George S. Berry biography

GEORGE S. BERRY, whose advancement and enterprise are manifest in an active business career that has enabled him to make consecutive advancement until he has attained a prominent position in banking circles in western Texas, is today at the head of the First National Bank of Merkel. He is a Kentuckian by birth, his life history beginning in Louisville on the 7th of April, 1866. His father, J. Taylor Berry, was born in Taylor county, Kentucky, in 1832, and for many years was a resident of Louisville, where he entered upon his business career and in due time worked his way upward until he became a member of the firm of Tapp, Walsh & Berry, one of the largest wholesale mercantile enterprises of the city. During the financial panic of 1873 he left Louisville and removed to La Rue county, Kentucky, where he was engaged in the stock business. He became an extensive dealer in fine stock and made large shipments to southern states. Subsequently he took up his abode in Elizabethtown, Hardin county, Kentucky, where in connection with D. J. Hargan he engaged in general merchandising until 1878. That year witnessed his arrival in Belle Plain, Callahan county, Texas, where he conducted a general mercantile enterprise until 1880 or 1881. At that time the Texas & Pacific Railroad was built as far as Weatherford and in connection with General John Brown of Tennessee and J. Stoddard Johnston of Frankford, Kentucky, he founded the town of Abilene in the spring of 1881. This was prior to the building of the railroad to western Texas. After the extension of the line a sale of lots was held and the town was organized. Mr. Berry further continued his work of up building in Texas by founding the town of Amarillo on the Fort Worth & Denver Railroad in 1886, in which enterprise he was associated with C. W. and J. B. Merchant of Abilene. He continued to make his home, however, in Abilene up to the time of his death, which occurred in 1888. In 1861, while living in Louisville, Kentucky, he entered the Confederate service and was captain of a company under General John Morgan, with which he served throughout the war. Mr. Berry was married in 1859 to Miss Mary Courtney Smith, a daughter of George W. Smith, a prominent citizen and miller of Louisville. Her maternal grandfather was a Furguson and his ancestors came direct from Ireland.

In the family of Mr. and Mrs. J. Taylor Berry were nine children, five sons and four daughters, all of whom are living, as follows: W. T. Berry, who is living in Merkel; Ellen F., the wife of John Bowyer of Abilene; George S.; J. T., residing in Cisco; Bettie H., the wife of J. W. Hampton of Abilene; Courtney S., who is living in Los Angeles, California; Alice S., of Abilene; Charles S., of El Oro, Mexico; and Frances C., the wife of Sam Wells of Abilene.

George S. Berry was a small boy when brought to Abilene by his parents. His early education was supplemented by study in the University of Texas at Austin, where he remained for three years and following the completion of his course he returned to Abilene, where he embarked in merchandising. Two years later he went with his father to Amarillo, Texas, and aided in locating that town. He was appointed postmaster of Amarillo under President Cleveland and remained there for two years. He was also associated with his father in the ownership and sale of a large amount of real estate but on account of his father’s failing health he resigned his position as postmaster and after disposing of his realty interests to good advantage returned to Abilene to take care of his father, who, however, died shortly afterward. George S. Berry was appointed administrator of the estate, which he settled up to good advantage. He then accepted a position in the Abilene National Bank of which William Cameron was president and soon afterward Mr. Berry was made cashier, which position he filled for about six or seven years, resigning on the expiration of that period. He then removed to Merkel, where he opened a private bank under the name of Steffens, Lowdon & Company. Later Mr. Berry purchased the interest of his partners and changed the name to the Bank of Merkel. The institution was capitalized for twenty-five thousand dollars. In 1901 he organized the First National Bank of Merkel, liquidating the former bank and capitalizing the new institution for thirty thousand dollars. Mr. Berry owns a controlling interest in the stock and has served as cashier from the beginning. That success has attended the enterprise is shown by the fact that the capital stock was increased to fifty thousand dollars on January 2, 1903, and that there was a surplus of ten thousand dollars after paying six per cent semi-annual dividends form the date of organization. Again the capital stock was increased on the 2nd of January, 1905, to eighty thousand dollars, Mr. Berry still retaining the controlling interest and there are today surplus and undivided profits to the amount of twenty thousand dollars. Six years ago the smallest bank in Taylor county, it now the largest financial institution there, enjoying a constantly growing patronage and conducting all departments of banking. Mr. Berry is now president of the institution, which has made such a splendid record and is justly regarded as one of the safe and reliable financial concerns of the county. A man of resourceful business ability, he has extended his efforts into other fields of activity, and several enterprises have felt the stimulus and beneficial effect of his co-operation, wise counsel and sound judgment. He is a stockholder in the Merkel Hardware Company, which was incorporated and capitalized at twenty-five thousand dollars; is also a stockholder in the Farmers & Merchants Gin Company of Merkel; is a stockholder and director of the Fort Worth Iron & Steel Manufacturing Company of Fort Worth, Texas, capitalized at two hundred thousand dollars; and is treasurer of the Capps Land Company of Fort Worth, capitalized at thirty thousand dollars. On the 14th of June, 1905, Mr. Berry was elected treasurer of the Texas Bankers Association, which is indicative of his high standing and bespeaks his popularity in financial circles of Texas.

On the 10th of June, 1896, was celebrated the marriage of George S. Berry and Miss Evelyn Belcher, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, and unto them have been born a son and two daughters. Mr. Berry belongs to the Masonic fraternity and also is identified with the Elks and the Knights of Pythias, while his religious faith is indicated by his membership in the Episcopal church. Through his own unaided effort, strong purpose and laudable ambition guided by sound judgment he has achieved his present position at the head of a flourishing financial institution. He is a man of broad min, capable of seeing both sides of a proposition and he has the happy faculty of winning the confidence of men through his natural charm of manner fortified by untiring energy.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 415-416.