In 1908, Cobb County had five banks. There were two in Marietta, in addition to banks in Powder Springs, Roswell and Acworth. That year, on Sept. 10, it was announced in the Marietta Journal that a new bank had been established in Kennesaw. The bank officially was called the Bank of Kennesaw, and it was founded by some of Kennesaw’s most prominent citizens. The president was John W. Bennett, the vice president was J.G. Lewis, and B.H. Hill was secretary and treasurer. The bank had several directors, including W.P. Whitaker, who soon became the bank’s cashier. The capital of the bank, or total value of the stock, was $15,000, which is equivalent to around $400,000 today. According to the newspaper, $12,500 was subscribed in 8 minutes after the subscription books opened, a little more than $1,500 per minute.
The bank’s first location was a small, two-story brick building that sat on what is now the vacant lot at the corner of Main Street and J.O. Stephenson Avenue. In late 1908, a wooden commercial building next to the three-story Lewis Building was torn down by Bennett. In its place, he built a two-story brick structure that became the new home of the Bank of Kennesaw.
The bank opening was an important event for Kennesaw’s citizens. The Jan. 29, 1909, edition of the Atlanta Semi-Weekly Journal recorded that 62-year-old J.T. Carrie, a merchant and “man of considerable wealth,” had never “done any banking business” before opening an account with the new institution.
All was going well at the bank until Jan. 10, 1910, when Whitaker, the bank’s cashier, went missing. At the time of his disappearance, he was in the process of transferring the books to a new cashier. The bank was closed for a day, so the directors could figure out what happened. While looking over the books, it was discovered that Whitaker had embezzled $10,000.
Whitaker left his wife and children in Kennesaw when he absconded. In his absence, B.A. Fite was appointed receiver and was left to fix the bank’s affairs. The bank quickly went bankrupt, and efforts were made to repay all depositors in full. Despite this, Fite lost a great deal of his own money.
On Jan. 17, Whitaker surrendered himself to the sheriff. After two days in jail, his $2,000 bond was paid by several friends. Because the bank was not a chartered or incorporated institution, Whitaker could not be prosecuted for embezzlement. It later was found that Whitaker, when selling stock to T.J. Underwood, claimed the stock was worth more than it was, and that the bank was chartered. This led to Whitaker being sentenced to 12 months on a chain gang. After he finished his sentence, he returned to Kennesaw. But, he had a disagreement with Fite, who blamed Whitaker for his financial issues. In 1914, Fite filled Whitaker’s Main Street house with bullet holes. No one was hurt in the attack, and Fite was arrested for the incident.
In March of 1910, another bank was established in Kennesaw. This bank was a state bank, meaning it had a state charter. The new bank, called the Kennesaw State Bank, had a capital stock of $25,000. The bank’s new offices were inside the Bennett Building, where the previous bank had been located.
The next few decades of the bank’s history are mostly uneventful, with a few exceptions. In 1921, Dr. John W. Ellis heard a loud explosion coming from the Kennesaw State Bank. He rushed to tell others, and they found burglars attempting to enter the vault. The burglars heard the approaching citizens and fled before they could reach the inside of the vault. They did, however, manage to open several safety deposit boxes.
In 1952, the state Bank Board decided they no longer would support the Kennesaw State Bank, and it was forced to close. The bank was liquidated, and the bank’s president, Mildred Smith, was left in charge of the process. The bank was not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but still was able to return all money to depositors. The sale of the bank building, vault door and safe was reported in the July 20, 1952, Marietta Journal.
Today, a sign hanging in front of the building is the only trace left downtown of the bank.
– Andrew Bramlett, vice president of the Kennesaw Historical Society and an honorary member of the Kennesaw Cemetery Preservation Commission.