In the aftermath of the Civil War, Eastern North Carolina lay tattered, battered and torn ... an easy mark for profiteers and politicians bent on destroying what little remained. There was no money, no law and precious little trust or faith in the once-proud institutions of the South.
Alpheus Branch, the son of a wealthy planter in Halifax County, first came to Wilson to attend Deems Military Academy. After the war, he married Nannie Barnes, the daughter of Gen. Joshua Barnes, one of Wilson’s founders.
Branch established a small mercantile business called Branch and Company. Through his business and community involvement, he came to know Thomas Jefferson Hadley, a Wilson county native who was trying to organize the first system of public schools. They joined forces in 1872 to create a banking institution people could believe in, Branch and Hadley.
As private bankers, Branch and Hadley accepted time deposits, paid interest and loaned money to help rebuild the farms and small businesses in the community. With a place to borrow money at reasonable interest to buy seed and fertilizer, area farmers planted their fields in cotton and in the early 1880s, experimented with a new money crop, tobacco.
In 1887, Branch bought Hadley’s interest in the bank for $81,000 and changed its name to Branch and Company, Bankers.
In 1889, Branch, his father-in-law Gen. Barnes, Hadley, J.F. Bruton, R.L. Thompson and Walter Brodie secured a charter from the North Carolina Legislature to operate the Wilson Banking and Trust Company (later amended to the State Bank of Wilson and later to The Branch Banking Company). However, the charter was not implemented until 1900.
Alpheus Branch died Jan. 3, 1893. The bank continued to grow in the years that followed. In 1900, Branch and Company, Bankers, was sold to Branch Banking and Company, holder of the state charter. On Dec. 20, 1902, the bank opened a savings department, paying four percent interest compounded quarterly.
Prior to 1900, virtually no trust business was conducted in North Carolina by institutions. The 1889 state charter authorized the bank to organize a trust department, but changes in the law delayed implementation until 1907, when Branch Banking and Company became the first bank in the state to engage actively in trust activities.
Trials and Triumphs in a New Century
The new century saw expanding opportunities for BB&T. In 1913, the charter was amended to change the name to Branch Banking and Trust Company.
BB&T’s assets grew with Government bonds, investments from other banks, and even an increase in personal deposits — wartime shortages meant that people had little to do with their money except to save it.
America’s entry into World War I saw BB&T engaged in the sale of Liberty Bonds, making loans in a growing economy and gaining a reputation as one of North Carolina’s “big banks.” By 1923, BB&T had exceeded $4 million in assets, a 307 percent increase since 1914. Four new offices were established, an insurance department opened in 1922, and the mortgage loan department began in 1923.
With the stock market crash of 1929, banks that had invested heavily in stocks began to fail. From January 1930 to January 1932, 131 state banks in North Carolina failed. By Dec. 30, 1931, the other seven banks in Wilson had closed. At BB&T, many customers withdrew funds to deposit at the Post Office in Postal Savings, the only apparent safe investment. What they didn’t know was that postal officials took that same money and deposited it in BB&T. While public confidence in banks had disintegrated, the government’s faith in BB&T had not.
While the number of North Carolina banks fell from 489 to 287 between 1929 and 1933, BB&T grew from five branches to 11 and assets increased from $4.7 million to $13.7 million. The period that followed saw even greater growth, more branches and the opening of a bond department.
A New Prosperity
World War II brought government bonds, investments from other banks and a wartime prosperity that caused people to save because few consumer goods were available. Following the war, as former GIs bought cars and other consumer items, BB&T was a source of regular loans and installment loans.
In the 1960s, BB&T enjoyed unprecedented growth. With mergers, acquisitions and new branches, BB&T grew to $343 million in assets with 60 offices in 35 cities.
BB&T continued to grow through the ’70s and ’80s. Assets reached $10.5 billion by 1994, with 263 offices in 138 cities in North and South Carolina. BB&T was North Carolina’s fourth largest bank.
A Merger of Equals
In 1995, BB&T and Winston-Salem-based Southern National Corporation, the state’s fifth largest bank-holding company, completed a “merger of equals,” resulting in 437 branches in 220 cities in the Carolinas and Virginia, all carrying the BB&T name.
BB&T began to grow rapidly outside its stronghold in the Carolinas in the ’90s. In 1997, BB&T purchased Fidelity Federal Bankshares of Richmond, Va., and Virginia First Financial of Petersburg, Va. In 1998, BB&T acquired Maryland Federal Bancorp of Hyattsville, Md., and Franklin Bancorporation of Washington, D.C., giving BB&T its first entry into the Maryland and metropolitan-D.C. markets.
In 1999, BB&T completed the acquisition of MainStreet Financial Corp. of Martinsville, Va.; First Citizens Corp. of Newnan, Ga.; Mason-Dixon Bancshares of Westminster, Md.; Matewan Bancshares of Williamson, W.Va.; and First Liberty of Macon, Ga.
In 2000, BB&T completed its acquisition of Premier Bancshares of Atlanta, Ga., (January), followed by Dalton, Ga.-based Hardwick Holding Company and Statesboro, Ga.-based First Banking Company of Southeast Georgia (June). The acquisition of One Valley Bancorp Inc. of Charleston, W.Va., was completed in July, followed by BankFirst Corp. of Knoxville, Tenn., in December.
In 2001, BB&T completed its acquisitions of FCNB Corp. of Frederick, Md., and FirstSpartan Financial Corp. of Spartanburg, S.C. (both were completed in March). The acquisitions of Century South Banks of Alpharetta, Ga., and Virginia Capital Bancshares of Fredericksburg, Va., were completed in June. BB&T completed its acquisitions of F&M National Corp. of Winchester, Va., in August, and Community First Banking Company of Carrollton, Ga., in December.
The acquisitions of MidAmerica Bancorp of Louisville, Ky., and Area Bancshares of Owensboro, Ky., were completed in March 2002. In September 2002, BB&T completed its acquisition of Regional Financial Corporation (First South Bank) of Tallahassee, Fla. That same month, BB&T announced plans to acquire Equitable Bank of Wheaton, Md., and completed that acquisition in March 2003. In July 2003, BB&T completed the acquisition of First Virginia Banks Inc. of Falls Church, Va.
BB&T completed the acquisition of Republic Bancshares Inc. of St. Petersburg, Fla., in April 2004.
In 2006, BB&T completed the acquisitions of Main Street Banks Inc. of Atlanta, Ga., and First Citizens Bancorp of Cleveland, Tenn.
BB&T completed the acquisition of Coastal Financial Corporation of Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 2007.
BB&T announced it would purchase the personal and business deposits of Haven Trust Bank of Atlanta in an FDIC-assisted deal in December 2008.
In August 2009, BB&T acquired the banking operations of Colonial Bank of Montgomery, Ala., in an FDIC-assisted deal.