Force.  

After 10 years, the bank started looking for a larger location, and it was decided to re-locate to the current New Hampshire St. site one-half block south of Boston St. The property was purchased from the Werhli family and plans were made for a brand new building. Soon the new building was ready, complete with a drive through in the southeast rear corner of the bank. Citizens Bank & Trust was the first bank in St. Tammany to have a drive-up window and a night time depository, Ross stated. 

That new location was opened just after Nov. 11, 1954, with a dedication after Thanksgiving of that year. The bank continued to grow and in the early 1970's, it purchased the lot next to current location, the one between itself and the Boston Street business known as Heberts Drugs (now Del Porto Restaurant). The old Werhli home was located on the lot, and the bank tried to give it away to help preserve the structure, but there were no takers, so it was removed from the site. 

The existing location was added onto and a parking lot was installed, along with the new two lane drive through window. 

Outside of Covington, the first branch to be built was on Girod Street in Mandeville, which is now the building that is home to the Samaritan Center. A more modern branch was later built at 3100 East Causeway Approach in Mandeville. Branches were also opened in Slidell on Gause Blvd. , in Abita Springs at the corner of Level and Maple Streets, in Barker's Corner on Lee Road, Claiborne Hill and in Folsom on Hwy. 25.  The bank's computer operation center is another facillity located in Covington. The bank's newest branch is on Hwy. 25 just north of Covington, on the west side of the road.

In 1972, Citizens Bank locations included, from left, Covington, Claiborne Hill and Mandeville.

Today the board of directors consists of Laura L. Brandt,  Wanda S. Braswell, Daniel S. Berlin, Edward J. Fielding, III, Louis D. Ross, Jr., Gary T. Schoen, Rodney J. Strain, Jr., and Mark J. Bitterwolf. The bank currently has 41 employees, according to its website, www.cbtbanking.com.

Over the years, a number of banks have come and gone in St. Tammany Parish, but the Citizens Bank & Trust after 70 years still serves the public in the same downtown Covington location. 

In 1974, the St. Tammany Homestead Association celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 

The article below appeared in 1988.

Louis Ross Sr. was a member of the Covington Rotary Club for many years, having joined in 1935 and having attained the "perfect attendance" award for the group's weekly meetings for 40 years. He was president of the group in 1940. 

He was a charter member and organizer of St. Tammany Homestead since 1926, a member of the Board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Little Rock for 20 years, and one of the organizers of Citizens Bank and Trust Company in 1945.

He received an award from the Louisiana Bankers Association for over 70 years of distinguished service in banking. He was also active with various civic and Carnival organizations.

In an effort to improve his father's health, his family moved to Covington  in 1916, with the original Ross family home located on 23rd avenue in Covington.  

While he couldn't afford to go to college, he was a supporter of the public school system, saying it has enabled people with modest or no means an opportunity to receive a good education. He did enroll in a two-year commercial course at St. Pauls, worked very hard and managed to finish the course in one year. 

The article below appeared in 1985.

Louis Ross Oversees Financial Growth of St. Tammany
It is perhaps rare to find an in­dividual who has remained active in one industry for more than half a century. Such is Louis D. Ross, Sr., whose career in banking and finance spans over 6O years.

Ross's desk at Citizens Bank and Trust Company in Covington im­mediately attracts the attention of a visitor, for under its glass are displayed the coins and colorful paper money of many of the world's nations, including Ireland, England, Lebanon. Mexico, Italy, Canada and Israel.

Familiar with the various ex­change rates, Ross enjoys sharing his knowledge concerning the value of the currencies, many of which, he explains, would amount to only a few pennies. Also under the glass are a  Louisiana Baby Bond, worthless currency issued shortly after the Civil War, and tickets from signifi­cant events he has seen, including the 1962 World Series when the Yankees were competing, and a papal visit to the United States.

Ross, the current president of Citizens, began his career in finance when he helped to organize the St. Tammany Homestead in 1924. Citizens was established in 1945, and, for his experience in lending, Ross was selected to head the bank. In 1979, he retired as president of the Homestead but still retains a seat on the board, and his nephew succeed­ed him as president.

One of the principal changes he was to see in the financial industry was insurance of deposits which, he says, "restored confidence in the financial institutions after the Great Depression of 1929, a time when many banks and homesteads failed.  When the program was initiated, deposits were insured for $2,500. This close government supervision, he explains, now protects depositors against losses up to $100,000.

Another change he cites is that financial institutions have become more liberal in their lending and paying interest on their savings ac­counts. The original passbook sav­ings and one type of certificate of deposit have been replaced by "all kinds of savings certificates at all kinds of variable rates with different lengths of time. In the old days the most banks ever paid on savings was 4 percent," says Ross. Drive-in win­dows and after-hours depositories are also listed by Ross as changes and additions for customer conve­nience.

The area's growth, he believes, has resulted in too many banks in the parish. From the initial three that had existed for many years,  their number has increased to seven. He thinks that a bank charter is much easier to obtain than it was 40 years ago, noting that then "you had to show need for it in the com­munity and you had to show that the bank would be successful, among other things."

In 1916 Covington was considered a health resort, and Ross and his family moved here from New Orleans. He attended grammar school, high school and what was then St. Paul's College, finishing in 1924, at which time he joined a group "like a parish-wide chamber of com­merce whose purpose was to stimulate enough interest to build a bridge from Goose Point, the mouth of Bayou Lacombe, across the lake to West End," a distance of 16 miles.

 But the money couldn't be raised. By 1926, however, a bridge built in Slidell supplemented the two other modes of transportation available  for trips to the city. A pleasant day could be spent by taking the two-hour boat trip from Mandeville or Madisonville, followed by a street­car ride to New Orleans. Two daily trains were also available for com­muters, though this method came with its own hazards. "They were kind of dirty because they ran on coal," says Ross, and a cinder in the eye was guaranteed if the rider stuck his head out the window.
He advises young people today to finance a home instead of paying rent. It may take a long time, he says, but ultimately they'll own their home.

He foresees a successful banking industry for the future's thickly populated parish, for residents will need banking facilities in order to transfer, store and borrow money.
His bank, he says proudly, is still owned by the original organizers of the bank and their families. Though several have died, their children and grandchildren still maintain their interest in the 40-year old business, "a pretty good record for a small independently owned institution," he says.

Working six days a week leaves him little spare time, but he and his wife of 54 years, Helen May, like driving through the Parish. This civic-minded great-grandfather is 'the oldest member of the local Rotary and, with 50 years of- service, its longest member. He also belongs to several social and fraternal organizations as well as to the St. Tammany Industrial Development Board, a group which tries to get money for new businesses coming to the parish. Since its reorganization about four years ago, $50 million worth of financing has been approved.

For the past four years Ross and his wife have made an annual trip to England and Ireland, and Ross generously praises the friendliness of these countries people and the delicious meals that were served. They've also visited pre-Castro Cuba, Canada, Hawaii and many other locations throughout the United States.

He predicts a bright outlook for Covington and the parish, "for they're growing, healthy and accessible to a large city, and we thought enough of it to invest a substantial amount of money in the banking business. All of our banking money is invested to St. Tammany Parish," he explained.

In October of 2021 Louis Ross Jr. took part in a Covington Heritage Foundation event during which he shared the history of Citizens Bank and Trust and other financial institutions in the 200 block of North New Hampshire Street in Covington. That block was called "Covington's Wall Street," he said. He was also an active member of the St. Tammany Historical Society.