United Bankshares Inc. marks 175th anniversary - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

United Bankshares Inc. marks 175th anniversary

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James E. Casto / For The State Journal. This postcard features the Parkersburg National Bank which had assets of $900,000 when it opened this building on Market Street in 1915. James E. Casto / For The State Journal. This postcard features the Parkersburg National Bank which had assets of $900,000 when it opened this building on Market Street in 1915.
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By JAMES E. CASTO
For The State Journal

When the Northwestern Bank of Virginia decided to open a branch office in Parkersburg March 17, 1839, no one could have foreseen that the direct corporate descendent of that branch bank, United Bankshares Inc., would grow to be one of the nation’s biggest banking companies.

Today, United Bankshares is the 48th largest bank in the United States, with 1,733 employees managing $11.7 billion in assets at 133 offices in five states — Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio — as well as in Washington, D.C. It operates dual headquarters in Charleston and Washington, D.C. and is traded on NASDAQ.

Chairman and CEO Richard M. Adams proudly notes that United Bankshares has increased its dividends to shareholders each year for the past 40 years.

“We are one of only two major banking companies in the USA to achieve such a record,” he says.

As United Bankshares celebrates its 175th anniversary, Adams likes to point out that the banking firm was “born and raised right here in West Virginia.”

It was James Cook, a former sheriff, mayor and legislator, who persuaded the Northwestern Bank of Virginia to open a branch in Parkersburg. He would go on to be president of the bank for nearly 30 years until his death in 1867.

The first day of business for the new Parkersburg bank was St. Patrick’s Day, a fact that has led to a long-standing tradition. Each year on St. Patrick’s Day, the bank passes out shamrocks to its customers to commemorate its birthday.

When the Civil War prompted West Virginia to secede from Virginia, that historic split could have spelled the end for the Parkersburg bank, as its vault was filled with worthless Confederate currency. However, a new national charter transformed the former state bank into the new Parkersburg National Bank and established it on a firm financial footing.

Over the decades, three Ohio River floods — in 1884, 1913 and 1937 — challenged the bank. But after each flood, the bank scraped away the mud and got back to business.

The bank had assets of $900,000 in 1915 when it opened a new building on Parkersburg’s Market Street that would be its long-time home. As the Parkersburg area grew, so did the bank. It had assets of $4 million in 1935, $12 million in 1946 and $17 million in 1965. Douglass Adams was the bank’s president from 1965 until his death in an auto accident in 1974. Under his leadership, the bank gained statewide prominence and reached nearly $100 million in assets.

In 1975, the board elected Adams as president of Parkersburg National Bank, and it’s under him that the bank has recorded its spectacular growth.

In 1984, after the West Virginia Legislature changed the state’s banking law to permit branch banking and the formation of bank holding companies; Adams formed United Bankshares and began acquiring banks. The company’s primary subsidiary, Parkersburg National Bank, became United National Bank following mergers with Heritage National Bank in Huntington and the First National Bank of Ripley. In 1986, United merged with the parent firm of Kanawha Banking & Trust Co., in 1986, bringing United’s total assets to $700 million.

In 1988, West Virginia lawmakers allowed banks to expand across state lines, and United began acquiring banks in Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area.

Other mergers and acquisitions followed at a rapid pace. In the latest, completed in January of this year, United merged with Arlington, Virginia-based Virginia Commerce Bankcorp, Inc. The merger was the 29th for United since Adams became the bank’s president and CEO. And he has said the banking company plans to continue expanding.