Friday, March 15, 2013

The Cole County Bank

The Southside began to take off with its own business district in the decades around 1900. By then, the original German immigrants were dying off and the younger generation spoke English. Folks no longer used the German “Muenchberg” but began called the area “Jefferson City’s Southside.”

Sitting under shade trees in Friemel’s beer garden one summer evening in 1912, an informal, tight-knit group of businessmen who called themselves the “Southside Boosters” saw the need for a community bank in the growing Southside. They chose the name “Cole County Bank” because much of the Southside’s business came from farmers in the county. The boosters had no trouble soliciting stock, and on October 17, 1912, the Cole County Bank was incorporated with a capitalization of $25,000. The bank had 85 shareholders, all of whom were listed in the local newspaper with the number of shares each owned at $100 per share.

Among the shareholders were Jacob F. Moerschel (of the Capitol Brewery), George Bartholomaeus (co-owner of the Dunklin Theater), John W. Fischer (prominent farmer), Joseph Pope (street contractor), Wm. F. Winkelmann (farmer and banker), T. G. Nilges (grocer and city councilman), Ernst Simonsen (manufacturer and namesake of the high school), and members of the Dulle, Bassmann, Busch, Schmidt, Tanner, Seidel, Renn, Sommerer, Schell, and Kielman families. The list even included Hugh Stephens (printer and banker). Officers at incorporation were T. G. Nilges, president; J. W. Fischer and A. W. Happy, vice-presidents; and Wm. F. Winkelmann, cashier and secretary.

The bank officers narrowed down the location for their new bank to two sites. One was “Schmidt’s Corner,” the southwest corner of Dunklin and Madison, where the Henry Schmidt Grocery was (the Wel-Com-Inn corner). The other site was “Kielman’s Corner,” the southeast corner of Dunklin and Jefferson, where the Farmer’s Home hotel was, where the ECCO Lounge is located. They chose Kielman’s Farmer’s Home location and began operations in 1912 in the corner room of the hotel.

A separate Southside Building and Loan Association, organized to provide loans for the large number of new houses then going up in the Southside, operated in conjunction with the bank.

At the same time that the Cole County Bank got going, Henry Schwartze quit his blacksmith and wagon repair business in the building catty-cornered from Farmers Home, the northwest corner of the same intersection. In 1914 that vacant two-story brick building was completely renovated into a retail business downstairs and offices upstairs. The old doorways, wide enough for wagons, were bricked in, new windows installed, and the interior space divided into rooms. The original, soft-brick exterior walls of the 1880s were replaced, or covered over, with new wire-brushed, weather-resistant brick to give the building the completely different appearance that you can see today. Following this thorough building renovation in 1914, the Southside Drug Store and Jefferson City’s first branch post office opened on the first floor and doctors’ offices on the second floor.

The corner room in the Farmers Home building had become entirely too small for the growing Cole County Bank, so shortly after 1921, the bank left that corner room and moved diagonally across the corner into the larger space that the Southside Drug Store had occupied. The drug store simply moved next door on the north, where it stayed into the 1960s. Doctors and dentists remained on the second floor.

The bank advertised heavily in both German and English newspapers. A neighborhood bank was a great help to Southsiders. They could do their banking while shopping in the Southside. Frugal families could create savings accounts rather than hiding their precious earnings in mattresses. They knew the officers and tellers and trusted them with their money.

Things went well during the 1920s. The bank quickly doubled its capitalization, then again recapitalized. In 1922 it passed the million-dollar mark in assets. As population grew in the Southside and nearby farmers prospered, so did the bank.

Then the unexpected happened! The national stock market crashed in 1929, which brought on the Great Depression. Small banks were vulnerable to the economic hard times and the huge decline in circulating money. Nevertheless, people continued to trust their neighborhood bank with their money, just as they would a friend.

But the Cole County Bank was overextended. It had too many unsecured loans for its assets! For instance, the bank had to foreclose on the mortgaged Farmers Home hotel for only $500, when the building was worth several thousands of dollars. The bank just couldn’t sell the property. There were no buyers with money during the Great Depression.

Try as they could to keep afloat, the Cole County Bank finally was forced to close its doors in May 1938, paying only 62½ cents on the dollar to shareholders. On November 9, 1938, the Director of Finance of the state of Missouri, after a six-month search to find owners of unclaimed deposits, liquidated all remaining assets. The bank had failed. The Southside Building and Loan Association, however, survived and stayed in business in that corner building.

Many Southsiders lost all their savings. Folks shared their sorrows with some bitterness. Single women, widows, aged couples, and younger people who were saving for retirement in those days before Social Security lost everything! Jack Howser, who as a young boy lived across the street in the Farmers Home hotel, had put his meager savings in the bank, and 74 years later his painful loss of exactly $3.25 was still etched in his memory.

A bank organized by and for Southsiders and county farmers no longer exists. However, the Southside does have a branch facility of Jefferson City’s Hawthorn Bank, which is said to be their most used facility. In late 2013 a completely new Hawthorn Bank building was completed on the corner of Dunklin and Washington, built to architecturally harmonize with the historic brick buildings of the neighborhood. If you live or work or visit in the Southside, you still have a friendly Southside bank to serve you!

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