A CENTURY OF BANKING
Jacksonville. March 17th, 1877. St. Patrick's Day. This
town of merchants and mariners, of lumber mills and
warehouses, of hotels and boarding homes, had been
growing from village to city for more than fifty years.
Not even the destruction of Civil War could stop it. It
had been burned twice, bombarded in duels between
Confederate artillery and Union warships, and occupied
four times by conquering armies. But it had survived,
and by 1877, only twelve years after the war had
ended, it was already well on the way to surpassing its
Lumber was still king brought by boat and cart and
raft to the city's mills, and shipped by schooner the
world over. And tourists were a princely host who
helped keep the cash boxes of the local merchants full.
As it has always been, the St. Johns River was Jack-
sonville's reason for being; its focal point.
Schooners carrying away lumber, naval stores and cot-
ton; and steamboats bringing in settlers, tourists and
health seekers, kept the river busy.
Railroads were beginning to push deeper to the south,
and although much of Florida was still a wilderness,
men of courage and vision and imagination could see
that Jacksonville held the key to a large share of the
peninsula's undeveloped wealth.
Such a man was William B. Barnett, a Virginian by
birth, who had pioneered the settlement of Kansas
before the Civil War, founding a bank in the town of
Hiawatha, Kansas, in 1870, before making his first trip
Years later his son, Bion Barnett, would recall:
"1 can remember when I was a very small boy seeing
my father and mother studying a map of Florida, and
saying that some day they would have a home there.
Little did I think then that their wish would be realized,
and that the greater part of my life would be spent in
"Coming to Florida in the Autumn of 1875 to visit my
brother, who the previous year had moved to Jackson-
ville, my father was most favorably impressed with the
possibilities of the state and believed that Jacksonville
had a great future.
"This belief, in conjunction with the fact that in Flor-
ida's wonderful climate my mother no longer suffered
from neuralgia, to which she had been a martyr in
Kansas, caused my father to decide that he should
make Jacksonville his home and start a bank there.
"Returning to Kansas, he closed out all his interests
and on March 17th, St. Patrick's Day of 1877, we
arrived in Jacksonville to become permanent citizens"
At 52, an age when many men are preparing for
retirement, William Barnett had at last found in Florida
a place that could match his dreams; and he had
found in Jacksonville the kind of city where he could
make those dreams come true. With his 19-year-old
son, Bion, at his side, and $43,000 to invest a
substantial capital for the times Barnett lost no time
plunging into the city's mainstream.
Nationally, it was a time of depression. But in Jackson-
ville it was a time of transition and opportunity.
The owner and editor of the city's largest newspaper
had just died and that property was up for sale.
Bids were being invited for the building of Jackson-
ville's first modern medical facility, St. Luke's Hospital.
Three new hotels had been built in 1875 and 1876,
among them the Windsor and the Carleton, which with
such existing facilities as the St. James and the Metro-
politan made more than a half dozen hotels as fash-
ionable as any in the North.
The stores and wholesale houses along Bay Street
smelled of sawdust and spices, of leather goods and
whisky ladled straight from the keg.
Shops and wholesale houses sold everything from the
latest New York fashions to the most modern appli-
Real estate was booming. New resorts at Pablo Beach,
Mayport, and Fort George Island were doing a brisk
business selling seaside cottages and villas.
And all around Jacksonville the signs of growth were
encouraging... from Arlington on the south side of the
SSt. Johns, to Green Cove Springs, whose enterprising
citizens had erected what was said to be the largest
sign in the United States, with letters 12 feet high and
15 feet wide advertising its charms.
Within Jacksonville, well established mercantile houses
like the Davis-Drew Company, Furchgott-Benedict, the
S S. B. Hubbard Company, and Cohen Brothers, were
doing a thriving business.
SaHelping to underwrite much of this growth were four
small Jacksonville banks more than in the rest of
S the state combined which made the city Florida's
S4 financial center.
t The combined deposits of all these banks amounted
to less than a half-million dollars when, on May 7,
1877, William B. Barnett opened a new bank he called
The Bank of Jacksonville.
