Look Inside the Vault of Bank History

The PNC Legacy Project celebrates the history of predecessor banks, the employees and the communities they served with artifacts dating back to the 1800s.

By Donna C. Peterman

Where would you look to find a check written by Abraham Lincoln, a ransom note from a Confederate general, a memorial to bank employees who died in World War II, and the photo of a prized cow standing in a bank lobby?

The best source is The PNC Legacy Project, an ongoing initiative introduced in 2007 after PNC acquired other banks, including the history-rich Riggs Bank -- “the Bank of Presidents” in Washington, D.C.

The stories of these predecessor institutions, some of which date back to the 1800s, are told through a web site along with museum-quality exhibits that use interactive displays to showcase distinctive artifacts, images and oral histories from long-time employees and community leaders.

The needs and preferences of today’s banking customers are constantly changing, and banks are evolving to keep pace – and keep customers happy. What has not changed is the deep and lasting relationship banks have with local communities – and the enduring trust and confidence that people place in their banks.


May 17, 1861: President Abraham Lincoln writes an $8.00 check through Riggs Bank to his son William

Celebrate History, Employees and Communities

It is this rich history and legacy of trust that led to the creation of the Legacy Project. This retrospective shines a light on our predecessor banks, the employees who guided them and the communities they served.

The collection is home to such distinctive artifacts as: checks written by Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin; a ransom note from a Confederate general to the banks of Frederick, Md., during the Civil War; and a memorial to Provident Trust employees who lost their lives in World War II.

In September 2015, the Legacy Project’s seventh phase was launched online with history from the Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey and Delaware regions. The content celebrates Provident National Bank’s long-standing history in Philadelphia and the landmark merger with Pittsburgh National Corp. that created “PNC Bank” in 1983. At the time, it was the largest bank merger in U.S. history.

Highlights from the exhibit include photographs and recorded interviews that support Bank of Delaware’s vital role as the “bank for the whole state.”

In the oral histories, representatives of the Lorber family in Philadelphia share the story of the founding of their plumbing business and a more than 70-year Delaware banking relationship in which PNC “still seems to us like a small town bank.”


1895: Mercantile Trust & Deposit employees standing outside a bank vault. Families entrusted their silver pieces to the bank every summer when they left the Baltimore area on vacation

History Up Close

Examples of the current Legacy Project exhibits include:

Annapolis, Md., 236 Main Street: An exhibition featuring artifacts from Annapolis Bank & Trust and local photographer Marion Warren, this display highlights the bank's positive impact in Annapolis, the state capital and home to the U.S. Naval Academy. In the past century, this community has transformed from a maritime center and fish market to a tourist attraction.

Washington, DC, PNC Place, 800 17th Street NW: Digital reproductions of checks, correspondence, signature cards, and other documents related to the transactions by U.S. presidents, members of Congress and military officers who once banked at Riggs Bank are featured in an interactive touch-screen display.

Civil War Online Exhibit: Amid the chaos of war and the uncertainty of the nascent financial system at the time, bankers tried to sustain commerce and preserve their communities. The Legacy Project documents the heroic efforts of bankers who saved a central Maryland city, protected their customers’ investments and chartered new institutions to help their cities rebuild.

When asked to describe the Legacy Project, Halsey Spruance, the executive director of the Delaware Museum of Natural History, said it “creates a virtual museum that honors and documents the people, places and institutions” that helped shape banking in his state and the cultural assets available today.


Through the 1960s, Marshall National Bank sponsored livestock shows to support local farmers and displayed the winning cow in the lobby of a Virginia branch

For PNC, the Legacy Project is one way that we have been able to incorporate the influential history and cultures of our predecessor banks into the fabric of our company.

Donna Peterman is executive vice president and chief communications officer for PNC.

For more information, please visit www.pnclegacyproject.com. 


Donna Peterman says the Legacy Project preserves the past while building on the future

Banking was – and still is – all about relationships built on trust and confidence. Through the Legacy Project, we are ensuring that this rich tradition lives on.