E.J. Muehlbrad sits outside the original home of Burton State Bank, where he started work as a teller 49 years ago. Today he is the bank’s CEO. The bank moved to a new home on Main Street in 1965. It began business in 1906 and is a long-time customer of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.  (Photo by Jay Godwin) 

By Ed Crowell 

If a bank could grow roots, those of Burton State Bank would have started to spread into the hillside above Indian Creek in 1906. Now, 108 years later, its financial and historic roots run deep in this little town 12 miles west of Brenham. 
The original, now unoccupied building still stands, with window bars adorned by the initials BSB. The Washington County town’s only bank moved a block up the hill to a larger brick facility it built in 1965 at 515 N. Main St. An old, spherical “cannonball” safe made the move to the current site. 

(Photo by Jay Godwin)An old safe was moved from the bank’s original location to its current home. It stands as a symbol of the business’ long history in this small town in Washington County.  (Photo by Jay Godwin)
So, too, did E.J. Muehlbrad. At the time of the move, he was a Sam Houston State University student who had been a teller all of two days. Forty-nine years later, Muehlbrad is still at the bank, serving as CEO. 
He lives nearby on the outskirts of Burton, population around 400. The cattle herd he raises on land his father once farmed is down to 45 head now, a sharp decline from nearly twice that before the current drought. Muehlbrad understands what his agricultural customers at the bank have been going through in recent years. 
Bank president Linda Conley traces her family roots to Burton as well, and she’s worked at the bank 28 years. She became president in 2012. 
Conley and Muehlbrad say they enjoy the first-name, friendly banking that their town affords. 
“I like knowing my customers and the community. Sometimes you’re just a number at a big-city bank,” Conley said. 
Loans are made face to face. Some people who moved away to nearby Brenham or Houston for jobs now are retiring and returning. They need loans to modernize old houses or build new ones on the farms and ranches that are being subdivided. 
With $55 million in assets, the bank has three teller positions in the lobby and two drive-through lanes. The only ATM machine in town is here. 
Burton may be best known for its century-old cotton gin, the last remaining fully operational one of its era. The gin closed in 1974 but was restored (Bluebonnet assisted with a $25,000 community development grant) and now has a museum. 
Muehlbrad remembers when “people used to stand in line out the door of our bank, waiting for a teller, especially on Saturdays when they had their Social Security checks to cash.” Now, he said, it’s nothing like that. Younger, busy customers are used to computer transactions, credit cards and drive-throughs. 
Although it’s harder to get to know some of those customers, the bank continues to attract locals with no-service-charge checking accounts, he said. It’s also still possible for someone having a hard time, perhaps in dire need of furnace fuel, to get a personal loan as small as $50. 
Muehlbrad isn’t sure how long some of those transaction practices can last. Given the growth of the Brenham area, there’s no telling when a branch of a bigger bank might reach Burton. What’s clear is it will be hard to match the smiling faces at the little state bank that has served the town for more than a century. 
Throughout 2014, we spotlighted some of Bluebonnet’s earliest commercial accounts — businesses that still get their power from the co-op.

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