It was located in the old Freedmen's Bank Building at
the southwest corner of Main and Forsyth streets. As if
in warning to this new upstart, Jacksonville's then
leading financial institution, The First National Bank,"
announced that it would begin construction immedi-
ately on a new three-story bank building. But William
B. Barnett was undeterred.
Bion Barnett recalls: "Our capital in the beginning was
$43,000, but a few months later my father added
$7,000 bringing it up to $50,000. The office force
consisted of my father, one clerk and myself. I was his
bookkeeper and made the first entries in the books.
"At that time all entries were made with pen and ink.
None of the labor saving machines were in general
use. It wasn't until the 1890's that we purchased the
first Burroughs Adding Machine sold in Florida.
RY GOODS! DRY GOODS DRY GOODS!
FURCsHOTT, MEIDIT & CO.'S.
Wt Bell I I P ,. ,,, ] Forced Sales!
"Jacksonville was primitive by today's standards. The
telephone and typewriter had just been invented but
had not yet come into general use.
"The gramophone and bicycle had made their appear-
ance, but the electric light was yet to come, and only
occasional gas lanterns lit the streets.
"With a metropolitan population close to 10,000, Jack-
sonville had no water mains, no sewers, and the streets
were paved with sawdust or seashells, if at all.
"When fire broke out people ran to the tower on
Newnan Street and pulled the bell rope. If the fire was
too far from the river or a creek for the hose of the
steam fire engines to reach, people rescued what furni-
ture they could and sat around with their neighbors to
watch the bonfire.
"But my father had faith in the future of Florida, and
was content to start in a small way and grow with
Jacksonville. Our progress was slow and, at the end of
the first year, our deposits were only about $10,000."
Jacksonville was overbanked. That fall yet another -
bank opened its doors, Duval Savings. And then a
yellow fever epidemic paralyzed the city's economy -- ...........---.---.
and terrorized the populace. Merchants closed shop ... .
and thousands fled, but the Barnetts remained and
their Bank of Jacksonville advertised 'business as
Bion Barnett, already a member of the Jacksonville
Light Artillery, which he later helped reorganize as the
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First Florida Light Artillery, helped serve one of its two
12-pound horowitzers during the epidemic, firing vol-
leys through the city streets, because it was believed at
the time that the concussion would kill the yellow fever
The elder Barnett, not too proud as a bank president
to roll up his shirt sleeves and rush to his newly
adopted city's aid, also served in the front lines. Shoul-
dering a shotgun he served as captain of Squad 8 in
the cordon of armed citizen guards who patrolled the
city to enforce its quarantine regulations as the epi-
demic spread and the death toll rose.
And so, in the wake of a money panic and national
depression, and in the face of a deadly epidemic, the
Barnetts sank their roots in Jacksonville as bankers,
and as citizens who believed so strongly in the city
they were willing to fight for it against an invisible killer
- and win economically against the no less deadly
forces of competition. The 1877 epidemic was short-
lived, and in less than half a century the Barnetts' bank
would be the only one remaining of the half dozen
that had served Jacksonville in 1877.
Bion Barnett, April 22nd, 1947. "In clearing out a
drawer in my desk I found these maxims of my father,
also his credit advice. They are as good now as they
were fifty years ago.
"Give a man 50 cents if you can make a dollar out of
him. In other words, be liberal in your dealings with
your customers, but don't do business at a loss.
"Don't force reductions of good loans in dull or panicky
times. Tell your good clients they can depend on you,
but ask them to call on your services as little as
possible until the crisis is passed.
"Morals and habits are as valuable in giving credit as
"A man who is honest, thrifty, conscientious in business
and of good personal habits, will usually succeed. i
Unless experience warns you he is on a hazardous .,t
venture his business future has good prospects. .
"Watch your expenses and your losses. Your profits will
take care of themselves.
"Support young, down-to-earth enterprise. Its enthusi-
asm, determination and character make good collat-
eral. But never make a loan unless you are fully
satisfied it is good.
"Follow the Golden Rule. It always pays in the long run
to treat a customer as you would be treated. Always be
fair and square in your dealings with the public.
"Never make a promise you can't and don't fulfill. Your
word must be as good as your bond:'
The elder Barnett also had a maxim that said 'the eye
of the master is worth two of his hands.' He might
ascstr-; ~ PC
THE BAlK ROBBERY.
