The First State Bank of Humboldt

by

Mark Baldwin, Jr.

 

Since the first man walked upon the earth he had depended upon other people to fulfill his needs. At first, all he had to "pay” for needed goods was something he had in multitude, like venison, furs, etc. Then, a few hundred years before the time of Christ, someone found that he could use something that was of value to all. At first it may have been just pebbles or pretty rocks, but it finally lead to a coin made out of metal. (Paper money was used at a very early time in China.) All of this eventually made up our banking systems as we know it today.

The banks were often the "key" to settling a given area. It helped the farmers with financial problems until their farms began to show some profit. The First State Bank of Humboldt was no exception. Edward Florance, (widely known as Ted) can be considered the founder of” Our" bank.

In 1880, Ted's father came down from Ontario, Canada. A few years later the rest of his family joined him. Not finding the area yet prosperous enough to raise a large family, he moved to Grand Forks in1886. After eleven years Ted, his father and brother decided to move to Northcote. There the trio set up a business. Later, Ted started a small business in Humboldt. He became tired of this and sold his shares. (This eventually became a very prosperous general store). Wise money management seems to run in his family.

Well, the great day came at last. The day that the First State Bank at Humboldt opened its doors. The date, April 18, 1904. The bank had a capital of $10,000.00. The bank officers were J.W. Wheeler, President; N.J. Nelson, Vice President; and Edward Florance, Cashier. This trio proved to be extremely helpful to the people of the surrounding area. With the bank’s help many young farmers were able to make a go of it. It was also very helpful in other ways.

The bank, - well for that matter, everyone was busy on Saturday night. This was the one time that people of the locality came into town to trade and socialize. They visited in the stores, on the streets, the lumber yard, filling stations, cafe, and blacksmith shop. There was usually a dance going on somewhere where they could go for enjoyment. It was on Saturday night that many farmers brought their cream to town and cashed their checks. These checks amounted anywhere from $1.50 to $5.00.Imagine, if you will, Humboldt on Saturday night, everyone having a” Gay Ole Time."

Ted Florance's biggest test was about to befall him: THEDEPRESSION. During the depression many banks failed, but with some goodluck and because of his great money mind he was able to save the First State Bank of Humboldt from closing its doors to the public. The depression brought hard times to all, but having a stable financial establishment at hand eased some of the hardship. By the end of the depression the First State Bank of Humboldt was the only one out of seventeen in Kittson County remaining open.

During the early 30's, the prices of farm products fell so low that many farmers had mortgages on their land and equipment foreclosed and were forced out of business. A great deal of the land was taken over by mortgage and investment companies. In many instances, the original owner was kept on the land as a renter and after prices and conditions generally improved bought his land back.

At harvest time, one of those years the prices of barley was 25 cents a bushel,-- other grains comparably low: Some of the farmers who could, decided to keep their grain and feed it to pigs, cattle and sheep, hoping to get better prices for their grain through feeding it to livestock and found that after selling their animals they not only got no more for their grain but lost their work besides. There were few granaries in the country in those days and most farmers had to sell at harvest time or during the interval that the elevator could hold it. The bank helped many of them out.

During the early 1930's, Maurice, oldest son of Ted Florance, was mostly in charge of the bank and seemed to have most to do with its management. He then lived in what was known as the Jim Florance house across the tracks on the site where the Virgil Bockwitz house now stands. When Maurice bought the Hill farm at Northcote and moved there it was his home until he sold his interests here and left this locality.

Meantime, Mrs. Stella Moore had joined the staff in the bank. She was a sister of Mrs. John Easter who still lives in Humboldt next to the Methodist church. Stella was employed by the bank until her death not too many years ago.

While in the banking business, Maurice acquired a great amount of farm land and while he lived in Humboldt kept his equipment on what is now the Bockwitz farm. The old barn, now expanded and converted to an elevator was large enough to hold 125 horses. Various other buildings have been torn down and moved away.

The large blue house next to the railroad tracks on the west was built by Ted Florance and occupied by his family for a number of years, then sold it to Tom Brown who was also a director of the bank. He operated a large lumber yard on the spot where the Warren Isley's now have their home. After Tom's death his son Don, and his family lived in it. Don ran the filling station and had the oil and gas business until he accidentally shot himself some years ago. Since that time Dennis Diamond and his family are living there.

Like most banks during the depression the Humboldt bank had some robberies,-- really, we had just two robberies,- one of which was fruitless for the robbers.

The first robbery took place in 1929. Some campers, not far from the bank woke up in the middle of the night because of some strange noises. The next morning they found out that there had been an attempted robbery. Supposedly, the robbers weren't able to even get into the bank.

The next robbery has more meaning to me for my grandfather, Phil Baldwin, then officer in charge of the U.S. Immigration Service and Border Patrol aided in the chase to catch the robbers. This robbery took place in 1930. As it turned out, the same three men who attempted the first robbery tried again. They walked into the bank with their guns where they forced Ted Florance, Clifford Easton, Cashier and Sam Johnson, a local farmer to hand over the money, $800.00, and forced them into the vault and made a hasty get-away. As soon as the news of the robbery was out, my grandpa and Maurice Florance set out after them. Unfortunately, their attempt was fruitless. Later it was found that the robbers were Canadians. The get-away car was noticed a few days after the robbery outside a cafe in Grand Forks. The police found the money and waited for the robbers to come out. The robbers, realizing what had happened, opened fire on the police, jumped into the car and got away. They went to Canada where they were arrested by the Mounties.

The Humboldt Bank continued to do business here until 1932when it was moved to Hallock under the name of the Northwestern State Bank with Maurice Florance (Ted's oldest son) in charge. The bank was housed in the building where Ole Sjostrand now has his jewelry store.

The bank building at Humboldt was used as a restaurant and cream buying station for some time after the bank moved to Hallock. Edith Blodgett, now of Walker, Minnesota was proprietor. She had a cream buying business in back of the restaurant. She wasn't there very long and someone else took over. The building structure was old and insecure and in 1964 was sold to the Village of Humboldt for $5.00 for unpaid taxes. By fall of the same year, the building was pretty well demolished. The vault door is presently in the Humboldt High School office. The safe is at the Northwestern State Bank in Hallock. Several residents of Humboldt salvaged bricks for their own private use. All that was left of the faithful old structure was a hole where the foundation once was. Often in the spring this would fill with water, thus creating a possible drowning hole for some unwary child. Finally in 1967 the hole was filled, in and is a nice lawn next to Pearl's Inn.

The First State Bank of Humboldt can be considered as one of the vast number of pillars that helped to form our country.

 

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Interview, January 8, 1972

Baldwin, Rose E. Interview, January 18, 1972

Kittson County Enterprise, "Florance Family Dates To Pioneer Days" 50th Anniversary Issue P. 36

/st1:place> Enterprise, "Florance Family Dates To Pioneer Days" 50th Anniversary Issue P. 36