To those who like to see local traditions preserved, it's reassuring that the new owner of Washington's venerable NS&T Bank plans to keep its old name -- or, at least, the skeletonized (more accurately, the initialized) version of the name under which it now operates.
United Virginia Bankshares Inc., which agreed Friday to buy a controlling interest in NS&T, didn't do Alexandrians the same favor when, in 1962, it took over that city's largest independent bank, then known as First and Citizens National Bank of Alexandria. Somehow, to this modest depositor who opened a still-active account in 1957 partly on the basis of the rather quaint hometown name, the statewide identity still seems, well, remote.
NS&T was one of a group of banks founded to serve the expanding national capital after the Civil War. It has gone through several names, although it's been at only one headquarters site: 15th Street and New York Avenue NW.
It opened on Jan. 22, 1867, when Congress chartered the National Safe Deposit Co. Three years later, under the same roof, was established the National Savings Bank. In 1892, the affiliated institutions formally were merged into the National Safe Deposit, Savings and Trust Co. The name was shortened to National Savings & Trust in 1907. A few years back, its current owners trimmed it to the initials.
Among the original founders of National Safe Deposit Co. were George W. Riggs, of Riggs Bank fame, and Alexander R. Shepherd, Washington's political boss and governor of the District when, from 1871 to 1874, it had a territorial form of government. Henry A. Willard, of Willard Hotel fame, was president of the affiliated savings bank in 1871 and 1872.
So NS&T will be around, keeping a friendly local name alive. Over the years, a lot of such names have fallen by the wayside, the results of failures, mergers and/or renamings.
For example, Union Trust Co. and First National Bank, after briefly being merged in the 1970s as Union First, adopted a name that could exist anywhere in the land: First American. Lost in the mists of time are still-remembered grand old names, among them the old District, Columbia, Commercial, Liberty and Lincoln National banks, National Metropolitan, Washington Loan & Trust, Munsey Trust and that old Georgetown landmark, a Riggs branch since the 1920s, the Farmers & Mechanics Bank.