Another Aneat and RBelese-No farther
Yesterday morning when the train
which'left Jacksonville at 8:45 o'clock
Monday afternoon reaobed Savannah,
the police of that city, who had pre
viously been notified by telegraph of tho
robbery and the description of the atran-
-ger who bad conversed with Mr.Swaim,
tbe cashier of the bank, arrested a man
whom it was thought might be the one
desired. An examination of his cloth-
iog and trunk was made, but only 926
in cash was found, and.he was released.
There. is no difinite clue to the per-
petra.tor of the daring deed.
Yesterday, at the Bank of Jackson-
vifle, business went on as usual. "We
have suffered uo embarrassment from
the Ioa," lTd Mr. Barnett, "although
,ttUay mke u a little short of currncy
fo ...day or two. We have no other
S.:totle robbers, 0ad have n6 other
S0 a ireg t ard to bpw the robbery was
thea t ati givas yester.
71 7~MIU3SI1M, pC fl
have stressed that after an incident of 1878 which cost
the still struggling bank a staggering $7,500 loss. While
William and Bion were out to lunch on a pleasant April
day, leaving the bank in charge of Cashier J.W Swaim,
a customer monopolized the cashier's attention while
an accomplice sneaked in a side door and scooped up
the $7,500 in crisp new notes. When a confidence
man then asked $1,000 to reveal the culprits, William
Barnett waited for him gun in hand and had him
arrested, when he confessed all.
A policy of fair play and the Golden Rule, with a lot of
hard business sense thrown in, earned for the Barnetts
a reputation as conservatives with a liberal touch. And
that's about all they earned in the first three years. But
the policy paid off handsomely. In 1880, Duval County
Tax Collector, Henry L'Engle, asked Bion Barnett if his
bank would handle his account without making
charges for certain services as had another local bank.
Barnett agreed and a few months later, when L'Engle
was appointed State Treasurer, the Barnetts' bank be-
came the depositor for state funds.
In that same year, Bion's brother, William D., who had
been operating a furniture store successfully in the city,
became a member of the firm. By that time, Bion, who
was only 23, had become a full partner in the bank he
was to dominate for nearly three-quarters of a century.
~_111_ 1.._1111 ..................
Bion's brother, William, would become president of the
bank for a time, and his son, William R. Barnett, would
devote almost his entire lifetime to the bank, holding
every position of importance, including president and
chairman of the board, before his retirement in 1973.
His son, William B. Barnett, is today an officer of the
bank, perpetuating the family tradition.
State Treasurer Henry L'Engle's decision to give the
Barnetts his business, increased the Bank of Jackson-
ville's transactions a million dollars annually, and by
May of 1888 the bank's original capital of $43,000 had
grown to $150,000 a very substantial sum for the
times. In that same month, having obtained a national
charter, the Barnetts began operating as The National
Bank of Jacksonville, with Bion as cashier.
Only a few months later, in August of 1888, the grand- ,t .4 .
daddy of Jacksonville yellow fever epidemics struck,
and before it ran its course nearly 500 people died,
scores of businesses were bankrupted, and the popula- William D. Barnet t~
tion was scattered to the four winds. '
The elder Barnett was stricken but almost miraculously -A
survived. All three of the bank's clerks died and Bion .
shouldered the work of the others while the fever
raged. As a relief measure he suspended payments on
installment loans, and when the president and cashier -. .-
of a competing bank were killed he cashed its cus-
tomers' checks until new officers were appointed. It
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was necessary, he said, to maintain public confidence
in the banking community.
By 1890 the National Bank of Jacksonville had to
move into larger quarters at Bay and Laura streets ...
and in that same year the discovery of large phosphate
deposits in Florida set off an era of land speculation
and overnight riches comparable to California Gold
Rush days. Bion, by then 32, caught the fever. "I was
confident that by investing $3,000 I could make
$100,000 in 90 days. I told my father about it and, after
a few minutes he said, 'Have you the $3,000?' Yes, said
1. 'Then I would advise you to go in,' said my father. I
thanked him and turned away much elated, when he
added, 'You will lose it, but I think it will be a good
thing for you, and will probably save you money in the
future. It will teach you the dangers of speculating.' I
lost it all right, but I have never since made a specula-
In my long experience I have found a great deal of
truth in the maxim of the old black preacher who said,
'It ain't the things you don't know what gets you in
trouble; it's the things you thinks you know for sure:"
While other bankers went under, the Barnetts were able
to ride out the national panics of 1893, 1907 and
1929. By 1893 deposits had increased to more than a
million dollars and despite the great freeze of 1895
which destroyed most of the state's orange groves and
plunged its economy into a deep freeze for a time, the
Barnetts' bank continued to prosper.
