The Early Years
In the summer of 1911, citizens from northwestern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania, including the towns of Newton, Phillipsburg, Easton, and Stroudsburg, conducted meetings in Hope to establish a bank.
The First Hope Bank just a few months after opening in 1912.
While the town had been bypassed by railroads, it was the confluence of seven major roads with a growing population not adequately served by banks located in Blairstown, Belvidere, and Hackettstown, New Jersey, and Portland, Pennsylvania. Quickly raising the prerequisite capital of $25,000 (250 shares at $100/share), the citizens, including Lewis C. Beatty, Sr., petitioned the United States Treasury Department to charter a national bank under the provisions of the 1863 National Banking Act. Doubting the feasibility of the endeavor, the comptroller of the currency, Lawrence O'Murray, directed those citizens to conduct an independent evaluation of the proposed bank and its prospects for success.
An individual acceptable to O'Murray was engaged and traveled by train (a Pullman sleeping car) from Washington, D.C., to Belvidere, New Jersey, rented a horse and wagon for the trip from Belvidere to Hope, engaged a room at the American House, and spent three days in evaluation. His transportation and investigation costs came to $75.03. The consultant confirmed the proposed bank to be a viable prospect for success. Fortified with this information, the comptroller of the currency granted a charter December 21, 1911, for The First National Bank of Hope and certified the bank's directors to be Lewis C. Beatty, Sr., John H. Huff, Harry R. Hurley, Samuel Read, Richard M. Van Horn, and cashier, A. Roy Hunsberger.
After renovating the first floor of the former Moravian Inn to accommodate the bank's offices and the cashier's residence, the bank opened for business March 4, 1912. Hours of operation were Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
During the next ten years the bank experienced growth of $264,455 in overall assets and generated modest profits. The increase of area businesses during World War I and the popularity of the automobile and motorized wagons brought challenges to the bank's management. Loan underwriting, collection of loan delinquencies, and selection of the bank's investments became more intricate. Regulators grew increasingly concerned as to the business acuity of the bank's day-to-day operations. Following a review in late July 1922, it was determined that more rigorous management expertise was needed. On August 19, 1922, the bank, with regulatory blessing, engaged Lewis C. Beatty, Jr., a recent June 1922 graduate of Belvidere High School and the son of Lewis C. Beatty, Sr., to work as clerk and teller. The younger Beatty had just celebrated his 19th birthday on July 29. His high school education, in the eyes of the regulators, would address the bank's management shortcomings. This began a 62-year association and leadership of the bank by Lewis C. Beatty, Jr. While he would not gain the title of cashier until 1938 or that of president until 1956, in the eyes of the regulators, and soon the citizens of the surrounding area, he was "The Hope Bank." His father, Lewis C. Beatty, Sr., continued as director and vice president for two years, dying June 22, 1924.
A Foundation Built on Character
Lewis C. Beatty Jr. and Gladys H. Hill (2nd from right) in 1949.
Lewis C. Beatty, Jr.'s continuous study of various banking courses and mentoring by national regulators fashioned him into a highly skilled, compassionate innovator throughout his distinguished stewardship of the bank. Key to his success was a unique capacity to measure an individual's character after a conversation never lasting more than 15 minutes. This event determined whether the bank would advance the individual money or continue a business relationship. Lew, or "Uncle Lew," was rarely wrong in his judgment. During the Great Depression, from 1935 to 1941, through his relationship with regulators of the day, especially A. Harold Robinson, The First National Bank of Hope received only interest payments on many significant loans, especially those to farmers. These were repaid when the borrower gained greater financial stability. The farmers from the Great Meadows area evolved into profitable truck farming operations during the late 1940s and early 1950s directly due to Lew Beatty's understanding of their business and the strength of their respective integrities. Years later, while discussing this philosophy with a reporter from the Newark Evening News (forerunner of The Star Ledger), he observed, "If I can find out what kind of wife the man has, I can usually tell if he is a good risk. If the farmer has a farmer's wife, he will probably do well."
While being an extraordinary judge of character, Lewis C. Beatty, Jr. shocked his Warren County colleagues by driving to San Francisco, October 1949, for the American Bankers Association's 75th convention. Not willing to bring the directors into the bank's daily operation he deputized his senior teller, Mrs. Gladys H. Hill, to be in charge, which included lending during his 3½ week absence. Interestingly, Mrs. Hill handled her responsibilities with unsurpassed professionalism increasing the bank's assets, as well as writing several loans. In 1949, banking pundits could not accept a woman being responsible for a bank, who not only increased assets, but wrote loans without male supervision.
An Eye Toward Innovation
In the field of new business techniques, improved measures to preclude bank robbery were established in 1935. This included erection of a barricade topped with electric wires, firing ports for the teller's pistol, gas masks for the tellers' use, and waist-high ¾" navy gun metal armament, all of which are viewable in Hope today. As an aside, if the electric wires did not deter the robber, the spikes at the top of the barricade would insure that effort.
In the early 1950s, sensing the increased need for faster and more convenient customer service, Lewis C. Beatty Jr. established one of the first Northwestern New Jersey drive-up windows and drive-up night depository.
Lewis C. Beatty Jr. handling the first drive-through banking transaction.
