The First State Bank of Humboldt

by

Linda Diamond

 

From the time that men first settled in towns they havecarried on trade with one another. Money was the most convenient methodof figuring value of various articles This manner of trade resulted in ourbanking system. The First State Bank of Humboldt played a major role insettling Humboldt for this reason. It was a prominent institution of thetown and the surrounding area.

Ed Florance can be attributed as the establisher of thebank. It has been stated that "Edward Florance proved at an early ageto be a man of tremendous ambitions." (1) E.C. Florance, the founderof this family in this area. came here in 1880 from Ontario. 1882, manymembers of the family had joined him at St. Vincent, Minnesota where heran a shoe makers shop. In 1883, they moved to Pembina, North Dakota andthen to Grand Forks in 1886. Eleven years later, E.C. and his two sons begana general merchandise business in Northcote. Young Edward was indeed ambitious,for in 1900 "Ted" (as he was called) with his partner N.J. Nelsonoperated a general merchandise and machine business in Humboldt. Edwarddid not remain in this business long however, but sold out his interestsin l904. It resulted in Edward starting the town's banking business.

Opening day for the First State Bank of Humboldt was celebratedon April 18, 1904.

The established capital was estimated at $10,000 .00. (Thisamount is required by law.) Officers were J. M. Wheeler, president, N.J.Nelson, vice president, and Edward Florance,. cashier.

Certain interesting facts about the business of the bankare remembered by residents of the town. In 1920, a 10% interest was beingcollected on all bank loans. Also, most of the bank's business was on Saturdaynights. This day of the week was set aside for trading and socializing inHumboldt. Country farmers and folk flocked to the town for these reasons.This was the time when many farmers would come into the bank to cash theircreamery checks. Many $3.00 to $4.00 checks for the farmers were cashedon Saturday nights.

Because of the great foresight of Ted Florance. the banksurvived the depression. Mr. Florance who had only a fourth grade education,.was once described as being a "genius". He indeed was a geniuswhen he foretold the depression that soon hit the nation. All debts anddue amounts were collected and saved the bank from closing.

The First State Bank of Humboldt was the only bank of theseventeen banks operating in Kittson County to remain open. It never didclose its doors until the President of the United States declared a "NationalBank Holiday" and all banks in the county were closed." (2) TheHumboldt Bank closed also, but it reopened for business within a few hours.It was an admirable accomplishment for during the years "from 1921to 1929, throughout the entire state of Minnesota, 320 state banks and 58national banks were forced to close. Minnesota was just one of the sevenwestern grain states which suffered nearly half of the total bank failuresin the United States during these years. In 1921,. there were 1,160 statebanks in Minnesota. By 1931, the figure had dropped to 675 working banks."(3)

The Depression Years can be described as violent and hardyears. The town of Humboldt suffered many robberies and two bank robberiesoccurred in the early 1930's

The first account of a robbery was described by a womanwho remembers the incident through personal experience.

In 1929, four girls decided to sleep out in a tent. Thetent was set up in a vacant lot some 80 feet from the bank building. Atabout 2:00 A.M., the girls were awakened by a noise. It sounded like someonewas cranking a car. The crank often hit the license plate as the car wasbeing cranked up, thus resulting in the noise. The com-motion seemed togrow louder and louder. The girls discussed among themselves whether theyshould get out and see what was happening. The decision was finally madenot to leave the tent.

The following morning the tent sleepers learned that thebank not 80 feet away, had been robbed. The men had first broken into theblacksmith's shop, which was down the street, to collect some necessarytools. With these tools, they entered the bank building. They were unableto open the vault, but the till was probably broken into. The fact stillremains that a robbery had been committed.

In 1930, a second robbery was staged. The same men whohad made a similar attempt a year before returned to the scene of the crime.A local citizen had seen a car with Iowa license plates enter Humboldt thatafternoon. The plan of the three men was to enter the bank during bank hoursso someone could be forced to open the vault. Ted Florance. Cliff Easton,and Sam Johnson, a local patron, were in the building when the men entered.Ted, bank president, and Cliff, bank cashier, were forced to open the vault.After removing $800.00 from the safe, Ted, Cliff, and Sam were locked inthe vault. The robbers escaped in their car. M.J. Florance (Maurice) hadbeen sitting on the bank steps during, this time, yet the three men escapedunheeded.

Clifford Easton had been afraid of robbery attempts duringthese depression days. He had placed screw drivers and pliers in the vaultin case such a robbery took place. The men were still obliged to remainin the vault because they were uncertain as to whether or not the robberswere still in the building. Picture if you will, Ted, slim and six feetsix inches tall; Cliff, who had suffered a back injury in his younger years;and Sam Johnson, a nervous farmer; inside a six foot by eight footbank vault for half an hour. John Fitzsimmons, a local farmer, entered thebuilding at that time. He was certainly surprised when he found no one attendingto the bank and its business.

