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Norway Savings Bank: A Main Street institution

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  • NORWAY — The Norway Savings Bank has been a Main Street institution during three centuries.

    It’s headquarters on Main Street in Norway has changed over the years and the bank has expanded to 24 branches in western and southern Maine, but its commitment to  customers, fiscal responsibility and determination to remain on Main Street, have not.

    SECOND — The Norway Savings Bank was housed for a short time in the store of Director Lee Mixer in the Advertiser Democrat building at the corner of Main Street and Pikes Hill.
    SECOND — The Norway Savings Bank was housed for a short time in the store of Director Lee Mixer in the Advertiser Democrat building at the corner of Main Street and Pikes Hill.

    From the first deposit of $5 on April 3, 1866, to almost 150 years later, the bank’s assets had accumulated past the $1 billion mark, but the Norway Savings Bank has remained faithful to hometown mission.

    On Friday, Feb. 5 the public is invited to visit any of Norway Savings Bank’s 24 branch locations in western and southern Maine for cake and refreshments to celebrate the milestone and kickoff a year-long celebration. Snow date is Monday, Feb. 8.

    The first 150 visitors to stop by any branch will receive a free copy of an anniversary book that has been published to celebrate customers, employees and the bank’s growth from its original headquarters on Main Street to Maine’s third largest mutual bank.

    “We are proud of our history and honored to have served our local communities for the past 150 years,” Patricia Weigel, president and CEO of Norway Savings Bank, said in a statement. “The anniversary party is a way to thank our customers for their trust and support over the past century and a half.”

    Economy encouraged

    The Norway Savings Bank has faced hardships including a brazen bank robbery and a great conflagration, but throughout the past 150 years, it has remained steadfast to its principals of honesty, hard work , customer service, community leadership, said bank officials.

    The bank’s history began in February 1866, when 14 local men signed the charter and Nathaniel Gunnison was elected the first president one month later when the bank was incorporated.

    The announcement of the corporation and organization of the Norway Savings Bank was printed on page 2 of the March 23, 1866, Oxford Democrat with an invitation for all to “encourage economy.”

    “The institution is not established to foster a spirit of speculation but rather to encourage economy and a disposition to save the small items that are so lavishly spent in a place like this for various articles that are of no real value, but amount to a decided injury to the recipient.

    “The young, especially in this region, will now have an excellent opportunity to commence a new system in the disposal of their various gatherings of cash, which if kept in the savings institution, as many are in others, till they arrive at their majority, will give them a good start on their entering upon the state of business for themselves,” wrote the Oxford Democrat.

    Sums of not less than 25 cents and not more than $400 were accepted as those first deposits with dividends being declared every six months.

    “The little folks can study the business to advantage, a small deposit, with a constantly added interest, giving one the most practical illustrations on prudence to be found,” according to another Oxford Democrat on April 6 of that first year.

    Main Street history

    The Norway Savings Bank began its history on Main Street 150 years ago and although its site has changed several times due to circumstances, it continues to be a thriving presence on Main Street today.

    The bank was first housed for a brief time in a building across the street from the Advertiser Democrat before it moved into the store of Lee Mixer, one of the bank’s original directors, at the corner of Main and Bridge (now Pikes Hill) streets in the Advertiser Democrat building.

    The bank grew quickly, but just a year after it opened its doors, it became the site of a brazen bank robbery when three burglars entered through a window during a clear September night, lit by a full moon, darkened the window with glazed cloth, loaded up the safe with dynamite and attached the fuse.

    Smoke came out of the window in the form of a balloon and ascended into the air 50 yards before it began to separate, one of the bank robbers later said. He described the scene saying he had “never seen anything of the kind before, and shall always remember it as one of the grandest curiosities it has ever been my privilege to see.”

    The robbers gathered up the spoils and jumped into a horse and carriage and at a 10-mile gait took off for Portland.

    The next morning, Norway Savings Bank Director Charles C. Sanderson, a Norway attorney and early riser, discovered the unique set of horse shoes and tracked the carriage to Portland, wrote the Lewiston Saturday Journal in a later account.

    Although it took a year to find the robbers, eventually one was sentenced to nine years in Maine State Prison and while the his two compatriots were trying to get his release, “he squealed like a pig under a gate.”

    The $4,000 was recovered buried under a rock in Waterford.

    The bank robbery was a sensation but did nothing to stem the growing success of the local bank.

    In 1867, the bank moved into its own building, but in 1894 it was destroyed when fire swept through a mile length of the west side of Main Street, completely destroying 75 buildings including Norway Savings Bank.

    When the fire finally burned out, the Norway Savings Bank vault was said to be sitting alone among the ruins.

    After the blaze was extinguished firemen put water on the vault and by the next morning it had cooled enough to be opened. It was filled to capacity with valuables from residents who rushed to the bank to safeguard their property as the building around it burned to the ground. Everything inside it was saved.

    While the bank building, valued at $3,000, which housed a law office and a residence, was destroyed, bank officials with their plucky “can do” attitude quickly rebuilt on Main Street.

    In 1956, Norway Savings Bank constructed its current headquarters on Main Street where it continues today and 13 years later the first of its 24 branches opened in Bridgton.

    A copper box was placed was placed in the cornerstone. It contained a complete set of proof coins, a dollar bill and a five-cent piece that was donated by Grace Starbird of South Paris. The items had been salvaged from the vault of the great fire of 1894. The cornerstone also contained photographs of the two previous headquarters and the story of the only bank robbery to occur in Oxford County as of 1956.

    Norway Savings Bank officials say they are ready for the next 150 years.

    ldixon@sunmediagroup.net

    (Attendees at Friday’s anniversary party will also have the chance to win cash prizes and are encouraged to visit the Norway Savings Bank Facebook page to post the name of their favorite Maine-based nonprofit, which will be entered into a drawing for $1,500. The bank also encourages people to post and share stories about how Norway Savings Bank has helped them, their family, their business, their community or a nonprofit they care about on their Facebook page. Every month, the bank will draw a name from the submitted stories and the winner will receive $150. To learn more about the Norway Savings Bank 150th Anniversary Party and view complete contest rules, visit www.norwaysavingsbank.com.)

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  • Highlights of NSB 150 years

    1866: Norway Savings Bank organized March 1866

    1866: First deposit: $5, April 3, 1866

    1867: Bank moved onto first official building

    1894: Fire destroys bank building

    1930: Broke $1 million in deposits

    1956: New building is constructed in downtown Norway

    1969: First branch opens in Bridgton

    1971: CEO David Wyman joins bank. Retires after 42 years.

    1976: Building expansion project begins

    1985: Computer system is implemented

    1986: Further building expansion

    1997: Bank forms mutual holding company

    1999: Maine Cash Access is formed

    2001: Coastal Bank merger

    2003: Asset Management Group launches

    2008: Operations Center opens

    2010: Wellness program launches

    2010: Smart ATMS are introduced

    2011: Customer Care Center launches

    2011: Patricia Weigel becomes first female president

    2012: Mobile Banking launches

    2013: Norway Savings Bank Arena built in Auburn

    2013: Marketing campaign expands with new athletes

    2015: Assets exceed more than $1 billion

    2016: Norway Savings Bank celebrates 150 years

    (Information courtesy of Norway Savings Bank)

 

  • Leslie H. Dixon

    This 1984 advertisement in the Lewiston Daily Sun highlights the history of the Norway Savings Bank.

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