Seattle’s first banker: Dexter Horton

Dexter Horton, a local general store owner, was the first banker in Seattle before the city even had a bank. After realizing his affinity for banking, Horton got the proper training and opened Seattle’s first official bank, Bank of America’s oldest heritage bank in that region.

Before there were any banks in Seattle, there was Dexter Horton, the owner of a general store who made loans and accepted deposits from customers. The local loggers trusted Horton, who had a reputation for being an honest businessman, so they left their money with him for safe keeping. Word spread fast, and soon all of the local trappers, settlers and other members of the working class were using Horton's general store as their personal banking center.

Horton's makeshift bank didn't have a safe, so he kept deposits in sacks tagged with the customer's name and stored them safely in the bottom of coffee barrels and other hiding places around his store. In 1866, Horton sold his store and moved to San Francisco to enter the brokerage business. In 1870, he returned to Seattle with a secondhand safe and appropriate papers to establish the city’s first real bank.

The bank first operated in a small wooden building. The bank was successful in that location for five years before outgrowing it. In 1875, with capital of $50,000, the bank moved to Seattle's first stone building. The one-story stone house at 1st Avenue near Washington Street was one of two stone buildings to survive Seattle's 1889 Great Fire.

After continued growth, Horton built another one-story building on 2nd Avenue. He was the town's only banker for 18 years, the culmination of a 34-year banking career. By the early 20th century, roads in Seattle were paved, streetcars and railroads carried people and goods, the Bon Marche and Frederick's department store expanded, and more banks opened. Congress authorized construction of the Lake Washington Canal, and women in Washington got the vote.

Seattle was rapidly growing and so was the demand for capital. Bankers realized they would have to consolidate to meet the demand, so by 1929, Seattle saw the formation of what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called a "Giant New Superbank." The superbank consolidated three of Seattle's four major banks at the time: Dexter Horton, Seattle National and First National into what they called First Seattle Dexter Horton National Bank. The unwieldy name was eventually changed to First National Bank of Seattle and then later to Seafirst Bank, Bank of America's oldest heritage bank in Seattle.

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