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First National Bank building is history

1910 photo courtesy of the Becker County Historical Society shows the main entrance of the First National Bank before it was changed in 1947, when the bank was remodeled.1 / 3
As CREWS worked this week on tearing down the former Mac's building at Washington Avenue and Highway 10, the First National Bank sign could be seen beneath the panels2 / 3
the bank building in spring of 1961, after remodeling more than doubled the bank's size to 5,400 square feet.3 / 3

During the spring of 1904, E.G. Holmes began construction of the First National Bank building on the northeast corner of Washington Avenue and Front Street in Detroit Lakes.

Except for a period of six months during the mid 1920s, this bank was an important fixture in downtown Detroit Lakes until it closed in late November of 1991, when its banking business was moved to 211 West Holmes Street.

After purchasing the First National Bank building, Mac's Hardware moved their store from its former location to their "new" building in the spring of 1992. In the fall of 2007, they moved to Hedahls building. Sometime in 2010, this old bank building will be demolished and a beautiful Veterans Memorial Park will appear in its place along Highway 10, and at the corner of Washington Avenue and Front Street.

Although details are sometimes sketchy and confusing, my conclusion after researching old newspapers at the Becker County Historical Society in Detroit Lakes, leads me to believe that E.G. Holmes established the First National Bank in December of 1885. This was the first bank in Becker County.

A newspaper article in the Detroit Record on April 22, 1904, stated, "The old First National Bank building will be entirely removed next week, and work will be commenced on the foundation for the handsome new brick block that will be erected at a cost of $18,000 to $20,000. In all respects this will be the most modern and substantial building in the county, and there will be few, if any, country bank buildings in this state its equal."

W.H. McCart, who was known as the "Tall Drayman," delivered the plate glass windows from a railroad car to the new bank building. These were the largest windows that had been delivered to Detroit up until that time.

He also skidded the safe (vault) from the Northern Pacific freight station to the bank with a team of four horses.

During the early 1900s, there were four banks doing business in Detroit. Security State Bank was on the southwest corner of Front Street and Washington Avenue. First National Bank was on the northeast corner of Washington Avenue and Front Street. Kitty-corner across the street, on the corner of Washington Avenue and Pioneer Street was Merchants National Bank.

On November 15, 1919, Detroit State Bank opened for business at 814 Washington Avenue (site of Mattson's Barber Shop now). On June 28, 1926, Detroit State Bank moved into the building on Washington Avenue and Pioneer Street, which had been occupied by Merchants National Bank.

Merchants National Bank closed on May 22, 1925, and was in liquidation at the time. Its offices were over the yard office of the Wilcox Lumber Company.

During the 1920s, banks began to fail. People that had deposited their money in some banks lost all of it. When too many people took too much of "their" money out of a bank, it would create a panic and other people would do the same thing. Soon there wasn't enough money in deposits at the bank, the board of directors would meet, and, when the meeting was over, they would close the bank.

As a young boy growing up in the 1950s, I remember stories being told about people losing their money when a bank closed. These stories told about hiding money under a mattress, in a cream can or burying it in a steel container by a tree. After bank failures in the 1920s, many people lost their trust in banks.

First National Bank closes

"Bank Closes for Re-organization" was the headline in the Nov. 11, 1926, Detroit Lakes Tribune when it announced that First National Bank closed its doors on Monday, Nov. 8, 1926, because of depleted reserves.

During the previous eight months, $200,000 in deposits had been paid out. That evening, 20 businessmen of the city met and were informed that it would be necessary to raise $75,000, which would take care of potential loses and enable the bank to reopen.

The last paragraph of the news article stated that "with the present bank funds tied up for three years, the necessary cash added and conditions getting more stable, the stock in this bank should be better and make it a wonderful institution."

This started a panic at the Security State Bank, which was kitty-corner across the street on Front Street. A heavy withdrawal of deposits at this bank had started on Monday when First National Bank closed.

On Armistice Day (Nov. 11) the directors of Security State Bank meet and concluded it would be in the best interest of all depositors to close the bank, which they officially did on Nov. 12, 1926.

An attempt was made to reorganize the Security State Bank. A front page story in the Dec. 2, 1926, Detroit Lakes Tribune stated that 500 creditors attended a meeting of the Security State Bank on Nov. 27 at the Becker County Court House to find out about the conditions of the bank where many of them had "their" money tied up.

By late April of 1927, the Detroit Record reported efforts to reopen the bank had been abandoned and the institution would go through the process of liquidation under the state banking department.

This meant over $1,500,000 in deposits was tied up with the closing of three banks in Detroit Lakes in two years; the Merchants National Bank in 1925, and the two banks that closed the second week in November of 1926. This meant only one bank, the Detroit State Bank, was open for business.

A news article in the Detroit Lakes Tribune on Nov. 18, 1926, stated, "It is a noteworthy fact that the closing of the Security and First National did not result from frozen assets, but by the continual and steady drawing out of the depositors."

