The history of Fort Smith is largely the story of the First National Bank.
The history of any town is but a record of the achievement of its people. While Fort Smith was founded in 1817, it was not until 1872, the date of the organization of this bank, that the town began to assume a position in the commercial world.
The First National Bank of Fort Smith was organized February 29, 1872, as "The National Bank of Western Arkansas." A charter was issued by the Comptroller of the Currency, authorizing the bank to commence business on March 22,1872.
The Bank was established by Bernard Baer, Logan H. Roots, Richard C. Kerens, Elis S. Mitchell, Dr. E. R.. Duvall, and Arthur Gunther, men familiar with the conditions confronting the town, and with faith in its possibilities and its future. The first large industrial plant to be organized was promoted largely by Bernard Baer and Logan H. Roots, the principal officers and stockholders of the bank. This was the Fort Smith Oil and Cotton Company. Shortly thereafter, Samuel McLoud, George T. Sparks, and James Vaile, who had become identified as Directors in the bank, organized the first large furniture factory to be established here under the firm name of McLoud, Vaile and Sparks.
In 1888, the bank made two historic moves. It had outgrown the original small frame building, located on what is now the corner of Garrison Avenue and Court Streets, and occupied a new brick building at Sixth and Garrison. Following the failure of another area bank which had once been named "First National," the National Bank of Western Arkansas changed its name to the First National Bank of Fort Smith.
By 1909, after three decades of steady growth, First National Bank of Fort Smith had outgrown its quarters. This time, the directors decided to build for the future and organized the First National Building Corporation which constructed the existing eight story white brick First National Building on the corner of Sixth and Garrison. This imposing landmark was completed at the close of that year, and first occupied by the bank on January 31, 1910.
During its years of service to the communities of Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, The First National Bank of Fort Smith has had only seven presidents.
In 1872, Bernard Baer, one of the Bank’s original founders, was elected President. Mr. Baer was born in Germany in 1836 and settled in Van Buren in 1860 before moving to Fort Smith. In 1884, with the arrival of the Frisco Railroad, Fort Smith experienced a “boom” and the Bank served as the financial cornerstone for its growth.
Mr. Baer died in 1886 and was succeeded as President by George T. Sparks. Born in Fort Smith in 1848, Mr. Sparks, a member of the Bank’s Board of Directors, served as President from 1886 until his death in 1907. At this time, Samuel McLoud, who served as Vice President of the Bank and as a member of the Board of Directors, was elected President. Mr. McLoud came to Fort Smith in 1863, in charge of a government pack train from St. Louis and was appointed Master of Transportation at the Fort until the end of the Civil War.
Following the death of Mr. McLoud in 1914, Frank A. Handlin was elected as President. Mr. Handlin began his career with the Bank in 1888 as a bookkeeper and advanced successfully through numerous positions. In 1925, upon the death of Mr. Handlin, Mr. A.N. Sicard, son-in-law of Samuel McLoud, was elected President. Mr. Sicard, born in Mosinee, Wisconsin on July 10, 1868, began his banking career at age 17, as a clerk in a Warsaw, Wisconsin bank.
Mr. Sicard moved to Fort Smith in 1889 and, in association with his father-in-law, operated the Fort Smith Traction Company. Under the leadership of Mr. Sicard, The First National Bank of Fort Smith continued to grow, despite the economic depression of the 1930’s. With the opening of Ft. Chaffee at the start of World War II, Fort Smith and the Bank experienced yet another “boom” in their growth and from 1935 through 1945 the Bank’s assets doubled.
A.N. Sicard died in 1942 and his son, McLoud Sicard, was elected President. During the 1950’s the Bank’s growth continued, necessitating an expansion of the First National Bank building. Completed in 1958, the Bank’s expansion included a new wing on the east side of the building, two new drive-in units, and a drive-up facility at the rear of the building. McLoud Sicard served as President of the Bank through 1976.
In 1977, Samuel M. Sicard, son of McLoud Sicard, was elected President of the Bank. In 1989, First Bank Corp. was formed as the parent holding company of The First National Bank of Fort Smith. Since that time, National Bank of Sallisaw; Citizens Bank and Trust Company in Van Buren; First National Bank of NWA; Brown-Hiller-Clark & Associates; and Realty Appraisals, Inc. have been added to the First Bank Corp. Financial Family. Mr. Sicard held the position of Chairman, President and CEO of The First National Bank of Fort Smith and First Bank Corp until his death in August of 2011.
Samuel T. Sicard, son of Samuel M. Sicard, was elected President and CEO of the First National Bank of Fort Smith in August of 2011. Prior to his election as President and CEO, Samuel T. Sicard served as Executive Vice President of the Bank and as a member of the Board of Directors. Samuel T. Sicard is now the fifth generation of his family to lead the First National Bank of Fort Smith.
Under the leadership of these men, The First National Bank of Fort Smith has grown to be the largest in Fort Smith and one of the largest banks in the state.
The First National Bank of Fort Smith has 12 locations in the River Valley, 6 locations in Northwest Arkansas and 3 locations in Eastern Oklahoma. In addition, our customers are offered the convenience of banking at any of the 7 Citizens Bank & Trust locations in Crawford County.
Through First Bank Corporation, we offer our customers the availability of 30 ATM's and 27 bank locations in the River Valley, Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. With the addition of Brown-Hiller-Clark in 2002, we offer our customers a complete array of financial services including banking, insurance, trust and investments services throughout the Arkansas River Valley, Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.