By then the men inside the vault realized it was safe andCliff proceeded in picking the lock. Sam Johnson was so relieved to getout of the vault, like the other two men; that he ran out of the bank tohis team of horses and quickly sped for home.

When the story of the robbery was out, Maurice Florance(Ted's son) and Phillip Baldwin set out after the men. James Florance, aresident of the town today, describes this attempt as no less than a "wildgoose chase". Maurice and Phil had gone north not realizing that theIowa car had gone south. The chase proceeded only as far as the CanadianBorder (8 miles) however, and then the 2 men turned back.

The robbers; who were found out later to be Canadians livingnorth of Lancaster, were apprehended a few days later. The Grand Forks policenoticed an Iowa car outside one of the town's restaurants. They investigatedand found the money in the car and de-cided to wait until the 3 men cameout. When the Canadians left the eating place, they realized what was happeningand opened fire on the police. The robbers escaped however and turned northto Kittson County.

Again they entered Humboldt and stole a farmer's (Ole Berg's)car from the town garage. This garage was operated by Herb Diamond; it wasacross the street from the bank. The Canadians then raced to the border.There they were finally caught by the Canadian Mounted Police.

The daring days of the First State Bank of Humboldt flourishedfor more than two decades after the '30's.

Edward Florance opened the bank and closed it in 1952.Operation continued until shortly after l952 when permission was grantedby the State Banking Commission to move the Humboldt bank charter to Hallock,Minnesota. "After the Humboldt bank's charter was moved to Hallockit did business under the firm name of the Hallock State Bank. Then theyears passed by when Edward sold his interests to his son; Maurice who afteroperating it successfully sold it to the present owners and they renamedit Northwestern State Bank of HaIlock." (4)

Since 1952, this building has served its use. It has beenseveral restaurants and served other occupations.

Even the interior parts of a bank can be purposeful. Thevault was removed and is now serving the Humboldt - St. Vincent Public School.The vault door can be seen in the main office of the building. The safe(within the vault) is presently at the Northwestern State Bank in Hallock.

In 1964, the bank building was sold to the Village of Humboldtby the Board of County Commissioners. The reason for sale was $5.00 taxesthat had never been paid. The sale occurred in the spring of the year andby fall the building was gone. Stone by stone and brick by brick; the entirebuilding was torn down. Many townspeople salvaged useable bricks for theirown personal use at home.

For many years, only the water and rubbish-filled foundationremained as proof of the bank building. By 1967, the foundation was filledand no proof remains of any bank in Humboldt. Now there is just a vacantlot, trod upon by many, snow filled in win-ter, and lifeless except forweeds and tall grass in summer.

Though no physical proof is available, in the minds ofthe people the memories of the First State Bank of Humboldt remain. Thispioneer bank: has an amazing history. Its success was evident as it withstoodthe depression.. The bank officers accounted for almost 30 years of service.And now it has been recorded for the ages.

The Humboldt Bank was formed because people who trade needa form of payment. People and trade made a town in the early years of theAmerican settlers.

No lesser words than this can be said: The First StateBank of Humboldt helped make a town; it accomplished a great service tonorthern Minnesota and our nation.

 

(1) KITTSON COUNTY ENTERPRISE, 50th Anniversary Edition."Florance Family Dates to Pioneer Days", page 36.

(2) KITTSON COUNTY ENTERPRISE, "0ld Florance BankBuilding Sold to Humboldt Village, p. 1, 10. (date unknown)

(3) Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota. A History ofthe State, p. 480 - 481

(4) KITTSON COUNTY ENTERPRISE; "0ld FloranceBank Building Sold to Humboldt Village p. 1, 10. (date unknown)

 

Bibliography

Blegen, Theodore C. Minnesota. A History of the State,University of Minnesota -1963. pages 480 - 481.

Diamond, Harvey E. (Interview) February 13, 1969 and February27, l969.

Diamond, Mrs. Herb L., (Interview) Humboldt, Minnesota.February 9, 1969.

Johnson, Mrs. William G., (Interview) Humboldt, Minnesota,February 10, 1969.

KITTSON COUNTY ENTERPRISE, " Old Florance Bank BuildingSold to Humboldt Village," page 1, 10. (date unknown)

KITTS0N COUNTY ENTERPRISE, "Florance Family Datesto Pioneer Days", 50th Anniversary Issue, page 36.
old to Humboldt Village," page 1, 10. (date unknown)

KITTS0N COUNTY ENTERPRISE, "Florance Family Datesto Pioneer Days", 50th Anniversary Issue, page 36.