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Story Courtesy of Jeff Rankin, Monmouth College Historian Author and Literacy Critic.
To earn the trust of their
customers, banks have traditionally constructed sturdy buildings with
architecture reflecting strength and permanence. Evidence of that can be found
in Monmouth’s current city hall building, which originally housed a bank and
still stands proudly after more than a century.
Located at 100 East Broadway,
the building was erected in 1917 by the National Bank of Monmouth on the site
of its earlier bank dating to 1874. It would remain the bank’s headquarters for
more than eight decades, until a new building was constructed one block east in
2000. That was when the bank—today known as Midwest Bank—transferred its
longtime home to the City of Monmouth, allowing city hall to move from its outdated
and crowded quarters at 112 North Main St.
The architect, Paul V. Hyland
of Chicago, designed the building in the Georgian style with Renaissance
Revival elements, similar to other bank buildings he had designed in Muscatine,
Iowa, and Sheboygan, Wisconsin. (He had earlier served as an assistant in
designing Chicago’s ill-fated Iroquois Theater.) As Monmouth’s senior financial
institution with $1.8 million in assets, the National Bank sought modern and
elegant new quarters to house its growing business. Although it had spent
$30,000 remodeling the old building in 1899, it resolved to spend $78,000 on a
new building—the equivalent of nearly $2 million today.
An architect designs a
building, but it is the contractor who must execute the vision. The building
contract was awarded to the respected local firm Monmouth-Galesburg
Construction, which had built Monmouth Hospital, Monmouth High School,
McMichael Hall at Monmouth College and Galesburg’s Orpheum Theater; and would
later build Monmouth’s YMCA and Armory. The company had been founded in 1904 as
Apsey & Fusch. Partner Fred Apsey Sr. would later move to Galesburg and
start his own building firm, but co-founder Robert Fusch and his sons would
remain in Monmouth as lifelong contractors.
The son of a Prussian brick
mason, 42-year-old Robert Fusch had only an eighth-grade education, but his
reputation as a talented builder of large public buildings and as a fair
businessman was unmatched.
In June 1916, the bank
temporarily relocated to a building two doors east, so demolition of the old
building could begin. Stone from the old building was put into a crusher and
used to make concrete for the new building’s foundation. Things seemed to be
going smoothly when disaster struck.
Fixtures from the old bank had
been moved into a storeroom in the Quinby building, directly north of the old
bank. Among those was a large steel door from the vault, resting against a
wall. On the morning of August 28, 1916, two Monmouth-Galesburg Construction
workers were assigned to crate it up to ship back to the factory. Finding that
the 2,500-pound door was too heavy to lift, they called in their foreman, Edwin
Hamilton had the men lift the
bottom of the door with crowbars, while he attempted to slip a timber below it.
While he was stooping down, the top of the door started to fall away from the
wall. Hamilton stood up, but couldn’t escape being pinned between the door and
the sill of the safe. It took eight men a half hour to free Hamilton’s body,
and they then discovered his face had been crushed beyond recognition.
Construction resumed the
following day and continued at a rapid pace, with plans to open the building
the next spring, but slowness in new fixtures arriving caused occupation of the
building to be delayed until July. Thousands of Monmouth residents toured and
marveled at the facility during an open house on July 31.
The finished two-story
building was 55×63 feet in area and two stories high. The bank occupied the
basement and first floor, while the second floor was divided into nine offices
for doctors, lawyers and other professionals. While early plans called for an
elevator, none was ever installed.
The basement contained a
storage vault and a furnace room. With the turn of a valve, the bank could switch
over from its own furnace to public service heat. The main bank room contained
three modern Mosler vaults, one of which was a storage vault located on the
mezzanine floor and another was a safe-deposit vault containing 500 boxes.
Walking in the front door, a
customer would pass the desks of the president, cashier and assistant cashier
and bookkeeper on the left. On the right was a room for male customers and next
to that a room for “lady” customers. Beyond that was a room for safe deposit
customers. In the rear was an elegant board room, and above that—on the
mezzanine level—was the bank’s most unusual room, a fully furnished bedroom.
The bedroom served two
purposes—it could be used if a customer or employee became suddenly ill, or it
could be used as housing by single male employees in lieu of living in a hotel
or boarding house. As a former employee of the National Bank, I recall hearing
that one of the former cashiers for years slept there.
Banks as a rule try to
partner with local businesses who are their customers, and that was also the
case in 1917, as the National Bank touted several businesses that supplied
materials for the new building. The list is indicative of the thriving local
Monmouth economy of a century ago:
Rolland Johnson, tinwork and
sheet steel; Maple City Electric Co., electrical fixtures; A. D. McIntosh &
Company, steel stairways and structural iron; B.L. Hunter, painting and
decorating; Newman Hardware Co., door, window and cabinet hardware; Monmouth
Lumber Co., cement and lumber; Hays & Eastman, plumbing and heating; and
E.B. Colwell Co.; rugs, shades, bedroom suite.
Monmouth is fortunate that
the bank was built solidly enough to enter its second century of service as a
repurposed building, serving a city government challenged with rising costs
amid relatively static revenues. An anecdote illustrating that situation was
supplied by Monmouth city clerk Susan Trevor, who assumed office not long after
the bank became city hall.
At the time, city council
meetings were being held in the Business & Technology Center on South Main
Street. Mayor Shawn Gillen wanted them to be held in the new city hall, so
meetings were attempted there on a trial basis, but lack of proper space soon
caused them to be moved back to the BTC.
After Jack Reitman was
elected mayor in 2001, the situation was resolved, but only through sweat
equity. Reitman happened to have carpentry skills, as did alderman Rod
Themanson. Together, they removed walls and constructed a raised dais,
transforming former bank offices into the city council chambers being used
For Maple City Memories, I’m