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Eric Metcalf

 

Slater Trust Company, 9:35 AM

by Eric Metcalf

Slater Trust Company in Pawtucket, Rhode Island marked its Golden Jubilee – the 50th anniversary of business – with office renovations.  The bank officers purchased their building in 1900.  Shortly thereafter, they embarked on an addition that seamlessly extended the original design and ornamentation.  Remodeling of the ground floor followed in 1904-1905.  The photograph was taken during the course of that work.  The anonymous photographer took the shot from several stories up in a building across the street. Rhode Island architectural historian, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, described the edifice as the best example of the state’s post Civil War Gothic style.

Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island Collection at the Providence Public Library

The overhaul of the Company’s ground-floor offices was extravagant.  Every consideration was brought to bear on the comfort of the customers.  A ladies’ alcove afforded access to either the receiving or paying tellers.  The women could discretely communicate through wickets that opened onto the little sanctuary.  The Pawtucket Times noted, “a lady, unaccustomed to banking usage, may privately make inquiries or transact her banking business without lining up with the men.”  The banks’ funds were also well protected:  “The company’s specifications called for a burglar, mob, bomb, earthquake, water and fire proof vault.”  In 1907 the New York Times reported that depositors were lining up on the sidewalk to withdraw their savings.  There was a reason for the “mob-proof” specification.

Pawtucket has been a city in decline for decades.  Today, unemployment rates are in the double digits.  The community is one of the centers of the contemporary mortgage crisis, only the most recent in a long line of American financial disasters.  The fabled Slater Trust Building was razed in 1968.  An unassuming branch office of Fleet Bank (later swallowed by Bank of America) was erected on the site.  Now the address belongs to a community health care organization.

The Trust Company spun out of the wealth generated by Samuel Slater, whose Pawtucket cotton mill revolutionized American textile manufacturing and ignited the Industrial Age.  The photograph preserves an image of Pawtucket on the cusp of a new technological era.  That world would be wired for communication, electrically lighted, and driven by the gasoline engine.   The telephone connected local businessmen with New York and Boston.  Trolleys promised new convenience.  The motorcar was poised at the curb.  A banking customer wearing a straw boater hat stood motionless in the doorway, apparently quite at home in all these tangled wonders woven from the raw cotton picked by Southern slaves.

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