Interviewee: William Barnett
Interviewer: Samuel Proctor
P: I have known Allen for a long time. He was once in my class
at the University, but do not hold that against him. He
took a Florida history class. I have been there so long
just about everybody at one time or another was my student.
I was thinking that if you had gone there, you would have
turned up in my class.
B: Hopefully, I would have been, but I did not go there.
P: What I am here doing, under the kind auspices of is
seeing what is available in terms of records with which to
work with. It is a rich collection. [There are some]
things I do not understand completely, and I need some
straightening out. How is the organization divided?
B: The holding company is truly a holding company. We have
thirty-five individual banks in Georgia and Florida, each
with its own board of directors and chief executive officer.
Then we have our non-banking affiliates, some that are
internal and some external. Our trust bank is external,
[and] our security company is external.
P: What is a trust bank?
B: It is simple. It is spinning out your old trust department
into a separate corporation which just has trust powers.
They do not take deposits, for instance. They are regulated
as a bank. The mortgage company which supports our mortgage
origination residential operations is there. Our technology
company is incorporated separately. Part of this is for
cost determination and accountability, unlike Sun Trust for
instance, which is one bank. Our culture, the group of
Allen, feels that is the way to keep strong local ties--and
it works. It works for us. Not that any other system would
not work, but that is the system that works for us.
P: Is this building (Barnett Tower in Jacksonville, Florida)
the center of the empire?
B: Yes, as far as senior management is concerned.
P: All policies and so on which impact all of these other areas
emanates from this edifice.
B: We have two committees, basically headquartered on the
forty-first and forty-second floors; one is a management
executive committee and the other is management operating
P: What does the first group do?
B: Policies and strategies.
P: What to buy and what to sell and how to invest?
B: Well, it is a supervisory as well as a strategic group. A
lot of input comes from the management operating committee.
They matrix very well. Allen is chairman of the management
operating committee, and obviously a member of the
management executive committee. There are only six members
of the management executive committee: the chairman and
CEO, the president, the head of credit operations overall,
the senior executive vice-president [who is] basically head
of administration, and the chief financial officer.
P: How did they get their jobs?
B: They are appointed by . .
P: Somebody must say, "We need this man, or this man needs to
B: Well, their jobs . first, there is a need and then they
fill it, and they fill it themselves.
P: Is there a committee or anything that makes those decisions?
B: No, usually if Allen or Charlie need to fill a job, they
fill it. That is their responsibility to do that.
P: How did they get their jobs?
B: A lot of hard work over a lot of years.
P: So like how do you get to Carnegie Hall--practice, practice,
P: So you did not walk around a mall and select them.
B: Absolutely not. That is part of the management committee to
set the tone of the organization.
P: What is the relationship between the boards of the
individual banks? Let us say the bank of Gainesville and
this [one]. Do you set the policy for the banks?
B: The overall policies are set here. You have to realize that
the regular set are greater than the overall policies. Then
our internal policies are set, so there is very little room
to wander and stray from that point of view. You must also
realize that ultimately there is only one proxy given at an
annual meeting to one of the subsidiary banks, that is the
proxy issued by Barnett Banks, Inc.
P: What is the difference between a branch bank in Jacksonville
and the bank in Gainesville?
B: There is a Barnett Bank of Alachua County and a Barnett Bank
of Duval County. If you look at the way we are set up, it
would track pretty closely, the development of branching
generally started in the 1950s. I can remember the first
time we had an away, meaning not adjacent to facility. It
was really a rather practical thing. Then the legislature
said, "All right all the downtown banks should have drive
through facilities." It was a congestion, traffic
nightmare. In the practical pragmatic sense, it was
foolish. Then the banks of Florida were given the right by
the legislature to go within one mile from the block where
you were operating a facility. Basically it started out as
a drive-through facility [and] then they said, "Well, you
can put some people in it." Then over the years it evolved
[and] the legislature said, "Okay, you can go to contiguous
counties, then finally statewide." That is a brief history
P: When did the feds begin to allow banks to go across state
B: Branching always has been reserved in the state. A lot of
things a bank can and cannot do in the state of Florida
depends on what the state says. We are not in the insurance
or retail business at this point because of prohibition in
the state of Florida that says banks should not do this.
