A Tale of Two Banks: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

One of the most notable things about modern Conway (besides the roundabouts!) is the large number of banks located in the city. This is a sharp contrast to the 1960s and 1970s when there were only two major full-service banks. They were First National Bank and First State Bank and Trust Company. Both left a large footprint on the city.

First National Bank opened up on the corner of North and Front Street in 1933. This was a bit unusual since most banks were failing about that time. The building there had housed the Farmers State Bank before it declared bankruptcy in 1931. You can still see the name etched at the top of the building that is now First Security Bank.

In the mid-1970s, the bank purchased an entire block to build a new bank. The block was bordered by Court, Prairie, Chestnut and Main Streets. One National Plaza opened June 30, 1975, offering full service banking to its Conway customers. Regions Bank bought First National Bank in 1998 and until recently it was the main tenant at 1 National Plaza.

Salter Properties bought the building in 2013 and remodeled it to become Metro Square Courtyard. Office space is now available on the upper floors while Regions is still on the lower floor. The fountain in front of the building that fascinated children for several generations has been updated and outdoor seating has been added.

First State Bank opened its first location in the former Bank of Conway in 1946. The Bank of Conway had opened in 1890 and was one of the oldest banks in Conway. It too failed during the Depression, closing its doors in 1933 after 43 years of service.

The two-story building that First State Bank occupied in 1946 was one of the first buildings constructed by George Donaghey. It was located at 908 Front Street and had a white stone façade with massive double doors that opened into the lobby. It was a beautiful building that would soon be bookended by a couple of small brick stores on either side. It would be occupied by Heiliger’s Books before it was replaced in the late 1980s. Crossman Printing now occupies the space.

This first location had only three teller windows and was described as being not much bigger than a “hole in the wall.” First State Bank would outgrow it and build a new facility in 1960 on the southwest corner of Front and Oak Streets. A 4,000-square-foot second floor was added in 1973 to accommodate the continued growth into a full-service bank. Today the building houses Conway City Hall.

This is the bank I remember most vividly because my mother worked there as a teller in the mid-1970s. Thomas G. Wilson, who co-founded the bank with W.D. Ketcheside, was the President and Chairman of the Board at this time. Mr. Wilson was a charter member of the Conway Development Corporation and was a leading force in developing the Conway Industrial Park. He served as President of the CDC until 1981 and a street in the Industrial Park is named for him.

Every Christmas, the lobby would be beautifully decorated for the season. All of the bank employees would gather in the lobby for the Christmas photo. The picture would be published in the Log Cabin Democrat as a half-page Christmas card wishing all the
customers a Merry Christmas.

In 1984, First State Bank outgrew the facility at Front and Oak and built a new three-story brick structure where its Eastside Branch had been located at 719 Harkrider. It was also in 1984 that First State Bank became a part of Worthen Banking Corporation. The bank would then become Boatmen’s Bank, Nation’s Bank and then Bank of America. Home Bancshares would occupy the upstairs offices before it eventually occupied the whole building.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *