BB&T grows beyond Wilson roots

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While BB&T has become a behemoth in the world of banking, the chain with more than 1,900 financial centers across 15 states and the national capitol has roots in Wilson.

Halifax County native Alpheus Branch moved to Wilson to attend Deems Military Academy, eventually marrying the daughter of a town founder and establishing Branch & Co. The businessman partnered with Thomas Jefferson Hadley in 1872 to create the Branch and Hadley bank.

In 1887, Branch bought out Hadley and changed the name to Branch & Co., Bankers. Two years later, a charter was secured through the state legislature and in 1900, Wilson Banking and Trust Co. began operations, but the bank founder had died in 1893.

In the early 1900s, Wilson Banking and Trust became Branch Banking and Trust Co. with insurance services added in 1922. By 1923, the bank added a mortgage loan department and had more than $4 million in assets.

In the two years after the stock market crash, 131 state banks in North Carolina had failed and seven banks in Wilson shuttered. The number of North Carolina banks shrunk from 489 to 287 during the Great Depression, but BB&T grew from five branches to 11 and more than doubled the bank’s assets.

BB&T grew as the country joined World War II and experienced unprecedented growth in the 1960s, growing to 60 offices in 35 cities through mergers, acquisitions and new branch development. In 1971, the bank completed a seven-story home office on Nash Street and six years later, an adjacent building was completed with the duo becoming known as BB&T Towers.

BB&T became the state’s fourth-largest bank by 1994 with 263 offices in 138 cities across North and South Carolina.

A merger with Southern National Corp. in 1995 had a major affect on Wilson as the combined bank headquarters shifted to Winston-Salem. Acquisitions of other banks sped up with 20 taking place between 1997 and 2001.

Between 2002 and the Great Recession, BB&T continued expanding with 11 more acquisitions. In 2009, Kelly S. King became the corporation’s chief executive officer. The Raleigh native joined BB&T in 1972 as a management trainee in Wilson, rising through the ranks to join the executive team in 1987.

In August, Kelly touted the bank’s commitment to Wilson during an announcement of a $35 million project to replace the aging towers.

“As the birthplace of BB&T in 1872, Wilson will always be home for BB&T,” King said in a press release.

Information for this story was compiled from the BB&T website as well as The Wilson Times archives.