Our History

Our History

1889. Boston’s John L. Sullivan was the heavyweight champion of the world. Safety bicycles with pneumatic tires were the latest rage. Croquet was a popular sport and roller-skating was just catching on. Railroads were replacing iron-covered wooden beams with steel rails. The Housatonic River powered woolen and paper mills here in the Berkshires.

A bright new age was dawning. Electric arc lamps had begun to light the downtown streets. Pittsfield’s first phone exchange was then 10 years old. The City’s 14-man police force was housed in a new $2800 brick station house.

And, on January 8, 1889, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank was born. The founding agreement read:

“The purpose for which the Corporation is constituted is accumulating the savings of its members paid into such Corporation in fixed periodical installments, and the lending of such funds so accumulated to its members.”

Additionally, no one except the shareholders would own any assets or net earnings of the Bank. Members were thereby afforded a means of regular savings as well as a source from which to borrow funds for the purchase of their own homes.

Cooperative banks had been authorized by Massachusetts legislation only a dozen years earlier. These institutions proved to be the cornerstone of financial security to the average workingman.

More than a score of the City’s most influential citizens were among the original founders and incorporators of The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank. One of them, W. Murray Crane of Dalton would later become Governor of Massachusetts and a U.S. Senator.

On February 15, 1889, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts signed and affixed his seal to the documents recognizing the Corporation.

The first meeting of the directors took place on March 5, 1889 and Frank W. Hinsdale was chosen as President of the Bank. A sale of the first series of shares was conducted and raised $1,000. Shortly after that meeting, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank began doing business inside the quarters of Cooke’s Banking House at 13 ½ North Street.

In the early 1890’s, the horsecar line from Park Square to Pontoosuc Lake was electrified and 3700 passengers road on the first day. It was not long before 1000 homes were built along the shores of the lake.

In Great Barrington, William Stanley, Jr. built the country’s first electrical AC machine. He would later open the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company in Pittsfield. The City became a leader in the production of machinery needed for the transmission of high voltage electric current over long distances – a contribution of great importance to the American industrial expansion. (The Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company was acquired in 1903 by General Electric in a move that would have a great impact on Pittsfield both short and long-term.)

...Pittsfield Cooperative Bank had demonstrated an important role in the community...

While industrial growth and potential dominated the local news, the 1890’s found people taking to the outdoors – fishing, hiking, camping. The Curling Club built a rink in Morningside. The Pittsfield Boat Club and the Country Club were founded. Organized basketball was first played publicly in Pittsfield at the Casino on Summer Street.

Through these early years, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank had demonstrated an important role in the community – affording a means for safe, systematic savings while providing a source of funding for home mortgages. And, the Bank paid a handsome dividend to its shareholders – more than $70,000 in its first decade. During the same time period, the Bank made it possible for 250 families to acquire their own homes.

At the end of The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank’s first year, assets total $7500.01. Ten years later they had grown to $338,876.

The 20th Century brought the Wright Brothers, the San Francisco earthquake and the Model T. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Pittsfield (along with Governor W. Murray Crane) and they luckily avoided disaster when their horse-drawn carriage collided with a trolley car near the Country Club.

Streets were being paved in Pittsfield. General Electric had arrived. Balloon races captivated crowds. And, an automobile named the “Berkshire” was being built in town.

In April of 1906, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank held their first meeting inside their own quarters – the new Taylor Block at 124 North Street.

The economy was surging. Annual construction costs in town now topped one million dollars. The Bank’s assets – derived from the monthly savings of the community’s residents – were over $500,000 in 1904. By 1908, that figure had doubled.

Work on the City’s first modern water supply – the Farnham Reservoir – began in 1910. New construction work in Pittsfield was now exceeding $2 million dollars a year. The 150th anniversary of the town’s incorporation was celebrated in 1911. A new railroad station was built on West Street in 1914. The Bank’s assets were now well over a million dollars.

It was at this time that an important change was made to the way that the Bank issued shares.  Previously, when the shares and their compounded dividends reached their $200 maturity value, the shareholder had to accept the cash and find another place to invest it.  A new law permitted the issuance of “mature share” certificates – which provided a dividend-paying repository for the safe investment of savings already accumulated.

War loomed on the horizon. Our country’s participation in World War I was supported by the brainpower, craftsmanship and dedication of those in the Berkshires. Not too long after the Armistice in November of 1918, the Massachusetts legislature increased the amount a cooperative bank could lend for a single residence (from $5000 to $8000). Many of the Berkshires well-to-do families were soon using the Bank’s monthly payment system to purchase their homes.

Two thousand families were now represented among the shareholders of the Bank. Dividends were now being paid at the rate of $56,000 a year. Nearly half a million dollars were earned and distributed to the Bank’s shareholders during the decade. The Banks assets soared to $1,491,604 as we approached the roarin’ 20’s.

Hollywood was hot. Clara Bow, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Women finally got to vote. Jack Dempsey was the heavyweight champ and Lucky Lindy flew non-stop to Paris. It was also the era of prohibition.

