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For nearly 200 years, community banks have been integral to our nation’s growth and prosperity
By Michael Blankenheim

For this year’s annual ICBA membership issue, ICBA Independent Banker highlights five longstanding member community banks operating in different geographic regions. From recent de novo startups

A gold rush in Washington state

Among the thousands lured by the rush of gold in the West during the 1800s were Dr. Dorsey S. Baker and John F. Boyer, the founders of what went on to become today’s highly successful Baker Boyer National Bank in Walla Walla, Wash.

In the mid-1800s, gold was not only discovered in California but in Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Located on a fork in the Oregon Trail, Walla Walla, the largest town in the Pacific Northwest at the time, was a natural stopping point for gold miners eagerly traveling back and forth between panning for wealth in riverbeds.

In 1869, the year the last spike was hammered into the transcontinental railroad in Utah at Promontory Point, Baker from Illinois and Boyer from Arkansas officially formed the Walla Walla bank. The bank took off after several years of operating a mercantile supply store that provided the financial services needed by burgeoning miners in the town. Apparently most of the bank’s early transactions were done on a handshake. Even though receipts were rarely involved, up to $40,000 in gold was stored in the safe. This informal mercantile-store bank, formed out of necessity, became the first bank in the territory of Washington.

In 1889, the territory became the nation’s 42nd state and the bank received its national charter. It became Baker Boyer National Bank and began printing money under the national bank program, until that part of the program ended in the 1930s.

“There is a deep understanding that the bank is tied to the community and the community is tied to the bank.”
—Mark Kajita, Baker Boyer National Bank

Today, the headquarters of Baker Boyer National is in a seven-story downtown office building built on the same spot once occupied by the mercantile store. The bank has assets of $550 million, seven branches and 172 employees. With wineries having replaced yesterday’s mining camps, the area’s biggest employers include three medical centers, a university and a large state prison. About 32,000 residents call the city home, as once did the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and actor Adam West, who played TV’s Batman.

Mark Kajita, president and chief investment officer of Baker Boyer National Bank, says the bank remains primarily owned by members of the Baker family and that its family members, such as Megan Clubb, the bank’s chairwoman and CEO, hold numerous key positions.

In addition to banking, Kajita notes that Baker had many other business interests that helped Walla Walla grow. He built his own railroad, for example, to help connect Walla Walla to a key river. “Dr. Baker really believed in the ability of people to partake in commerce with each other,” Kajita offers. “That tradition has truly stayed with the bank. There is a deep understanding that the bank is tied to the community and the community to the bank.

“We stuck with the roots that Dr. Baker provided us all those years ago and we’ll continue to do so.”

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