The First State Bank of Humboldt

by

Bradley Ash

 

On a plot of ground along Highway 75 in Humboldt, Minnesota,there stands the First State Bank of Humboldt, only in the memories of thepeople who have seen it and have kept it as a treasured memory. Even thoughit is just a memory now, it was a reality for many people after its incorporationin 1904

To be exact, it was April 18, 1904 when the First StateBank of Humboldt was incorporated with a capital of only 10,000 dollars."That was more than a decade before the great land boom of the Worldwar period and the bank aided materially in the pre-boom development. (1)

Besides helping people before the pre-boom development,it also helped people through loans, for which the bank charged 10% aroundthe 1920's. Mr. Edward Florance, the establisher and the first cashier ofthe bank, arranged many loans for people, but he never loaned money to farmerswho wanted to buy land, for he thought it too risky. Mr. Florance did nothate farms or farmers, just because he didn't loan them money, but he actuallyencouraged farming by helping newcomers, who wanted to farm, find placeswhere they could buy seed grains for their crops.

Even though Mr.Florance didn't ever loan much money tofarmers, he still was a friend of theirs, along with the rest of the bankstaff and directors. The first officers of the Humboldt State Bank wereJ.W. Wheeler, Crookston, president; N.J. Nelson, vice president; and EdwardFlorance, cashier. The bank of Humboldt also has some directors who includedmy great-grandfather, William Ash, George Matthews, Charley Clow, and NelsonFinney. Throughout the time that the bank of Humboldt existed, there weremany different cashiers and assistant cashiers, who included such men asTom H. Brown, Cal Farley, Lemuel Jenkins, William Schultz, and CliffordEaston.

The officers of this new bank had their busiest day onSaturdays This was the day of the week that was set aside for visiting,and more important, the time that the farmers from the surrounding countrysidecame to the bank to cash their checks they received from the creamery fortheir dairy products, often worth only three or four dollars.

Business continued good for many years and the bank prospered,but in 1930, the bank ran head-on into the depression. Unlike other banks,such as the ones in Hallock at this time, which were the National bank,the State Bank, and the Citizens Bank, who had to close, Humboldt remainedopen. It was due to the way Mr. Florance ran his bank, always ready forthe unknown ---- such as the 1930 depression.

During this time of the depression, The First State Bankof Humboldt was the only bank of the seventeen operating in Kittson Countyto remain open. This fact alone proves that Mr. Edward Florance was an geniusin business operations, even though he had only a fourth grade education.In fact Mr. Florance's bank, or the First State Bank of Humboldt, neverdid close it's doors during the depression, except for a few hours whenthe president of the United States declared a National Bank Holiday, inwhich all banks closed their doors for a time.

The time of the depression caused hard times for many banksin Kittson County and all over, but the two robberies in the bank of Humboldtin 1929 and 1930 caused more trouble for the bank than did the depressionitself.

The first bank robbery of the Humboldt bank happened.onenight back in 1929, and can still be remembered by the women, who were childrenat the time, sleeping out in a tent about 100 feet from the bank.

It was about two o'clock a.m., and the money in the tillin the bank had just been robbed, and the robbers were cranking up theircar to leave, quietly. But they were not quiet enough for their crank kepthitting the license plate on their car, thus resulting in the noise thatawakened the girls in the tent about 100 feet away. Being curious, as allgirls are, they decided to venture outside the tent to see what was happening,and just caught a glance of the escaping car. They didn't think much ofit, so they went back to bed.

The next morning, the girls found out that the car theysaw near the bank, 1eaving, was the one that the robbers had escaped in.

Even though the girls gave the town's people a brief descriptionof the robber's car, it was no use, the money was gone for good. Even ifthis wasn't a serious robbery, it still was a robbery at the bank's expense.

The second robbery was a lot more serious than the firstone, which occurred in 1929. The date of this second robbery was September15, 1930.

Let us imagine that it is September 15, 1930, and it isgoing along like any other day. Present in the bank are Edward Florance,cashierand establisher; Clifford Easton, assistant cashier; and Sam Johnson, acustomer. All of a sudden the door swings open and in walks two men withguns demanding money. At their request, and at gunpoint, Clifford Eastonand Sam Johnson lay face down on the hardwood floor while Edward Floranceopens the vault for the criminals. The criminals in a quick matter gatherall the money and then force their three shocked friends into the vaultlocking it, and quickly flee.

The situation now, three men locked in a vault just followinga bank robbery, while the rest of the village knows of no robbery. Whatwill happen? Will the three men die of suffocation in the small vault? Well,not quite, thanks to Clifford Easton.

Clifford Easton, the banks assistant cashier at this time,the 1930's, was aware of all the robberies that were and had been happeningaround the country, so he took a precaution --- just in case a thing likethis would happen --- being locked in the vault after a robbery. Cliffordhad taken the precaution of placing a wrench and a pair of pliers in thevault, so that he, or someone else, could pick the lock and get out ---as soon as they were sure the robbers had left. Once sure of this, Cliffordand Edward started to pick the lock and finally opened the safe door andescaped.. Still sort of shocked and frightened, the three told the town,and the law officers, what had happened, and the chase was on.

The chase seemed to be in vain for the Humboldt residents,but not for the law officers. Finally, the law officers caught the two menin Grand Forks, after chasing them through Canada and along the border.These two men were Canadians and later had their trial in the city of Winnipeg.

After the two robberies and the depression, Mr. Florance,after great consideration decided to move his small bank to Hallock. Hecould foresee better and more business that he could acquire there. So afterthe depression and during the 1930's, the banking business of the Humboldtbank went to Hallock. And the once First State Bank of Humboldt was latertransformed into the Northwestern State Bank of Hallock, now a full servicebank, serving Kittson County.

Even though the banking business left the Humboldt Bank,the building still stood, waiting to be used or torn down.

Later on, after the bank business left Humboldt, the buildingserved as the place for restaurants and other businesses.

Then in 1964, the bank building was sold to the villageof Humboldt and torn down in the fall. Many people in Humboldt saved usablebricks from the bank for personal use.

Now just a plot of ground, with no proof available thata bank ever existed there, it holds the bank, in ghost form, in many people'sminds.

(1) Kittson County Enterprise, 50th Anniversary Edition.

 

Bibliography

Kittson County Enterprise 50th Anniversary Edition

Harris Easton, (Interview) January 3, 1972

William S. Ash, (Interview) January 11, 1972

Harris Easton, (Interview) January 3, 1972

William S. Ash, (Interview) January 11, 1972