In Pittsfield, automobiles filled our streets and thus the need for garages. 143 new garages were built in 1921 alone. Another milestone in cooperative bank services was reached in 1921 when the Massachusetts legislature allowed depositors to make lump sum investments by outright purchase of paid-up shares valued at $200.

During the 1920’s, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank saw its assets leap to more than two and a half million dollars.

Radio mesmerized the country. Rooftops became adorned with antennas. President Harding died and Calvin Coolidge stepped in. Airmail crossed the country in 26 hours. People mixed gin in bathtubs.

Garages weren’t the only things being built (another 298 in 1926) in our community. The Berkshire Playhouse (now known as The Berkshire Theatre Festival) was one of the country’s first summer stock theatres when it opened in 1928.

During the 1920’s, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank saw its assets leap to more than two and a half million dollars. Annual dividends exceeded $100,000 for the first time.

The decade of the 30’s took its direction from the events of October 29, 1929. The New York Stock Exchange virtually collapsed. 16 million shares changed hands that day. Between 1929-31, it is estimated that stocks declined in value by $50 billion.

America was broke.

Many banks closed. People were scared. Yet, The Pittsfield Cooperative bank remained strong. In fact, the Bank outgrew its North Street office and re-located to Fenn Street across from the old Post Office.

In 1932, the Massachusetts legislature created the Cooperative Central Bank thereby fully insuring all deposits made in the state’s cooperative banks. Many people slept better.

Still, things got worse. In March of 1933, all the banks in the country were temporarily closed in what was called a “Bank Holiday.” But, nobody was having a good time. For the most part, there were two categories of people. Ones who had very little money.  And others who had no money at all.

The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank did everything it could to avoid foreclosing on mortgages. Payments were suspended and borrowers were allowed to run in arrears. When foreclosures were absolutely necessary, the Bank allowed the former homeowners to become tenants and pay rent – so they could repurchase their homes at a later date.

In 1934, an appearance at Interlaken by the New York Philharmonic led to the creation of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival (BSF) later in that year. BSF moved into its new home in 1937. Tanglewood would quickly become the most famous summer music venue in the United States.

The New Deal came in, the gold standard went out. Prohibition ended. It Happened One Night won five Academy Awards. Public enemy number 1 (although strangely a cult hero to some) John Dillinger met his demise in Chicago in an array of bullets. FDR’s fireside chats warmed the country – almost as much as the radio program Amos and Andy.

While the country struggled to get back on its feet, history marched on.  Amelia Earhart disappeared in the Pacific. The Hindenburg went up in flames. Orson Welles scared listeners with his telling of the War of the Worlds. And, Harry James’ band had a new vocalist – a kid named Sinatra.

1939 marked the 50th anniversary of The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank. During the decade of the depression when many corporations went belly up and others barely hung on, the Bank paid out more than one million dollars in dividends. The Bank’s assets now stood at $3,389,739 and it was owned by 2756 shareholders who were comforted by the fact that no one had ever lost a dime in a cooperative bank despite the rough times.

But, war was on the horizon.

During 1940, newscaster Edward R. Murrow described the aerial warfare in London to our nation as Churchill held England together with courage and eloquence during the Battle of Britain. And, on December 7, 1941, the United States was drawn into WWII following the sneak attack on our base in Hawaii – Pearl Harbor. Thousands died. But, a sleeping giant had been awoken. The Berkshires provided technology, production and many young men to fortify the war effort.

Sicily, Normandy, Iwo Jima. The Enola Gay finally ended it all in 1945.

The slew of returning veterans created a housing crunch in Pittsfield, but the Bank was ready, willing and able to help out our heroes.

While war consumed a patriotic nation for the first half of the decade, TV had caught America’s attention. Milton Berle. Ed Sullivan. Arthur Godfrey. Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers taught us how the game should be played.

In 1947, the state authorized cooperative banks to accept savings share accounts (regular savings). This would lead to substantial new growth for The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank.

The 50’s opened with the Korean War. President Truman fired General MacArthur. Senator McCarthy spread the fear of communism with his propaganda. Alaska became the 50th state. Gunsmoke came to TV and stayed 20 years. Disney’s Magic Kingdom opened. Elizabeth II was crowned.

In 1954, Walter L. Guiltinan was named president of The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank and assets stood at $11,401,908. This was a time that saw several of the old woolen mills that had populated the Berkshires close. The loss of business and jobs was offset by an increase in tourism and the opening of the Mass Pike – which brought Boston a whole lot closer.

In 1966, the Bank opened a new main office...Spacious, bright and filled with the latest equipment...

Elvis. Marilyn. Boeing 707s. Sputnik. These were images that closed the decade while a fresh young face would open it.

JFK was elected President in 1960. His youth and charisma reinvigorated the country during an era known as Camelot. John Glenn orbited the earth as we played catch-up in the space race. Global tensions produced the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis while the Berlin Wall was erected.