'Patience will win'

This was the title of a short editorial in the Detroit Lakes Tribune on Nov. 18 following the closing of two banks in a week. While looking through other newspapers from late 1926, I noticed news items about other banks in Becker County that had closed, usually from a lack of reserves caused by a "run" on the bank. The editorial read as follows.

"Our city is in a turmoil of uncertainty and doubt. Gossipers are busy with new stories, which destroys the confidence and stability of the public.

"We have reached the bottom of financial disaster, and we are on the eve of a rejuvenation. Committees are busy looking over the conditions at the banks with a view to re-organizing and so far it looks very possible that something can be done.

"But everyone must put the shoulder to the wheel, and render every assistance possible. It takes some time to reconstruct disaster, and we can well afford to patiently await the results from which some good is bound to come."

In that same newspaper, it was reported that Otto Bremer, a major stockholder in the Detroit State Bank, visited Detroit Lakes and reported that the bank was in good shape and would accommodate the public in every way. (What was once the Detroit State Bank is now the Bremer Bank).

Beginning in late February of 1927, a National Bank Examiner was in town investigating an application for a new bank headed up by P.S. Peterson of Grand Forks, N.D. By late April, word was received from the Comptroller at Washington approving the sale of the First National Bank building to P.S. Peterson for $36,000 in cash.

On Monday, May 16, 1927, at 9 a.m., the Becker County National Bank opened for business in the building that formally housed the First National Bank, which had been closed for six months. Mr. P.S. Peterson was the bank president, and Alden Pearson was the cashier.

P.S. Peterson was president of the Becker County National Bank until his death on Sept. 28, 1938. At that time, F.J. Rogstad became president of the bank.

Just before Christmas in 1947, Becker County National Bank completed an extensive remodeling and redecorating project to the entire building, which included Klein Pharmacy in the north half of the building as well as the offices on the second floor.

In mid-January an announcement was made that the name of the bank would change to First National Bank on April 1, 1948. At that time, Kent S. Rogstad and John 0. Pearson were listed as assistant cashiers.

Detroit Lakes Class of 1910

Ferdinard (F.J.) Rogstad and Alden Pearson, along with Freda Magney, my first grade teacher at the Rochert School (District 57) in 1951, were in a class of 32 students that graduated from Detroit High School on June 3, 1910. F.J Rogstad went on to school and returned to Detroit in 1913 where he practiced dentistry until becoming vice president of the Becker County National Bank in 1930.

Lola Peterson, P.S. Peterson's daughter, married Dr. F.J. Rogstad on May 2, 1917. Both Mr. and Mrs. F.J. Rogstad were stockholders of the bank when it opened on May 16, 1927. Dr. F.J. Rogstad served on the board of directors of the newly formed bank.

Alden Pearson was employed by the First Security State Bank from 1910 until it closed in November of 1926. Alden became the cashier of the Becker County National Bank when it opened in May of 1927. Alden continued to work for this bank until he retired on March 31, 1963.

First National Bank gets new look

F.J. Rogstad was the president of First National Bank in March of 1961, when an extensive remodeling project was completed. New exterior facing on the building, brick on the first floor and porcelain on the second floor, gave the building an entirely new look.

Floor space more than doubled from 2,200 square feet to 5,400 square feet. It was also noted that a new Burroughs sensatronic posting machine would be installed, which was the best to be developed at that time.

A time and temperature clock was installed during the winter of 1960-61. In 1971, an electronic information board was installed under the clock.

In the spring of 1966, First National Bank purchased the buildings on the north side of the bank to make way for a drive-up teller window and expanded parking for the bank. This resulted in the relocation of the Detroit Lakes Police Department, Ray Hale's Jewelry and Mattson's Barber Shop. Bud's Bar sold out.

Cars entered the small parking lot and drive-up teller window on Front Street and exited onto Washington Avenue. Drivers weren't supposed to make a left turn upon leaving the drive-up teller window, but many of them made an illegal left turn anyway.

When Dave Rogstad began working at the First National Bank in June of 1966, he became the fourth generation to be involved with the bank.

About 1994, First National Bank became Norwest Bank. About 2000, they became Wells Fargo Bank.

Mac's purchases First National Bank building

Before Mac's Hardware moved to the First National Bank building in the spring of 1992, they attempted to knock down one vault with a sledge hammer. It wasn't long before a skid-steer loader with a hydraulic jackhammer was driving through the front door of the building to attack the vault.

A hole was cut in the floor to accommodate a conveyer, which moved merchandise to or from the basement. During the next 15 years, several businesses and organizations used the second floor of what was known as the Mac's Building. In the fall of 2007, Mac's moved to the Hedahl building on old Highway 10.

By the year 2012, a beautiful Veterans Memorial Park will become a landmark where the First National Bank building stood for over 100 years.