In 1897 the Barnetts built new quarters at the corner of
Forsyth and Laura streets and for years thereafter
their bank building was a favorite target for local
A year later, in 1898, the Spanish-American War lifted
Jacksonville business out of the doldrums. The city
became a major training center for soldiers at Camp
Cuba Libre in Springfield, and headquarters of the 7th
For months the people were intoxicated with war fever,
patriotism and prosperity as the soldiers paraded and
pumped millions of dollars into the cash boxes of local
Ironically, a typhoid epidemic killed almost as many
soldiers in Jacksonville as were killed in combat during
the entire war...
and in the wake of that terrible scourge, on May 3,
1901, the worst fire in Jacksonville's history destroyed
most of the city, leaving thousands homeless and
Bion Bamert: "Our bank was the only one not burned.
With Jacksonville's characteristic courage, rebuilding
was started at once, and it was not many years before
the town was entirely restored, with much better build-
ings than before. While the other banks were rebuild-
ing, they each had a safe in our vault and kept their
42~~: ". "'rc ~~n~ ~I-
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cash and other valuables there."
Two years later, in October of 1903, founder William B.
Barnett died at the age of 79, and Bion became
president. When the bank's national charter expired
five years later, it was decided to liquidate and reorga-
nize as the Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville in his
honor, in the process paying shareholders more than a
million dollars, or an 800 percent return on their origi-
Bion Barnett: "In 1904, shortly after my father's death,
The Florida Times-Union published a special World's
Fair Edition, in which it was said, and I quote: 'It was a
notorious fact that Mr. W. B. Barnett was the young
man's friend, and that whenever he found a young
man who was entirely honest, struggling to gain a
foothold in business, he always gave him a helping
hand; he did not run his bank on the idea that every
loan should have a Government bond behind it, but
counted honesty and true moral worth as good
Now I don't know if such a quality can be considered
rightly as 'notorious: But it probably explains what the
paper meant when it said that although our bank was
'the strongest and most conservative in the state, still it
is liberal, and through its liberal policy is doing a noble
work in the development of the business interests of
the State and City:
My father would have liked that. He counted five quali-
ties as essential and conducted his life accordingly. He
had faith in Jacksonville, brought industry and integrity
to his banking business, and treated all men with
courtesy and kindness, whatever their station in life:'
The new Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville opened
with a capital of $750,000, and by the time the first
World War began, the bank's reputation for strength
and stability was such that its leadership and influence
could extend into the heart of the city and its war
In the wake of that war and the influenza epidemic of
1918-1919 the worst in local history, which struck
down 31,000 Duval Countians, taking nearly 1,300 lives
S -- the Barnett National emerged stronger and more
: II confident than ever in Jacksonville's future.
"Tell the world of Jacksonville' a typical Bamett adver-
tisement urged in 192; and by 1922 no one could
disagree with t1-ll J, proclamation: "Jacksonville
and the BametTWM working partners for 45
By 1925 Bion Barnett's unique blend of conservative
but liberal banking, had increased the bank's capital
and surplus to nearly 2V2 million dollars, and its de-
posits to more than 25 million. But Bamett was nsar-
ing his seventieth year, and times were changing. Now,
for the first time, he began to relax his control over the
bank's affairs, and in 1925 a landmark decision was
W. R. McQuaid was elected president the first chief
executive in the bar k's history who was not a Bamett.
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Born in 1897, McQuaid was only 28 years old, but he
had already proved his mettle in World War 1, rising to
the rank of major while only 22.
McQuaid was a bridge from past to present, from the
traditional to the innovative. Under his direction the
Barnett National began to stress consumer financing,
launching a trend toward greater emphasis on banking
services and conveniences for the general public that
has become synonymous with the Barnett name in our
The McQuaid era which was to last 23 years -
began with the announcement in 1925 that the bank
would construct an 18-story building at Laura and
Adams streets, which would be the largest and most
modern in Florida.