On the local front, expansion was prevalent. The 60’s saw the old Wendell Hotel replaced by the Berkshire Common. Pittsfield’s elegant old Union Station was demolished. GE’s big Building 100 was dedicated. In keeping pace with this growth, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank opened its first branch in Dalton.

A shocked and saddened nation watched as the events surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination played out on their television sets. Vietnam heated up and the civil rights movement grew.

In 1966, the Bank opened a new main office (and current headquarters) at 70 South Street in Pittsfield. Spacious, bright and filled with the latest equipment, it offered drive-up service and what was then thought of as convenient customer parking.

Anti-war demonstrations grew in number as did the gap between generations. Bobby Kennedy was killed then Martin Luther King too. Civil unrest was the story of the day.

On July 20, 1969 man landed on the moon. The summer of ’69 brought us Woodstock. But, the peace that this generation sought was still years away.

In 1970, a consolidation was arranged with the Housatonic Cooperative Bank of Great Barrington. This small bank had been established the same year as The Pittsfield Co-op and had assets of $2,700,000. The merger was finalized under the name and charter of The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank

The country was still struggling to find common ground. The terrible killings at Kent State –where National Guard soldiers opened fire on student demonstrators – created further distrust between young adults and “the establishment.” Wounds only began to slowly heal when America withdrew from Vietnam.

During 1972, the Bank – who had outgrown its Dalton Branch – opened a newly built office at the corner of Main Street and Carson Avenue.

Watergate brought down President Nixon, but the Sears Tower climbed to 1454 feet when it opened in Chicago. A leak at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant made the nation shudder and the energy crisis allowed wood-burning stoves to make a big comeback in the Berkshires.

In 1977, the Bank opened another new facility. The Great Barrington office was built at the corner of Bridge and Main Streets with plenty of parking and drive-up service.

When the 70’s came to a close, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank had assets exceeding $69,000,000.

In 1980, after 34 years with The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, Sidney M. Smith retired as President and was named Chairman of the Board of directors. Charles. P. Hooker – a 30-year veteran of the Bank – was elected to succeed Smith as President.

Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office.  A nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl scared the world. We lost the crew of the Challenger in one of NASA’s worst disasters. The Red Sox gave the 1986 World Series away. The world was introduced to Lady Di – and we fell in love. Locally, Pittsfield became the plastics capital of the world when GE completed its Plastics Technology Center in the city. It seemed like a good thing at the time.

The 80’s were a time of progress and achievement for the Bank. A state-of-the-art computer system was installed that generated a quicker work flow and added to the customer service capabilities of the staff. In addition, The Coop gained the added financial security and prestige afforded to members of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In 1989, the Bank turned 100 years old. Finally, in a milestone that made many think back to that initial $7500 investment that established the institution, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank passed the $100,000,000 mark in assets before the decade ended.

The banking scene began to change in the 90’s. The Savings & Loan Crisis opened the door for Big Banking to swallow up many smaller and local institutions. The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank remained strong and slowly continued to grow.

Technology began to change the world. The Internet connected people on a global level. Titanic made movie box office history. Bill Clinton was the nation’s President for the bulk of the decade despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal that caused his impeachment. While our country remained at peace, the world was appalled by the Rwandan Genocide and unrest throughout Europe and the Mideast. The end of the second millennium was coming. What would happen when the clock welcomed in Y2K?

Nothing.

But, it didn’t take long for the new century to mark poignant moments in history.

George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential contest that lasted well beyond election day – finally ending with a Supreme Court decision regarding ballot counting in Florida.

And soon thereafter, the nation was attacked on September 11, 2001 by terrorists whose devious plot killed thousands. A resolute country shook off the body blow of what simply became known as 9/11. The country united in a show of patriotism not seen since World War II. A War on Terror ensued.

The Curse of the Bambino ended as the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004 after a dramatic and historic confrontation with the hated Yankees. They repeated as champs two years later. The Patriots won 3 Super Bowls during the decade under the guidance of coach Bill Belichick.

2008 saw the beginning of a nationwide economic collapse that rivaled the Great Depression. Terms like foreclosure and bailout (auto and banking industries) riddled our daily news. Homeownership declined 1.2% during the decade – the largest 10-year decline since 1930-40. Unemployment approached 10 %. Despite the disgrace brought upon the industry by Big Banking, The Coop never wavered in its commitment to the community.

Not one mortgage held by the Bank was foreclosed during a time when such events were epidemic.

2008 also brought the country’s first African American President – Barack H. Obama.

Big Banks came – and left – the community on a regular basis during the 90’s. Bank of Boston, Fleet … the list grew. The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank kept slowly growing. The decade came to a close with The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank naming J. Jay Anderson as President. Assets stood at $228,424,270.

2011 started with the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup. Legacy Banks – a long-time local institution – was gobbled up by Berkshire Bank who then sold parts of the carcass to NBT – an even bigger bank with roots in New York and Vermont.

But, The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank kept growing assets and at the end of the 2011 fiscal year stood at $233,715,111.

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