Fairhaven Banks

Dear Mr. History Person,
All the recent financial and banking news has got me thinking about the two banks that were the only banks in town back in the day. Have you ever written an article about them? If not, could you tell us about the old Savings Bank and National Bank?
J. Smith

The first bank to be established in Fairhaven was called, fittingly, the Fairhaven Bank. It was established on April 19, 1831, by a group of merchants who formed a commercial insurance company at the same time. Ezekiel Sawin was elected president of the bank. Duncan M.B. Thaxter was elected cashier. At its first meeting, the board voted to build a two-story brick building to house the bank and the insurance company. The building stood mid-block on the south side of Center Street between Main and Middle streets.

On September 1, 1864, the bank was reorganized as the National Bank of Fairhaven. About four years later, a notorious bank robber by the name of James Hope attempted to break into the bank’s vault on a weekend night in April 1868. The plan was interrupted when bank clerk William C. Stoddard returned to the bank to retrieve his pipe.

In 1877, the bank moved into the former Richmond Building on the southwest corner of Main and Center streets, where it remained until the late 1950s. The bank then built a new building on Huttleston Avenue, heralding the shift of the town’s commercial district from the center to Route 6. In an attempt to modernize its image, the National Bank of Fairhaven changed its name to Fairbank, Inc. Toward the end of its life in its more or less original state, a small branch location was opened in Walgreens on Pleasant Street, New Bedford.

In August 1996, Fairbank, Inc. was bought by Slades Ferry Trust, of Somerset, MA. In 2008, Slades Ferry Bank was bought by Rockland Trust.

Now to Fairhaven’s second bank.

Not quite a year after the Fairhaven Bank was incorporated, the Fairhaven Institution for Savings was formed on February 10, 1832. Again Ezekiel Sawin was elected as this bank’s first president. The new bank set up business on the second floor of the Fairhaven Bank’s building on Center Street. When the National Bank moved to the corner in 1877, the Institution for Savings moved downstairs in the old bank building. In an example of longevity rarely seen, Thomas A. Tripp was president of the Savings Bank from 1903 to 1953, still going to work daily when in his nineties. During Tripp’s tenure, the bank built a more modern brick building at the southeast corner of Center and Middle streets in 1942 and tore down the original bank building to make room for parking.

The two banks occupied opposite ends of the block until the National Bank’s move to Route 6. Then the old Richmond Building was taken down and the Savings Bank’s parking lot was extended to Main Street. The Fairhaven Institution for Savings also streamlined its name, becoming Fairhaven Savings Bank in 1972. The next year it built an even larger concrete building at the intersection of Washington Street and Route 6. The new building became the main office and the building on Center Street became a branch office. The bank branched out further in the 1980s, with a banking center in South Dartmouth and one in the north end of New Bedford.

In 1988, with assets of $288 million, Fairhaven Savings Bank was acquired by Citizen’s Bank.

Today our one, strictly local financial establishment is the Southern Mass Credit Union, which was started in 1922 as the Southeastern Massachusetts Telephone Workers Credit Union in the New England Telephone building in New Bedford. It became a community credit union in 2002 and in 2003 changed its name. Its main office is on Alden Road.