RISING SUN -- In an era of banking conglomerates, the National Bank of Rising Sun is a small-town institution from another time, where customers are friends and shareholders are family.
Dusty ledgers in its darkened basement record, in near-perfect script, the community's financial history: the loans, deposits and withdrawals of those who have have passed through the bank's double doors over the last 126 years.
"People sometimes call it the first National Bank of Rising Sun, and I always say 'first, last and always,' " said bank president Joseph Cloud Jr. "We're known as the 'big bank' because we have two stories, and the bank a block and a half from us only has one."
The little "big bank" in Cecil County is taking a big step, constructing a branch in Havre de Grace in nearby Harford County.
And while expansion might seem a little late in coming, it's in character for a bank that only 10 years ago became fully computerized and eight years ago installed an automated teller machine. Patrons in Rising Sun, a town of 1,600, say they wouldn't have it any other way.
"You come in to get a loan and they will try to work with you," said longtime customer Herbert Montgomery, 80. "Years ago, if you had $3 in the bank, that was a big deal. They've always taken good care of me."
The institution began as The Rising Sun Banking Co., a state bank with James M. Evans as its first president. Minutes from the first board meeting, on July 3, 1873, show a teller earned slightly less than $6 a week -- which amounted to a salary of $300 a year.
Jesse Wood, chairman of the board of directors, serves on the bank's seven-member board, as did his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather, a founding member of the institution.
Wood said he can't remember a time when his family wasn't involved with the bank.
"Everybody seems to know everybody here," said Wood, a seventh-generation farmer and a bank board member for 11 years. "It's been the only bank I've ever dealt with."
In 1880, the Federal Office of the Comptroller of Currency granted the bank a national charter, making it The National Bank of Rising Sun. At that time, national banks were given currency with the name of the bank printed on it, and some of those bills can be seen on display today in the lobby.
"We can honestly say we had our own money," said Cloud, pointing to a $10 bill bearing the likeness of the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, and the words "The National Bank of Rising Sun."
The bank was one of only two in Maryland that remained open during the Great Depression.
George Prettyman remembers borrowing tuition money from the bank when he was 16, as he headed for the University of Delaware. He didn't have to sign for the loan, he said.
"They knew my father would make good on the money," recalled Prettyman, 86, a retired schoolteacher. "At that time, I think I could have gone to school for a whole year on $500."
Around the time of the Depression, bank president Charles S. Pyle and other bank officials sponsored a Chautauqua arts program, which brought Broadway acting troupes and musicians to the rural community.
"Literally, it brought culture to Rising Sun," Prettyman said. "The bank holds the trust for the church I attend, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for the care they have taken with our finances."
Pyle -- who was president from 1912 to 1951 and is called "Iron Man" because of his long tenure at the bank -- was so well regarded in the community that he was appointed Catharine Kirk's guardian after her father died when she was 2.
"Can you believe I've been banking there since I was born?" said Kirk, 87. "My grandparents always banked there, and whenever I needed something, I just went to Mr. Pyle."
The ledgers contain a glimpse of business conducted over the years -- $26 borrowed by Henry Jackson on July 26, 1889; a $1.57 deposit to the West Nottingham Presbyterian Church's Session Fund on Jan. 27, 1902.
An unknown borrower in 1878 required a co-signer for a $5 loan. Records show he was only allowed to borrow $4.50.
The bank now has 6,000 account holders and 38 employees. Over the years, its assets have grown to $92 million.
The institution claims 65 percent of the known deposits within a 10-mile radius of the building on West Pearl Street. Officials are proud that the bank, in the center of town, has never been robbed.
The branch in Havre de Grace is expected to open the end of this year or early next year. Elsie Perry, a bank employee for the past 40 years, is glad to see the expansion.
Perry, 58, started after high school as a teller and self-professed "everything girl." She is now vice president in charge of lending. She said she enjoys the friendly family atmosphere of the bank.
"Humor helps you go a long way in banking," Perry said. "I've got 40 more years to go."