Merchants bank

Merchant’s Bank Building was chartered in 1912 on Marion Avenue where Serendipity Salon is today.

Banking in the early years was a challenging proposition and the names were often confusing.

Perry McAdow’s Punta Gorda Bank was the city’s first local bank. It had some competition in 1912 when Ewin W. Smith’s Merchants Bank began operations. Its name was changed to First National Bank of Punta Gorda in 1919.

In April 1917, McAdow’s Punta Gorda Bank was recapitalized with a saddlebag of $20 gold coins from prominent cattleman W. Luther Koon. With Koon installed as president, and its state charter actually received 18 years earlier, the name became Punta Gorda State Bank. Albert Dewey, owner of the Charlotte Harbor Lighterage Company, was vice-president.

Initially, banking operations were moved from the Cross Street (U.S. 41 south) and West Marion Avenue location to a concrete block building on the now vacant northeast corner of East Olympia and Nesbit. By 1921, they were moved to a new building, no longer standing, on the corner of King Street (U.S. 41 north), at 103 West Marion. Koon was a demanding banker requiring strong collateral and prompt repayment. In fact, talk around town was he would only loan money to folks who had a cow.

In 1925, a second reorganization occurred when Baron G. Collier purchased a large interest in the bank, along with the Hotel Punta Gorda. The bank’s capital doubled to $50,000 and Collier became chairman of the board, with Koon staying as president. Marian McAdow remained, the only woman, as one of seven directors. Collier also made major renovations to the hotel, adding a fifth-floor ballroom and renaming it Hotel Charlotte Harbor.

That same year, Edwin W. Smith and other First National Bank of Punta Gorda investors opened a second bank, Fidelity Trust Company. It occupied prime corner space at West Marion and Taylor in the new Charlotte Bay Hotel, where the Sunloft Building is today.

Then, the stock market crash of 1929 led panic-stricken depositors to demand their accounts be closed and money returned, creating devastating “runs” on financial institutions across the country. Punta Gorda was not spared and of the city’s three banks, only Punta Gorda State Bank survived, the story goes, due to Collier’s fortuitous arrival with a suitcase full of cash.

Punta Gorda State Bank continued operating and reorganized in 1960 as the “second” First National Bank of Punta Gorda, moving to a new building at the corner of East Olympia and Nesbit, across the street from its location in 1917. In 1990, it reorganized again as First Florida Bank and in 1993 was acquired by the Barnett system. Today, banking services are offered at the same spot by Bank of America.

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