WILLSBORO — It would have been difficult for Augustus G. Paine Jr. to envision what his tiny neighborhood bank would become a century into the future, grandson Peter S. Paine Jr. says.

‘BE VERY PLEASED’

Peter Jr.’s grandfather moved to the North Country in the 1880s to manage Willsboro’s pulp mill and, believing “there needed to be a bank in town,” founded Essex County National Bank in 1921. 

The bank merged with Lake Champlain National Bank of Westport, about 15 miles south, to become Champlain National Bank in 1959, more than a decade after Augustus’ death.

Today, the bank has 10 locations, 70 full-time employees and approximately $450 million in assets.

“I think he (Augustus) would be proud of the fact that we continued to be independent, invest in our communities, that the headquarters is based in Willsboro and that we’re following a tradition of concern for this community,” Peter Jr. said of his grandfather. 

“I think he’d be very pleased with the way things are.” 

PRIDE AND RESPONSIBILITY

Peter Jr., born in 1935, grew up around the family business and began working there first as a teller when a late teen. 

He remembers old-school machines making a “kachunk” noise and a bank so small he had trouble finding a level surface for his coffee percolator. 

“I liked the idea of having coffee. . . the only level place you could put it was on top of the toilet,” Peter Jr. said with a laugh. 

Looking back, Peter Jr. admitted his young self had felt a certain pride when it came to his family’s Willsboro ties, including the bank, but also the Paine Memorial Library, the golf course and other staples.

“And definitely a responsibility to carry this tradition forward,” he added.

SAVING THE BANK

Peter Jr. recalled the story of when his grandfather Augustus saved the bank, and likely Willsboro itself, during the Great Depression.

“The bank had invested in $200,000 worth of bonds that turned out to be worthless,” he said. “Grandfather advanced his own money to the bank to keep it solid."

Noting this was not something the head of a bank could do in today's world, Peter Jr. thought, "It’s a wonderful heritage.”

NAVIGATING TODAY

Peter Jr., who has served as board chairman for about 35 years, recently celebrated his 50th year as a Champlain National Bank director.

The bank business has drastically changed since his teen years as a teller, he said, noting technology was now the “lifeblood” of all financial institutions. 

The chairman thought the biggest obstacle he helped the bank overcome during his tenure, however, was the 1992 decision to branch out of Essex County and open a downtown Plattsburgh bank in Clinton County, a decision supported by fellow longtime directors Roderic Giltz and John Perley. 

“We had excess deposits here that we really couldn’t put to work lending in Essex County, because it was very much smaller and Plattsburgh was the commercial center of this particular area,” Peter Jr. said. 

“That was, I think, absolutely the right decision.”

Other Clinton County branches soon after appeared, including Champlain in 1996 and West Plattsburgh in 1999.

CARRY THE TORCH

Looking ahead, Peter Jr. believes the bank will continue on its current trajectory by "keeping the bank healthy, attracting quality people to work and plowing money back into the business so that it can continue to grow and serve the community.”

And he saw the Paine family furthering its already century-long legacy. 

Peter Jr. is the third generation chairman and expects is son Peter S. Paine III, current co-vice chairman, to become the fourth. His son Alex also serves as a director and the current chairman expects some of his grandkids to join the board "in due time."

“Carrying the torch forward into another generation,” he said. "We’ve taken a long term view. We’re not for sale, we’re not interested in selling the bank. We have, as a result, had a period of steady growth over the years.

“So, keep doing what we’re currently doing and doing it well and doing it efficiently.”

Email McKenzie Delisle: 

mdelisle@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle

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