Category: Archive

Emigrant Bank celebrates 150 years

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Kate Grimes

Emigrant Savings Bank celebrated its 150th anniversary last Thursday at the New York Public Library, welcoming employees and friends of the bank both past and present. Hundreds of guests filled the various sections of the hall, which had been decorated to represent some of New York City’s ethnic neighborhoods from which the bank has drawn most of its clientele.

The evening featured a historical exhibition and a documentary film entitled "Emigrant Savings Bank, since 1850, The Spirit of Thrift," produced by Time Lapse Media’s Dr. Marion Casey and Patrick Mullins. A historian, writer and producer, Casey drew upon materials from many sources, including the bank’s own rich archives, which it handed over to the library in 1994. The film outlined the evolution of the bank over 150 years, highlighting Emigrant’s relationship with New York City and its perseverance through wars, the Depression and through a changing industry.

Peggy Powers, who worked at Emigrant for 45 years, attended the event. This was her third anniversary celebration, having attended the 100th and 125th.

"The bank is a family," she said. "It brought me happiness, my home and my husband."

Powers met her husband at Emigrant and when he retired she decided to join him, leaving just before her own retirement came up.

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"I always say I went out 20 minutes too early," she said, smiling.

Emigrant Savings Bank was founded in 1850 by Irish immigrant Gregory Dillon of Roscommon who had previously been responsible, along with Joseph Stuart of Armagh, for establishing the Irish Emigrant Society. With the success of the Society’s efforts on behalf of Famine immigrants, Archbishop John Hughes suggested that Dillon create a banking institution to further serve these Irish. Citing the anti-Irish Know Nothing movement of the era, Hughes argued for the establishment of an "alternative institution." Years later, Hughes who procured from Emigrant a mortgage for St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Upon starting his venture, Dillon said: "We have now, gentlemen, the prospect of . . . furnishing the means of safe remittance to the distressed people of Ireland and of . . . affording our people a safe deposit for their hard earnings."

Emigrant Savings Bank is the oldest savings bank in New York City still operating under its original name.

"For an institution to maintain its name and its reputation in this day and age is very important," Emigrant’s president and CEO, Philip L. Milstein, said Thursday.

"Emigrant Savings Bank, since 1850, The Spirit of Thrift" will be screened for the New York Irish History Roundtable on Sunday, Dec. 3, at 1:30 p.m. at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 124 East 58th St. The exhibition is now on display in Emigrant’s lobby at 5 East 42nd St. during business hours. It will continue through December.

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