Appropriately, the building was to be designed along
traditional Italian Renaissance lines. But it was to have
a multitude of innovative features for the times, rang-
ing from high-speed elevators and steam heating, to a
department staffed by, and designed exclusively for
ladies, which was to become one of the most popular
features of the bank for many years.
Construction began in February of 1926, and went on
for more than a year, attracting so much traffic and so
many sidewalk superintendents that the police erected
a pigeon house control tower at the intersection, from
which the officers could have an unobstructed view of
the streets while they were operating the traffic signals.
The new headquarters was opened in 1927, commem-
orating the Barnett National's 50th anniversary; and at
that time, Bion Barnett, still chairman of the board at
70 years of age, observed proudly:
"I have been a banker in Jacksonville for the past fifty
years, and today am at the head of a bank with larger
deposits than any bank had in the United States when
we commenced business here in 1877.
I am proud of the fact that, while during its fifty years
the bank passed through two epidemics of yellow
fever, three financial panics, the great freeze of 1895,
two wars, the disastrous fire of 1901 and the deadly
influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, it has never failed at
any time to take care of the legitimate requirements of
its customers, nor at any time failed to pay cash on
demand to any and every depositor."
During the booming Twenties the Barnett National was
a major supporter and contributor to the Believers in
Jacksonville, comprised of more than 500 local busi-
nesses and individuals who mounted one of the most
successful and sophisticated advertising campaigns
ever conceived on behalf of city growth and devel-
It was a campaign which may well have reflected the
Barnett's own advertising impulse, which was to boost V
a Cily GREAT9 ?
BarnettNationd B& -- -
7 BAR TT
'.N ATIONA. L
Named by Stockholders
of Bank to Succeed
W. R. McQuaid
Prank W Norre was elected
rnairman of the board and clief
executive officer of the Barnett
National Bank yesterday at the
annual rmeen of the Barnett
'"" Wairm R Barnm n wa% named
Sres ent filbna the office which
a. rWrn held by Nnrri for he- Frank H Narri
,AVAL AIR BASE
Mighty 'Yes' Is
Voiced by Voters
In Bond Election
Jacksonville and Florida whenever, and however
It was during the Thirties and Forties, in particular, that
the bank's advertising seemed to reflect not merely the
city's character and spirit, but its conscience as well.
No worthwhile cause was ignored, and for many years
the bank's inordinate sense of civic patriotism and faith
in Jacksonville was expressed in ads that often con-
veyed a kind of glowing Chamber of Commerce
A blend of civic and national patriotism led the bank to
campaign aggressively for establishment of the Jack-
sonville Naval Air Station, for support of the war effort,
and for victory in World War II.
These were the years also, when Frank W. Norris,
successor to W.R. McQuaid, was leading the bank to a
position of ever-widening influence in the state and
Like McQuaid, Norris had joined the bank at the close
of the first world war, quickly rising from clerk to vice
president, and ultimately to the presidency and board
chairmanship from 1952 to 1964.
Norris was that rare combination a banker who
moved in and was well-known and respected in na-
tional banking circles, but who never lost touch with
people, whether as employees or customers of his own
By philosophy a traditionalist, he was also a liberal
practitioner of public relations. He took the mystery out
of banking for his customers; and at the height of his
career was one of the best-known commercial bankers
in the nation, and one of Jacksonville's most dynamic
and dedicated civic leaders.
Bion Barnett continued to wield influence over the
bank, and made a daily appearance at his office until
his 93rd year, but he left the bank in good hands.
In addition to McQuaid and Norris, a succession of
leaders continued to remain involved in the city's most
productive civic and professional organizations, while
carrying the bank forward to ever greater heights.
Among them were generations of Barnetts, including
D.M. and William R. Barnett. Barnett's preeminence
among banks today is due in large measure to the
leadership of Guy W Botts and W. Ernest Allen.
During the 1960s, for example, the Barnett Bank by
then The First National, a term that was later dropped
- gave its support to the massive local reform which
led to Consolidated Government, thereby reversing a
period of civic decline, and preparing the city to meet
the urban crises of the Seventies better prepared than
,:* .. .-.
