Barnett: The rise and fall of Florida's largest bank

Once housing an institution that enhanced the lives of tens of thousands of citizens over a century, the abandoned Barnett Bank Building still stands two blocks from William Boyd Barnett’s 1877 bank, despite its namesake disappearing from the banking industry nearly 20 years ago.

After a decade of operation, the institution reported deposits of $358,873 by the end of 1887. The major reason for the banks growth stemmed from a conversation between Bion and Duval County Tax Collector Henry L’Engle. L’Engle had been upset with a competing bank that was charging his account $6.25 fees for transfers between New York and Jacksonville. Bion Barnett offered to waive the fee if L’Engle transferred the funds to the Bank of Jacksonville and L’Engle immediately accepted the offer. In 1888, William Barnett sold stock and, with the resulting capital of $150,000, applied for a national bank charter. In May, the charter was granted and the bank was renamed the National Bank of Jacksonville. Although the Great Fire of 1901 would consume most of the city, the Barnett’s National Bank of Jacksonville was the only bank spared by fire.

On September 2, 1903, William Boyd Barnett died at the age of seventy nine. Upon his father’s death, Bion, who had been the active manager of the bank for years, was named president. In 1908, with its twenty year national charter expiring, the bank reorganized and changed its name to the Barnett National Bank, in honor of its founder.

The bank grew steadily over its first fifty years, necessitating the construction of this $1.5 million banking and office center in 1926. Barnett commissioned Mowbray & Uffinger for the project’s design, and the James Stewart & Company as the contractor to construct it.

Mowbray and Uffinger was an architectural partnership in New York City known for pre-World War II-era bank buildings. The principals were Louis Montayne Mowbray and Justin Maximo Uffinger, Sr. In 1927, after Mowbray’s death, the firm was reorganized as Uffinger, Foster, and Bookwalter. The Dime Savings Bank of New York (1908) is considered to be the firm’s greatest work, and has been designated as a New York City landmark. Other notable area banks designed by Mowbray and Uffinger are Jacksonville’s Atlantic National Bank Building (1908-1909) and the fourteen-story Savannah Bank and Trust Building (1911) in Savannah, GA.

The James Stewart & Company was one of North America’s most accomplished and longest standing contractors between 1845 and 1953. In 1865, anticipating opportunities in the U.S. after the Civil War, James Stewart (1822–1902) relocated to St. Louis from the former Canadian capital of Kingston. His firm earned profits and acclaim, building railroads west of the Mississippi River and, by the end of the nineteenth century, had grown impressively with the nation’s expanding industrial might. Beginning around 1900 and, under the leadership of Stewart’s sons, the company added banks, department stores, hotels, and civic structures to its portfolio, including New York’s Madison Square Garden and Tokyo’s Mitsui Bank.