Newspapers heralded these innovations to be "the first in Warren County," and "especially useful for mothers with young children precluding the trouble of finding a parking space while controlling their young charges." Lewis C. Beatty, Jr.'s improvements were not without criticism from the day's conventional wisdom. Observers wondered why anyone would want to conduct bank business from a car rather than face-to-face in an office. These naysayers could not conceive of anyone in a small town wanting to place money through a wall and into a deposit box without getting a receipt. He would weather this criticism and celebrate 50 years of banking in August 1972.
The bank that seemed faltering 50 years before had survived the Great Depression and World War II without closing its doors while reaching $17 million in assets. "Lew's Bank" was admired far from the hills of Northwestern New Jersey by customer and regulator alike. The New Jersey Bankers Association, recognizing Lewis C. Beatty, Jr.'s robust leadership and outstanding service, honored him with membership in the Half-Century Club. Similar recognition would be awarded his wife, Lillian T. Beatty, in April 1990 commemorating her 50 years of service in the bank's loan and audit departments. Lillian continued working at the bank until her death April 13, 2000, at the age of 93.
While Mr. Beatty was socially and technologically ahead of his time, his great love for the bank's office and its history would prove valuable in the years following his death, October 23, 1984. Succeeding him on October 29, 1984, as president and chief executive officer, was his son Norman E. Beatty, a 1963 graduate of West Point and 1971 graduate of The University of Alabama (MBA, MS). Norman Beatty served 20 years in the United States Army, retiring 1983 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Expanding in a New Era
Initially, the bank had occupied half of the first floor while a portion of the second was used by Hope's Moravian Grange for meetings until 1938. In 1965 the bank claimed all of the first floor with the president's residence being relocated to the second. In 1973, bank growth necessitated use of all floors. In succeeding years, increased traffic on the roads surrounding the bank, and limited parking necessitated total building renovation. Site work began in late 1987 and continued through December 1988. The historic bank was connected to the recently purchased Hartung Home. Relocated drive-up facilities were increased from one to three, parking for 22 cars was established, while the night depository was moved and an ATM added. The significant love and care exercised during Lewis C. Beatty, Jr.'s 62-year stewardship permitted an extraordinary restoration returning the building to its 1807 appearance. These renovations were followed in 1993 by the purchase of the Leida House and internally connecting it to the bank's complex. In 2002, continued growth and the need to serve an ever-expanding community prompted the addition of a second floor with elevator connecting the historic bank to both the Hartung and Leida second floors.
On December 12, 1997, the First National Bank of Hope's name was shortened to First Hope Bank. First Hope's efforts to serve an ever-expanding community fostered new offices in Great Meadows (April 1985), Blairstown (January 1988), Hackettstown (October 1998), Sparta (June 2000) and Andover Township (July 2004).
Since 1911, the Bank and its leadership have been heavily involved in the support of local businesses, especially the Hope Creamery; the establishment of volunteer fire departments in Hope, Independence Township, and Mountain Lake; and ambulance squads in Belvidere, Blairstown, and Independence Township. As part of the bank's 1987-88 restoration, a monument honoring all Hope citizens who served their country in peace and war was presented to the Township of Hope.
First Hope Bank is a "Bank of Promise." It partners with Gen. Colin Powell, the American Bankers Association, and America's Promise, a national not-for-profit organization in an effort to improve the lives of our nation's youth. "America's Promise" serves as a nationwide catalyst, urging public, private, and non-profit organizations to focus their combined talents and resources to improve the lives of our nation's youth.
Since August 2001, First Hope Bank has donated financial literacy curricula to local elementary schools. To date, these primary grade materials costing over $100,000 are used by 16 schools in Morris, Sussex, and Warren counties. Written by New York Times best-selling author Neale S. Godfrey, the Common Cents Financial Literacy Program teaches financial life skills to children in a fun and engaging manner. As a financial institution, the bank can find no better way of community service than educating children about their financial futures.
Looking to the Next 100 Years
The Bank has a wide array of initiatives with Pass It Along, a private, non-profit organization headquartered in First Hope's Sparta office. During 2003, First Hope and Pass It Along collected items for people in need at all High School football games in Sussex County for a project entitled "Field of Hope." Additionally, the Bank collected 2,432 coats and 600 Holiday gifts at its offices for those less fortunate in late November 2003. Spring 2004, Bank associates helped construct a Habitat for Humanity home in Franklin, NJ. For these and other efforts, First Hope received the 2003 Philanthropic Award.
The Bank takes great pride in its history of technological and innovative service to its customers and communities. It labors mightily to understand each individual's needs and how its resources can be tailored to turn each one's hopes into reality. Through a sense of history and service to others, three generations of Beatty's have led the bank. The great grandson of Lewis C. Beatty, Sr., Lewis R. Beatty, joined this effort in September 1999 after completing a Masters in Business Administration at Wake Forest. He is cashier and the bank's chief financial officer while overseeing the investment portfolio.
His brother, Daniel G. Beatty, a 1999 West Point graduate, joined the bank in June 2007. After completing an intensive management training program during which he worked in all areas of the bank, Dan was appointed chief operating officer in October 2008. In this position, he oversees the bank's technology, including its IT operations, online banking, and deposit operations.
Agnes R. Beatty, wife of Norman and mother of Lewis and Daniel, has served since 1986 as vice chairman of the board of directors. First Hope, independently owned and operated, plans not to be acquired or merge with another financial institution. First Hope Bank was here yesterday, is here today, and is here to stay.