A movement to establish the Barnett Group of Banks
as early as the 1920s was given major emphasis under
the leadership of Guy W. Botts in the late 1960s, and
today the Barnett Banks of Florida have grown from
an original group of five, to sixty banks with deposits of
more than two billion, and assets of more than 21/2
"Barnett is seeking to create an organization oriented
to Florida's needs," Botts stated in 1966 at the begin-
ning of this highly successful massive expansion and
growth, and today Botts still heads the Barnett Group
in its commitment to the state as a whole, much in the
same way the parent Barnett Bank has been commit-
ted to Jacksonville for 100 years.
The parent bank's capital, established at $43,000 a
century ago, now stands at $25,000,000. In that same
period its deposits have increased from a few thousand
dollars to $234,000,000. And its assets are now valued
at approximately $290,000,000.
A 10-story modern annex to the 18-story Barnett office
building was completed in 1962, followed by a
100,000-square-foot operations center in 1971.
Bion Barnett could have taken all these developments
in stride. He was that unique kind of man, the believer
in dreams with the character and energy it takes to
make them come true. And he made them come true
for his bank and for his city.
He left behind words and images from a full and
productive life, and the spirit of the man who helped
build and shape the oldest and most successful bank-
ing institution in Florida, still rings true today:
1927. "A bank, in the final analysis, is nothing more or
less than a great financial service station designed
to serve its customers in the most courteous and
efficient manner. The bank of today is a veritable
Department Store of Finance, ready to meet the small-
S est individual need of the school boy with his savings,
or to actively participate in the largest international
1936. "We, as a nation, have become extravagant, and
forgotten that such a thing as economy exists. Na-
tional. state, city and individual expenses have in-
creased almost to the breaking point. The way to get
out of this mess is to cut our expenses and balance
our budgets. The Public Enemy Number One today is
Mister Uncertainty. And only Congress can kill him."
1939. "We must stop trying to buy prosperity by
1944. "The power to tax gives the power to destroy.
The unlimited power given the national government in
Amendment Sixteen should be repealed if we want to
remain a democracy. The national debt will continue to
grow until it exceeds any debt ever conceived of by
1952. "There has been a trend in the thinking of
some circles that something can be obtained for noth-
ing. that the government can and should bestow bene-
fits for which we do not have to pay. This trend, if
allowed to continue to grow, could be disastrous to our
American way of life. Our youth must be taught that
our high standard of living has only been obtained by
industry, working and paying for what we want and
that only by industry, honesty, and practicing the
Golden Rule in our relations with our fellowmen can
we improve our American way of life:'
Bion Barnett's good humor never deserted him, not
even as he advanced in age to the century mark.
Seventy years. "My grandfather died at the age of 96
from excessive use of tobacco. When I get to be 90,
I'm going to have to watch my smoking:'
Eighty-nine years. "A man my age doesn't need con-
gratulations. Many of his friends have passed on. His
children have married and moved out. His existence
becomes somewhat a lonely one. But then, I suppose I
could marry again..:'
Ninety years. "I have decided to establish a rule of the
bank to the effect that no officer or employee who
reaches the age of 89 need return to work after the
noon lunch hour"'
He died in 1958 at the age of 101. In the example of
his life, his work, and his words, he left behind a legacy
that still speaks strongly to us today...and a bank that
carries the Barnett name proudly.
And what of the future? Guy Botts, who has guided
Barnett through the critical growth years of the Sixties
and Seventies to the present, had this to say:
"None of us here now will be present when the Barnett
Bank observes its two-hundredth anniversary. And as
for predictions, the only thing I am absolutely confident
of is that whatever happens probably will exceed our
most optimistic expectations.
"A hundred years from now, Jacksonville may well be a
city as large as the present New York. As for the
Barnett's outlook, I believe it will be twice as big as it is
today in five or ten years, let alone a hundred.
"But of one thing I am certain. This is that in the
highly competitive world of banking, the fact that the
Barnett Bank has not only survived a century, but has
become the foundation on which the fast-growing Bar-
nett Banks of Florida have been built, has more than
"It speaks to us not only of the character of our found-
ers and those who have succeeded them including
Albert Ernest, Barnett's current president, and W. Er-
nest Allen, chairman of the board and chief executive
officer. But it speaks to us also of the public confi-
dence that has given Barnett its unfailing support over
the years... a confidence that has been earned by, and
is based on, unfailing performance even in the most
difficult of times.
"And that, after all is said and done, has got to be
the bottom line in banking ... yesterday, today
By Richard A. Martin
- -- Al-