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Catonsville Once a Summer Retreat
By Mark Hotz, Bank Note Reporter
September 17, 2013

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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Since I have not done any particularly interesting travel this summer, I thought I would continue to show you some of the small town banks in the Baltimore area, where I live. Although most of these towns are now suburbs of Baltimore, located just off the Baltimore Beltway (I-695), in bygone days the Baltimore City limits were more constricted than they are now, and these towns were some distance away.

This month we will look at Catonsville, a suburb located on the southeastern side of Baltimore. Unlike Pikesville, which we visited last month, Catonsville is a very old town, at one time considered far enough away from Baltimore to be seen as a summer retreat.

It is generally believed by historians that native tribes, known as the Piscataway, established villages in the Catonsville area before the European colonists arrived. This tribe occupied the land between the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay and up the Patapsco River. Catonsville was located along the Piscataway Trail.

The colonists and the tribes got along until the mid-17th century, when the English government ended the practices of Catholic missionaries in the area. It is believed that the tribes were driven from their villages and some were hunted by slave catchers. As happened in many areas of early colonial America, diseases unknown to the tribes were spread by the colonists. Eventually, the tribes moved north under the protection of the Iroquois.

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With most of the natives scattered, the colonists expanded across Maryland. Present-day Catonsville was settled in the 18th century. In the early 19th century, a county road along the Patapsco River - named the Frederick Turnpike, later designated Route 144 - was opened by the Ellicott family to serve traffic between their flour mill, Ellicott Mills, and Baltimore.

Catonsville as we know it today was settled along this route by Richard Caton, under the authority of his father-in-law Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Travelers along “the turnpike” (as it was then known) rested and conducted business in the area, causing Catonsville to grow.

The large Victorian and Colonial homes located in Catonsville were built by wealthy Baltimoreans. Originally, these communities were used as summer residences to escape the heat in Baltimore.

Eventually, with the introduction of the automobile and electric trolley, families began to reside in Catonsville year round. Baltimore attempted over the years to annex Catonsville, lastly in 1918, but all attempts were rebuffed. The community remains an unincorporated town in Baltimore County.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) made his last public appearance on June 9, 1909, at the commencement ceremony of St. Timothy’s School for Girls in Catonsville, to fulfill a promise he made to a young girl he had met on the steamer Minnehaha in 1907.

An active residential community obviously needed a national bank, and so the First National Bank of Catonsville opened in 1897 under charter 5093. The first officers were Charles G.W. MacGill, president, and Arthur C. Montell, cashier.

The bank operated for 24 years before deciding to liquidate in mid-1921. As such, most of its issue was in Series of 1882 notes, including Brown Backs, Date Backs and Value Backs. These were issued until 1917, when the bank received Series 1902 Plain Back notes, issued for just a few years before the bank closed.

The entire lifetime issue was $673,000. Not surprisingly, the majority of the bank’s issue was in Series 1882 Date Back notes, and the census, currently showing 13 notes reported, supports this, with eight of the known notes being of this type. Because this bank closed so early, it is the only Baltimore suburban bank not to issue any small-size notes.

I feel privileged to have two very nice notes from this bank. The first is my Series of 1882 $5 Brown Back, bearing serial No. 1. This note turned up ages ago, and I was eventually able to add it to my holdings. The fact that it is circulated is quite curious, and as the late John Hickman used to say, a “miracle of survival.” You can see the nice pen signatures of president MacGill and cashier Montell.

A few years back, a very nice grade Series of 1902 $5 Plain Back on this bank turned up on eBay. Given that the bank only issued a very small number of this type, I had never seen one for sale in any grade. I put in a strong bid and got the note. The seller happened to be a jewelry store in Pennsylvania, so I went up there to pick it up. While there, the proprietor offered me some nice coins, so all in all, it was a worthwhile purchase.

Catonsville today virtually abuts the Baltimore City line, and its main street, Frederick Road, is the same route known as the Frederick Turnpike Road centuries before. The town center has a nice amalgamation of shops and restaurants. The leafy residential streets boast large Victorian-style homes on large lots. Many of these homes have been in the same families for generations.

I have included a photo postcard view of the First National Bank of Catonsville as it appeared circa 1910. The building still stands in Catonsville (as does the I.O.O.F. Hall also seen in the postcard view), remarkably little changed from the century-old view. The building has been very well maintained through the years. Today it houses a technology business. I tried to photograph it from pretty much the same vantage point as the 1910 view, avoiding standing in the middle of the street to take the shot.

It is nice to see old bank buildings preserved and utilized. Sadly, many old bank buildings are deemed too expensive to maintain, heat and air condition, and are often demolished. This is sad, but a fact. All too often, modern banks would rather tear down an old bank and replace it with a more user friendly one. In many small towns, there are no businesses that want to bear the cost of rehabilitating old buildings for modern use.

Readers may address questions or comments about this article or National Bank Notes in general to Mark Hotz directly by email at markbhotz@aol.com.



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