In Calvin B. Taylor Bank's infancy in the 1890s, the United States, in the Victorian era, abounded with fresh ideas and renewed energy as it moved forward and grew at a feverish pace.
The Eastern Shore of Maryland, Worcester County, and the town of Berlin, Maryland, exemplified that progress.
With the Civil War behind it, America had become a financial giant. Berlin, at that time, mirrored the country's financial success as the busy town boasted at least 12 stores and numerous light industrial businesses in industries such as milling, nurseries, lumber, orchards, brickmaking and coal.
Agriculture and farming, however, were the mainstays of the economy, from Salisbury west of Berlin to the Atlantic Ocean east of town.
Located on the crossroads of two railroad lines, the town was perfectly suited to ship manufactured and agricultural products to metropolitan areas. The Wicomico and Pocomoke Railroad, later to become the Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic Railroad, connected Berlin to Salisbury and Ocean City. The Pennsylvania line intersected the town in a north-south direction.
Because of the rail lines, Berlin became one of the state's leading shippers of strawberries, Harrison's Nurseries became a world-leading supplier of fruit trees, shipping millions annually, and the brick factory, milling company and outlying farms were able to ship their products to distant markets. All of this made Berlin a viable economic center.
Visitors from the urban areas west of the Chesapeake Bay also stopped in Berlin on their way to the new seaside resort, Ocean City. Today, many lovely old homes can be found on the railroad embankments.
Much of the business of the day was transacted through bartering, with businesspeople frequently exchanging farm products for store bought goods. More than one chicken was delivered to the back doors of physicians and merchants who had rendered their services.
Nationally, meanwhile, the banking industry enjoyed strong growth. By 1890, private banks grew at a rate of five times the population, due primarily to the small amount of capital required to open up. Small towns often had several banks catering to different segments of the population.
Berlin, itself, had three banks before the turn of the century. The First National Bank of Berlin, Maryland, also known as the "Dirickson" Bank, closed its doors when a chocolate company its owner invested heavily in failed. A penned note, attached to a stock certificate of The Guth Chocolate Company of Baltimore, said, "Levin L. Dirickson, Founder of the First National Bank of Berlin, was a 'Guthable' man, taken in by a sweet thing, the 'Guthable' Candy Company of Baltimore, Maryland. He was brother to Dr. Edwin J. Dirickson, my grandfather, who I am named after. The bank building is a living monument to BAD INVESTMENTS." The note was signed Edwin Dirickson France II, 31 May, 1876.
When that bank closed, Calvin B. Taylor, the founder of Calvin B. Taylor Banking Company, bought its remaining assets so local residents would have a local bank to provide security for the savings of thrifty citizens and so the community could more ably conduct business. The corporate seal of The First National Bank of Berlin is still in the possession of Calvin B. Taylor Banking Company.
Mr. Taylor, a renowned Worcester County citizen, teacher, lawyer and businessman, opened his new bank in 1890 and called it Calvin B. Taylor, Banker. Edward Martin, an associate in a law practice with Taylor, became his banking partner for a short time. After Martin withdrew from the business, Mr. Taylor continued alone.
It is believed that during the 1890s, approximately $100 to $1,000 was required to enter the banking business. It is also believed that Mr. Taylor's wife, Mattie, wealthy to a degree, was his first financial backer. The original bank was located on South Main Street to the south of Odd Fellows Hall. No records of that business survived; they were apparently destroyed in a devastating fire in 1901.
Early records do show, however, that the first four mortgages held by the bank were those of David M. Prettyman, Andrew J. Powell and his wife, Albert J. Brittingham and wife, and Samuel J. Hasting and wife. All were recorded in the Land Records of Worcester County in 1890.
Banks were in stark contrast to today. Most clerks and tellers were men who wore formal attire, including long-tailed coats and starched shirts. Women's hemlines reached the ground. Employees arrived at work by foot, bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. Ceiling fans helped dissipate the smoke from cigars and cooled the summer heat. Hours were 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Many banks experienced a financial crisis in the 1890s. While a general boom existed in financial markets, allowing developers to construct massive projects like The Wicomico and Pocomoke Railroad between Berlin and Salisbury 20 years earlier, farmers were hit hard.
A lack of inflation prevented prices from rising, and, in fact, deflated prices in many instances. Wheat which had sold for $3 a bushel before the Civil War had dropped to 56 cents a bushel by 1896.