A new exhibit dedicated to banking will be opening at the Fayetteville History Museum Aug. 2. The exhibit will focus on the history of banking in the Fayetteville area beginning in the late 1700s.
The exhibit will take the place of the History of Baseball exhibit on the museum’s second floor. Staff are working to create a space reminiscent of the opulence often found within banks. The room has been painted deep green, and white columns decorate the space. All of these finishing touches within the exhibit help to create the atmosphere of a bank, according to Bruce Daws, museum director.
“Architecture in banking was important. The bank had to speak to opulence, it had to speak to being solid, and it was usually classic architecture,” Daws said.
One of the panels in the new space is dedicated to architecture in the banking world, highlighting buildings in downtown Fayetteville such as the building at 100 Hay St. Originally built to be the National Bank, it has now been converted into office spaces. The building was built to replace the original National Bank, a three-story classic brick building.
“When they decided to build the 10-story skyscraper to replace [the old building], they asked the city if they could move into the Market House. The bank conducted business, not in the upstairs, but put windows and infill in the arches and opened that up as the bank while the mammoth structure was being built,” said Daws.
Stories like this fill the new exhibit space, which in addition to information about the architecture of banks, will hold a large collection of banknotes used in the Fayetteville area for 200 years. Most notable will be a 20 shilling note from 1754, the same year Cumberland County was established. The note is British, as, at the time, everyone who lived in the area were subjects of the Crown. In addition to this rare note, foreign coinage that would have been used for transactions will also be on display. Foreign currency was allowed as payment until the 1850s, when an act was passed forbidding it.
These coins and notes, known as “obsolete bank notes,” tell the story of the Fayetteville financial sector during the 1700s and 1800s.
“Banking is an important subject just to who we are as a city,” said Daws. “We were a colonial port city located at the head of navigation on the Cape Fear River. We were an important trade community. Fortunes were being made and lost on the Cape Fear River. Banks were certainly an important ingredient in the big picture of Fayetteville.”
The museum will be displaying obsolete bank notes from the local banks that popped up between 1807 and the Civil War. A rare set of four Bank of Clarendon notes will be shown. The notes are significant in that they are unsigned and uncut, meaning they never saw circulation.
The exhibit continues through the Civil War. The Civil War impacted banks in the South quite significantly, and the exhibit will have several displays detailing the roller coaster of currency during the war.
“Now, that was an interesting time because all of a sudden, overnight, you had to develop a treasury department and start printing money. Money was being printed so quickly at the very beginning that clerks were signing bank notes; they were being cut with scissors often times instead of being professionally cut,” said Daws. “At first that confederate currency held its value, it was kind of a trust that it was what it represented itself to be. As the war drug along and it wasn’t looking as good for the South, it had lesser and lesser value.”
On display will be a pile of confederate money that came down through one of the old families in Fayetteville.
“It was worthless, but it wasn’t thrown away. Often, it was tucked away as a souvenir, and after many years these saw the light of day again. Some of these notes are heavily worn where they were in circulation for a while; some are pristine,” said Daws.
Another significant piece on display is a banknote signed by the mayors and commissioners of Fayetteville on Aug. 1, 1865. Fayetteville fell to General Sherman in March of 1865. This note is important because of how soon after the war it was printed. A display panel also tells the story of William G. Broadfoot, a banker and confederate agent during the war at the Bank of Fayetteville. As Sherman was marching into town, he had an idea to hide the bank assets around Fayetteville. He put notes in a bank stationery envelope with details as to where these were hidden.
Several of the assets have since been located, affirming that Broadfoot’s plan worked.
Daws hopes the exhibit will showcase the importance of banking to the city’s history. From prominent bank presidents, vice presidents and directors such as Dr. Paul Melchor and Dr. E.E. Smith to Jacob Stein and E. A. Poe, the history of banking within Fayetteville is varied and tells a unique Fayetteville story. The banknotes on display all tell a tale of where the city has been.
“The notes themselves to me are like artwork. They are so finely done,” he said.
Daws said a special thanks should be extended to David Boitnott of North Carolina. The majority of the collection that will be on display is from his own private collection, and he generously allowed the museum to feature the history he has collected. Rev. Robert Alves of St. John’s Episcopal Church has also generously loaned out coinage for the exhibit.
The exhibit opens Aug. 2 at the Fayetteville History Museum at 325 Franklin St.