Bank holiday

Becky Linton remembers feeling anxious in the summer of 1992 as she left a vice president’s job at a long-established bank in her hometown of Martinsburg to help open City Holding Co.’s first Eastern Panhandle branch.

Two decades on, Linton now serves as the regional president of City National Bank, which boasts that original Martinsburg location – housed in the county’s onetime jail – as well as six other sites in the Panhandle, including branches in Charles Town and Ranson.

Becky Linton, regional president of City National Bank, stands in front of the City location at 420 S. Raleigh St. in Martinsburg. Linton was working in the building – formerly Berkeley County’s jail – when it opened as City Holding Co.’s first branch in the Eastern Panhandle. On Friday, City plans a Panhandle-wide celebration for its 20th anniversary.

On Friday, Linton will oversee a celebration of the bank’s 20th year in the Panhandle, with refreshments and giveaways at all the branches and a live radio remote from its newest office just off Edwin Miller Boulevard in Martinsburg’s north end.

Linton admits that she wasn’t sure about her decision to join the Charleston-based bank chain, particularly after she took a long look at the Raleigh Street office where the branch would open in August of 1992.

The bank’s new home was a brick structure built in 1892. Its neighbor was the booming Blue Ridge Outlet Mall and the bank then had a similar name: Blue Ridge Bank. Vic Roberts of Gerrardstown, who would win election to the state House of Delegates after his retirement, held the job that Linton holds now. Linton was in charge of recruiting the bank’s staff.

Bank officials don’t hide the building’s initial purpose as a jail. On view in a glass case inside the bank lobby is a set of fat cell keys plus leg irons and a hangman’s noose.

Another bit of history comes in the form of Jasper, a ghost who visits regularly, according to bank employees. He’s said to be the spirit of a long-ago homeless man brought to the jail after being struck by a train. Tellers say he passed away before jailers could even bring him food or water.

Before the building found a new life as Blue Ridge, the building had been sitting empty following construction of the Eastern Regional Jail. Linton said that after packing up her office and leaving her downtown bank for the last time, she sat in her car in the empty Raleigh Street parking lot looking at the abandoned structure and wringing her hands.

“It was scary,” she said. “At the bank I’d been working for, I was one of the top women in management. And here I’d left to go help start a brand new bank that some people were saying wouldn’t last a year.”

But now she has no doubt the move was the right one. “It’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by already,” she said. “It’s going to be wonderful to celebrate that milestone Friday with our customers, employees and the whole community.”

City’s parent company, City Holding, was founded in 1957. Today, the company employs about 850 among 73 locations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio. “This is a wonderful bank, a very caring company,” Linton said. “I know that’s one of the big reasons we’ve been so successful – that each of our banks is so involved, so committed to our communities.”

Bank officials say the bank also is among the most financially secure anywhere in the nation. They point to Bank Director Magazine, which named City Holding Company as the third Best Bank in America for the third quarter of 2011.

Every year, City National also supports cultural events and contributes to a variety of charitable causes, including the United Way. In 2010, Linton’s community involvement won her a spot as one of three Panhandle “Women of Distinction” named by the local Girl Scouts Council. Last year, her drive to ensure needy children have presents at Christmas won her a coveted invitation to the White House.

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