There are some exceptions, small state-chartered banks with
a population of so and so can do certain things. The answer
to your question is that it got to be a question of
reciprocity. Eight southeastern banks ultimately said "We
are welcome in your state and you are welcome in ours." We
are in Georgia.
P: It was not as a result of federal or state legislation, it
was an agreement among banks themselves.
B: Among state legislatures themselves.
P: So the feds never moved into this.
B: They had to approve it and in a sense they moved parallel
with the development because the bank holding company had
sort of a rationing ladder affair, none of us wanted to go
head to head with the Federal Reserve to control the
currency about anything it is something that evolved. It
took some time.
P: Let me ask you about the Barnett family now. That is
obviously fundamental to anything that you are going to do
on the history of the banks. What brought the Barnetts down
to Florida in the first place in the 1870s from the midwest?
B: I am going to be able to give you what I hope is not just a
pocketful of information a little later. I am checking on
that myself. At the end of the Civil War, apparently my
great-great-grandmother suffered from what we would call
migraine headaches today. It was thought that the climate
here would be better for her than the climate in Hiawatha,
Kansas. So the boys came over first.
P: One son, from what I have read, came over to Jacksonville
B: That is correct. I think it was William, the older one.
And Bion then joined him not too much later. That is my
P: Have you any idea from family lore or records why William
came to Jacksonville, rather than Atlanta or Richmond?
B: I will try to research that. No, I do not know. It was a
gateway to Florida.
P: Ships came here. There was no rail transportation yet out
of Florida. Not until Plant built his system in the 1880s.
B: I do not know when the rail to Cedar Key was built.
P: In the 1850s. The company of David Levy Yulee built it from
Fernandina to Cedar Key, but it did not cross state lines at
all. That was one of the great problems during the Civil
War--getting the beef and so on out of Florida.
B: I think that he would have come by land. If he had come by
water, he would have come down the Mississippi and used a
P: If he came down the Mississippi to New Orleans looking for
Florida, he might have stopped in Pensacola or some place
B: As far as I know, he came over land directly. I do not know
how he came, horse or train or whatever.
P: So that part of the Barnett history is still unknown--why
[William chose] Jacksonville.
B: Because as a family they seemed to be doing well in
P: They had a bank there.
B: And a general store, a bar . .
P: They brought the money that they needed to get started in
B: The bank still exists out there; the bank in which [William]
P: It is still in existence today?
B: Absolutely. I plan to go out and check on it.
P: But the Barnetts sold out, as far as you know, all their
interests there and came to Jacksonville.
B: Their home still exists. I do not know anything about the
general store, but the bank still exists under new
ownership. His stone farmhouse and his acreage still exist
out there. I have a friend from Hiawatha, [and] I have
talked with him. Connie was born and raised out there. She
knew about this company before she even came to work here,
so to speak. The boys came here and went into a general
P: So that is what William did here?
B: We heard that it was because of health reasons.
P: William opened a store. That is the way that he started to
make a living here.
B: He did not come into the bank until the bank already was
established. I am not sure that they were not side by side.
P: Has anybody worked on a Barnett family history or genealogy?
B: No. People have offered to do it.
P: But I mean none of the family itself, none of the cousins or
anything, have done a [genealogy].
B: I have some personal records I will share with you. In
fact, Russ Hogan has a tremendous amount of material that I
already have given him. He will not be back till Monday.
P: Did you grandfather or great grandfather in the banking
business keep a diary?
B: Not to my knowledge. Dad had a lot of things in his
possession. I have gone through them, but nothing.
P: Do you have a lot of family pictures?
B: Some. There are some from the farm that were taken in the
1870s at Hiawatha. I have been unable to identify exactly
who is who. That is one of those things that I have been
meaning to do and have not taken the time to do.
P: So no one has been able to pinpoint were they lived in the
1870s or 1880s.
B: I do not know, I often wondered where they lived. We know
where they were when they died. We know who had houses
where. Although I do not know where W. B. lived, we knew
where W. D. lived--at the Masonic Lodge up on First Street.
[It is] a wonderful old house which has become the Masonic
P: I know that house, do you know when it was built? It will
be easy enough to check the records on that. That probably
was not their first house though.
B: They built it.
P: Have you been in that house?
B: Not since I was ten or twelve years old. Not since Dad
deeded it to the lodge.
