BAY ST. LOUIS – A bank that started in Bay St. Louis 100 years ago in an office that rented for $7 per month has weathered two World Wars, the Great Depression, the devastation of Hurricane Camille and the recession of the 1980s to celebrate its centennial anniversary as one of the premier financial institutions in Mississippi.
“Through 100 years of natural disasters, national crises and economic fluctuations, we have helped our customers weather literal and figurative storms, and provided them a safe place to deposit their money,” said Hancock Bank president George Schloegel. “Likewise, we have never lost sight of our obligations to our customers and to our employees to uphold the highest standards of customer service and to reinvest time, energy and financial resources to yield the greatest overall returns.”
Hancock Bank now has operations in both Louisiana and Mississippi that include 94 full-service offices, 144 ATMs and a multitude of subsidiaries such as Hancock Investment Services and Hancock Mortgage Corporation. The third largest bank in Mississippi, it has assets of about $3 billion and had earnings of $30 million in 1998.
More than 2,000 shareholders, customers and employees celebrated the anniversary of Hancock Bank with day-long activities Oct. 9 in Bay St. Louis. The company was honored for not only providing critical banking services through thick and thin, but also playing a key role in supporting education and community service projects.
“Hancock Bank has been the leading financial institution here on the Gulf Coast since I was a child,” says customer Carl Lizana, owner of White Cap Seafood Restaurant and Gulfport Quick Freeze and Seafood Trading Co. in Gulfport, and Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant and Anthonys Under the Oak in Ocean Springs. “We choose to do business with them because of their integrity, and the knowledge of people who are running the bank. We have all the confidence in the world that our money is safe with them, and will be handled properly.”
Lizana likes the friendly, courteous business relationship that he has developed with Hancock Bank through the years. He also appreciates the bank’s active manpower and financial assistance with numerous community projects over the years.
“Hancock Bank is well known to be involved in just about every community activity there is on the Gulf Coast,” Lizana said. “You couldn’t ask for a better community partner.”
Gordon Redd, owner of Redd Pest Control in Gulfport, said that after Hurricane Camille, Hancock Bank was very willing to work with people who suffered great losses.
“They helped us endure and overcome the damages and devastation that we personally suffered during Hurricane Camille,” said Redd, who has been doing business with Hancock Bank for more than 50 years. “The growth that we have had with our business and the success we have had has been dependent on friends like Hancock Bank. They certainly have been committed to serving us. I know that our community is better because of businesses such as Hancock Bank who have devoted their time helping in civic service areas.”
Hancock Bank was started in 1899 by 19 men and women in Bay St. Louis with $10,000 in capitalization and about $8,200 is first-day deposits. In the early days the bank was known as Hancock County Bank and, at one time, even did business on board a boat on the Pearl River. The bank provided financing for a $400,000 bond to construct U.S. 90 in Hancock County, and was involved in financing oyster factories and maritime transportation.
In the early 1900s trade in lumber, cotton, wool, turkey, seafood and vegetable produce thrived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which was known then as the “Newport of the South.” Hancock Bank also thrived, purchasing a site at Main Street and South Beach Boulevard to construct the town’s first two-story building. The original building still houses the Bay St. Louis branch of Hancock Bank.
The 1920s were boom times for the Coast. The first banana boat arrived at the Port of Gulfport, and 14 new hotels were built to attract tourists. Then the stock market crash plunged the nation into the Great Depression. More than 160 Mississippi banks failed, including all three banks in Gulfport. The dearth of financial institutions in Gulfport led Hancock Bank to open a branch there in 1932.
World War II brought major military developments to the Coast including the Naval Construction Battalion Base in Gulfport, and Keesler Air Force Base. Ingalls Shipbuilding became a major employer in Pascagoula building ships for the Navy.
After World War II Hancock Bank led a successful campaign to transfer the Port of Gulfport from city to state ownership. Construction of a new headquarters, One Hancock Plaza, in the late 1970s spawned redevelopment of Gulfport’s downtown area. The bank also had the first bank located at a NASA facility when it opened a branch at the John C. Stennis Space Center near Picayune.
“Though the Depression, the advent of the Atomic Age, the Baby Boom, social revolution, economic uncertainty, the Space Age and a new century, Hancock Bank has remained a bulwark of financial stability, instigating Gulf Coast economic growth and establishing new south Mississippi branches and additional locations through acquisitions and mergers,” Schloegel said.
In 1990 Hancock’s merger with American Bank of Baton Rouge established a formidable Hancock Bank presence in Louisiana. Between 1973 and 1998, Hancock acquired 14 Mississippi and Louisiana financial institutions, increasing corporate assets from $158 million to $2.7 billion in less than 25 years. In January 1999, American Security Bank in Ville Platte, La., became a wholly-owned Hancock Holding Company subsidiary, adding 18 new branches in five Louisiana parishes.
Only six bank presidents have led the bank through its 100-year history: Peter Hellwege, 1899-1907; Eugene H. Roberts, 1908-1918; Horatio S. Weston, 1918-1931; Leo Seal Sr., 1932-1963; Leo Seal Jr., 1963-1990; and George A. Schloegel, 1990 to present.
“As a corporation we have far exceeded the confines of our original woodframe site,” Schloegel said. “To us, our mission of providing customers the best value means offering unparalleled customer service and quality financial services designed to make today’s demanding lifestyles easier and better for our customers. We credit our success to zealous corporate pursuit of those objectives, to the steadfast confidence our stockholders and our customers place in Hancock Holding Company and Hancock Bank, and to our always giving our customers the options they need, expect and deserve.”
Hancock Bank’s corporate logo is the Ship Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse built in 1882 to replace a previous wooden structure guided Gulf of Mexico mariners to safe harbor along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The lighthouse was adopted as a symbol of strength, stability and integrity. The lighthouse survived many hurricanes, including Camille in 1969, only to be destroyed by a stray campfire ember in 1972.
Hancock Bank is now involved in an effort to reconstruct the Ship Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse will mark Ship Island’s natural deepwater harbor discovered by Gulf South founding fathers D’Iberville and Bienville 300 years ago. The lighthouse is being reconstruction through support from Hancock Bank and the Friends of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.