In 1926, “the Year of the Skyscraper” in Jacksonville, Florida, the Barnett National Bank Building rose. When completed, it was 18 stories high and the tallest building in downtown and  remained the tallest building until 1954.

 The Atlantic National Bank Building Annex on the lot beside it began to tilt. With workers fearing it would fall due to the fact the 10-story building’s foundation extended into the taller structure’s space, lawsuits ensued.

Barnett Bank was founded by William Boyd Barnett, a merchant, and banker from northeast Kansas. With his wife, Sarah and oldest son Will, they visited Jacksonville in 1875. Sarah who suffered from neuralgia, saw her health improve while they were in Jacksonville. In March 1877, the Barnetts returned to Kansas, liquidated their assets and relocated to Jacksonville. At the time, their younger son, Bion, was a senior at the University of Kansas, withdrew and soon joined his parents in Jacksonville.

Even though the country was in the middle of the Depression of 1873-79 and Jacksonville with three banks, on May 7, 1877, opened the Bank of Jacksonville (“BoJ”). It opened with $43,000 in the capital on the corner of Main and Forsyth. William was president, Bion was the bookkeeper and the had one employee who was the teller. By the end of the first year and despite gaining the people’s trust, their total deposits only amounted to $11,000. Undeterred, William invited his son Bion to be a partner and passed along Barnett’s five rules of business:

  1. Follow the Golden Rule. You cannot go wrong treating the other man as you would want to be treated.
  2. Give a man 50 cents and you can make a dollar out of him. In other words, be liberal in your dealings but always have a net profit. Do not do business at a loss.
  3. If a young man is of good habits – honest, capable, saving, giving close attention to his business and making progress but lacking in the capital – help him. The young man of today is the businessman of tomorrow.
  4. Never make a promise you cannot and do not fulfill. Investigate carefully before granting a line of credit; once granted, there being no adverse change in your client’s financial condition, fulfill your promise. Your word must be as good as your bond.
  5. Watch your expense account and your losses; your profits will take care of themselves.

The BoJ fortunes changed after a conversation between Bion Barnett and Henry L’Engle, the Duval County Tax Collector. L’Engle was annoyed because the bank holding the county’s funds charged $6.25 for each transfer to New York City banks. Bion waved the fee and the Duval County moved their funds to the Bank of Jacksonville. By the following year, L’Engle was appointed Treasurer for the State of Florida and the state’s accounts were transferred to the BoJ.

Within a couple of years, BoJ’s operating capital exceeded $150,00. The Barnetts applied for and received a National Charter, according to the National Bank Act and they became the National Bank of Jacksonville. In 1893, the institution’s deposited exceeded $1 million.

In the Great Fire of 1901 with most of the city being destroyed, the National Bank of Jacksonville was the only bank still standing. On September 2, 1903, William Boyd Barnett died and Bion renamed the bank, Barnett Bank in honor of his father.

Bion Barnett passed away in 1958 at the age of 101. By this time Barnett Bank had come to be known as “Florida’s Bank.”

With the many acquisitions, bank mergers, and sales from the 1970s through the 1990s, Barnett Bank ended up being owned by Bank of America. Under its ownership, they leased out former Barnett National Bank building to smaller companies through the early 2000s. In 2004, Bank of America abandoned the building. With failed renovation projects over the time, the building became of a shell of its former self.

The photograph is of the vault and the photographer is unknown.

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