P: Several years ago they put it on the National Register and
there was a little reception to which I was invited, but I
was not able to come over from Gainesville for it. I
regretted that because it would have given me an
opportunity, but I would have been able to see a really old
B: I have seen the inside of the Masonic Lodge. They were all
masons. It seems that that generation was the last of the
folks who were very interested in the masonic work.
P: That is one of the few very old houses in Jacksonville that
has been saved.
B: Interestingly enough, the house of my grandfather still
exists on First Street. The mother of my dad died when he
was five years old and my grandfather never remarried.
P: Are you fourth generation from the original Barnett? Are
you from Bion?
B: I am from William.
P: William was your great-grandfather. He was the original?
B: No his father, he was the founder of the bank. He came over
last with his wife, but he was the founder of the bank.
P: Then you are a descendant of William.
B: William Boyd, two sons Bion Hall and William Daniel.
P: I had you mixed up with the William D., then
B: I am mixed up with the William D., my middle name happens to
be Bion. I am William B., but not from the original. I
will have to draw you up a chart.
P: Yes, I will want to get it straightened out.
B: Bion Hall the elder had a number of children and only one
stayed in banking, Donald Murray. Don died in 1948, far too
prematurely. He was too young.
P: Bion Barnett would have been your great-great uncle, the
founder of the bank?
B: Yes, [he was my] great-great uncle, but [he was] not the
founder of the bank. His father was the founder of the
P: I keep getting that mixed up then.
B: You start with W. B., B. H., and W. D. William D. had one
son and Carlo Sr. He had two sons, William Randall had
Carlo Jr. Dad had one son, me.
P: This has nothing to do with the progression, cause I want to
get up to it. What about Downing Nightingale? We were in
the army together.
B: Were you on crash boats?
P: No, long before we got to that point. When we were going
through basic training.
B: You obviously knew he had been a student at Princeton.
P: He was out of Princeton, out of Savannah. I remember his
wife was Nadia.
B: Nadia Barnett. I was in their wedding.
P: Ring bearer.
P: Now he is dead, is he not?
B: Yes, he is. Nadia died in 1962 or 1963, she had cancer.
She has two great kids living here. Downing is gone, too.
Downing survived Nadia by a good ten years.
P: He was in the bank?
B: Yes, he was in the bank. There was a Donald Murray Barnett
whom I was talking about. That was the father-in-law of
Downing. He won a national advertising award for the
gullible gull ad.
P: I saw that. It was a great ad.
B: It was created by our advertising agency. I cannot remember
the name of the guy, he lived in St. Augustine. I know you
P: The only advertising agency I knew in Jacksonville, I shared
a name with, Proctor and Burnett. You are not part of that
family. What kind of family records do you think you have?
B: I just will share them with you. They probably go back into
the early 1700s. Mostly they are reminiscences by Bion
P: I have that one memoir of his that he was writing to his
children and grandchildren.
B: Was that one about living on the farm in Hiawatha?
P: It tells a little bit about the ancestor that was in the War
B: That is very detailed. I have some other material. I
really have not tried to get into it. When it has come my
way, I have thrown it in a manilla envelope and put it in a
file. After the death of dad, I had occasion to go back.
P: I am just meeting you, I am going to be searching your brain
and memory a lot, I hope.
B: I hope I have it to give you. I have recently shared some
with a niece of mine and I will get that back. There are
probably some letters here that a lot of people have written
throughout the southeast. We know we have family in
Kentucky. I have often wondered if we have any in the
Carolinas and Georgia, particularly Virginia and the
Carolinas. There is some suggestion that the family was
from the West Virginia area until the Civil War. They were
Appalachian Virginia. I was never quite sure what they
were. I was told that they got out to Kansas about the time
the war really was heating up. Every time they got a corn
crop in either Fontrell would take it and burn it or
somebody else would take it and burn.
P: Kansas was a hot bed of activity.
B: It certainly was.
P: It was a violent area.
B: It was not a pleasant time to be there. I do know this,
when William came over here and rose to be a major in the
U.S. Army for the Florida Militia. I know he took time out
to run one of the camps here when the Spanish War came
along. I have his saber at home.
P: I noticed there was one that belonged to Wilson's Battery,
which I knew that was a local one.
B: Wilson Battery. He was commander officer in Battery D in
the unit of Wilson. That is what the silver plate says.
P: That training camp was out in the area of East Springfield,
off of lonna Street. William Jennings Bryant came down and
was based there for a little while. He was related to the
B: I have always been amazed that some people thought
Jacksonville was healthy at the time. Because I doubt
seriously between malaria, yellow fever, and the humidity
you can cut with a knife, I doubt seriously it was a very
healthy place to be.
P: On the other hand, there was so much of the tuberculous or
consumption throughout the United States that they really
believed the warm climate was good. That was what brought
Flagler to Florida for the first time.
B: Exactly--in good faith they were chasing good health.
P: Flagler brought his wife down in 1879 because she had
tuberculosis. They spent the winter here in Jacksonville at
the St. James Hotel.
B: That was a lovely place.
P: I know that you do not remember that. It burned in 1901.
B: That was the Windsor on the other side.
P: The Windsor. I remember that. You were dating yourself
B: That is right. It was the Windsor.
P: Even I do not remember the St. James.
B: I do remember the Windsor with that big porch.
P: Oh yes, the big porch overlooking Hemming Park. They serve
good food in the restaurant there, too.
B: I was told to eat there. That was the home away from home
for my grandfather. When grandmother remarried, and
actually he did not stay with the bank that much longer. He
moved to an orange grove in Mount Dora. I would open up his
house on east First Street. The last time I remember
talking to my grandfather, he was as ill as he could be.
Subsequently, [he] passed away. Dad came to get me on a
Sunday afternoon. [It was] play time. He said, "Go shower
and get in some decent clothes. We are going downtown." On
the way down he told me we were going to get my grandfather.
He was ill and refused to go to the hospital. I remember
the ambulance was already there. They had pre-orchestrated
this whole thing, so finally, granddad said, "I'll go." I
remember him coming down the steps behind the stretcher and
a there was a tremendous grandfather clock at the foot of
the steps and it bonged. [It is] just one of those things
you remember. I remember opening up his house.
P: I will be back sometime in the summer.
B: I will try to dig through some of this stuff and have it for
you. My children do not know much about their pasts.
P: You have children here in Jacksonville? Are they in the
B: No. I have daughters. One is married and lives here, [and]
one is married and lives in San Diego. And I have one in
academics at Suwannee.
P: I have some good friends teaching up there.
B: Sam Williamson is a super guy. He came out of the history
tribe when he was at Chapel Hill.
P: Joe Cushman teaches history up there.
B: Joe is a super guy. He is like you, a patriarch of history.
I know Joe--every time I drive by the KA house, which is
where my grandfather went, I can usually find Joe there.
P: Joe and I have been friends since he was teaching over at
Tallahassee. I have been the longtime editor of the Florida
Historical Quarterly, so Joe has contributed articles and
has done book reviews for the journal.
B: He has done a good job.
P: He has done a lot of work on the church history.
B: I do not know if he is still working or not. He says he is.
P: Every time you talk to him he says, "I am busy, I am doing
B: He does a lot for the university. Joy has been there for
two years; she is a junior and she has done well there.
P: Does she know Andrew Littel?
B: I do not know whether she does or not. My last Christmas
gift was three of the books of Andrew Littel from the
bookstore up there. I feel like I know him.
P: He taught in Gainesville for a while in the 1940s, so we got
to know him pretty well at the time. Then he went back to
Suwannee to become editor of the Suwannee River. He is
B: I understand that he is. Suwannee is a popular school here
in Jacksonville. We have got a number of people, J. F.
Bryan is on the board up there.
P: Seldon Henry one of my colleagues is a graduate on Suwannee.
B: I have not had the pleasure of knowing a lot of the faculty
P: I hope I can be your entry to knowing the faculty in
B: Thank you. I do know Joe; Joe had students who are in their
sixties today, because I know who they are and Joe is always
saying tell so and so hello. I can pretty well figure out
when the classes of Joe started.
P: Myrna will coordinate everything she says very kindly.
B: And Russ will be here next time.
M: We will pull everything together by July. I will let Russ
know before you are coming again and maybe Russ can meet
B: When do you leave for Israel?
P: The 16th, a week from Wednesday. I am presenting a paper at
a conference at Hebrew University.