Huerfano County, Colorado

Contributed by: Louise Adams
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The First National Bank

Bank Observing 95 Years in Same Location, by Nancy Christofferson - Huerfano World - November 12, 1998

This fall, First National Bank in Walsenburg will celebrate its 95th birthday.

FNB received its charter Oct. 28, 1903. The first board of directors was composed of Fred O. Roof, president; George Dick, James B. Dick, J. J. Pritchard and Jefferson B. Farr.

The new institution opened its doors Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1903 (coincidentally, the calendars of 1903 and 1998 are identical). Ernst Ruth was cashier and G. D. Dawson, teller. FNB received its first consignment of bank notes in early December. Back in those days, both President Roof and Cashier Ruth had to sign each note to make it legal tender.

FNB claims a proud heritage. Its ancestors were four previous banking houses, all located at Fifth and Main Streets.

The first was Walsen and Wheeler, Bankers. Although Fred Walsen, for whom the city is named, had moved to Denver in 1882 when he was elected state treasurer, he kept close ties with his old home town. His partner was H. E. Wheeler, about whom little is known.

Walsen was said to have started his first banking venture in 1888, and certainly the Walsen and Wheeler, Bankers advertisement was prominently displayed in the first issue of the Walsenburg World in March 1889.

After Wheeler's retirement the bank was renamed Walsen Bank in 1892. Employees included Cashier P. C. Moss and Assistant Cashier Schaeffer.

Walsen Banking Company took charge around the first of March 1896. It was a state bank with capital stock of $50,000. Fred Roof began as cashier.

These banks were housed in an old structure built by a contractor named McLaren who also operated a lumberyard in Walsenburg during the 1880s. It was said to have been made of adobe bricks fired near the old coal chutes located by the railroad tracks on West Seventh Street by someone named Little Mick, a brick mason.

The adjoining buildings were erected in 1889 by William A. Kearns. Four rooms, or stores, 60 feet deep, joined onto the bank on the south, which FNB recently remodeled and annexed. The site was originally occupied by the Walsen home, but occupied by Alexander Levy at that time.

Behind the bank, with its entrance on Fifth Street, was the post office.

The bank building received several updates, such as new plate glass windows in 1892, a black and gilt paint job in 1894, an addition to enlarge the post office portion in 1899 and the installation of a vault "the size of a room" in 1902.

Fred Roof resigned in late 1900 and the bank was immediately reorganized and opened for 1901 as Fred Walsen and Son, Bankers. Walsen Junior was cashier. Safety deposit boxes rented for a penny a day.

Walsen Sr. returned to his many other business ventures and left his son in charge of the bank. Fred George Walsen was a busy man himself. He was serving on Town Board, elected in 1900 as the youngest ever to serve, and started an insurance company with a man named Lawson. Walsen and Lawson Insurance Company first had its office in the bank proper, but in 1905 a 24 by 24 foot brick building with a vault was added to the rear of the bank for its headquarters. The same year the now 30 by 50 foot structure boasted marble fixtures.

First National bought out Walsen and Son, taking over all "commercial papers, notes, mortgages and fixtures." Fred Roof became president.

Although few recognize his name today, Roof held several town and county positions, was the first subscriber to the Walsenburg World and was a prominent Walsenburg businessman for 30 years. The historic Roof-Dick building still stands. Roof was re-elected bank president annually until 1920.

The bank prospered quickly. In 1912 its resources were $886,968.04; in 1915, $1,025,878.58. By the latter year, Maurice Cowing was cashier.

A calamity occurred in November 1916 when thieves broke into the second floor, dug through the ceiling into the bank lobby and drilled the combination lock of the vault to steal an estimated 300 pounds of loot, later reported as $600,000 worth.

The old bank building was razed June 30, 1927. At the time, owners claimed it was 39 years old, reaffirming the date of construction as 1888.

A new $75,000 structure was to be completed by Sept. 1, according to Builder Frank Yano.

Well, this was optimistic, and the bank formally opened, again, Oct. 28, 1927. Contractors were A. A. Keith and Company of Denver, with Subcontractor Yano handling the work.

The new building was 140 feet long and 30 feet wide. Entering the lobby, there were four tellers' "cages" on the north and two on the south. Storage vaults were located in the basement with the safety deposit boxes. Another vault of the same size, 17 by 24 feet, was on the main floor. A "very delicated burglar alarm system" was installed. Upstairs, Attorney George H. Blickhahn had his office.

Unfortunately, the grand opening was overshadowed by an unhappy occurrence. The (IWW) International Workers of the World - had called a strike of coal miners. At the time of the Bank's open house, 47 men were incarcerated in the Huerfano County jail after a wholesale arrest of picketers. Over one half of the county's 2,400 coal miners were out on strike and most people's minds were not on banking or grand openings.

In April 1943 C. L. Mann bought controlling interest in First National Bank. William Ward remained as President, R. L. Snodgrass, Chairman of the Board, and Maurice Cowing, Cashier.

In December 1943, FNB merged with Guaranty State Bank to become First State Bank. Guaranty State Bank was founded in 1909 by Paul Frohlich, Charles Agnes, G. R. Moore and Tim Hudson. In 1910 the Board was increased to seven. Frohlich remained president, Hudson was vice president and other directors were Moore, Agnes, Demaso, Vigil, Paul Krier and H. M. Sammis, cashier. The bank was located at 506 Main Street.

In January 1922 Guaranty obtained the former City Pharmacy building at 603 Main and tore off the front to erect a new and more imposing facade. There were even steps leading from the sidewalk to the lobby. Marble finishings were added and the new bank opened in May with "fully 2,000 people" in attendance. Fred C. Sporleder was elected vice president during the remodeling.

Another increase in members resulted in a board composed of Hudson, president; Sporleder, vice; Norman F. Kastner, vice president and cashier; and Moore, Agnes, Vigil, Krier, Paul Wayt and Sandy and Albert Lenzini, directors in 1927.

The great depression brought headaches to all banks as President Franklin D. Roosevelt began plans for reorganization of the nation's banking institutions. Both Walsenburg banks survived the crises, unlike the La Veta State Bank.

In early December the officers of both banks announced a merger, saying they felt the needs of the public could best be served by a single institution. The assets of Guaranty were to be transferred to First National's location, but the staffs of both banks were retained. After the merger with FNB, the old Guaranty building and fixtures were sold to Taylor Coal Mining Company. First State Bank at 501 Main opened Monday, Dec. 20, after a voluntary liquidation Dec. 18. William Ward had been president but stepped down as Maurice Cowing took over, R. R. Gowdy was vice president and Cashier R. L. Snodgrass was chairman of the board and James L. Firm, C. L. Mann and Paul Krier were directors. S. J. Glinsky and F. C. Unfug were assistant cashiers.

At the time of consolidation, Guaranty was 34 years old and First National, 40. By the end of October 1969, First National had total assets of over six million dollars. James L. Conder was executive vice president and George Spock, A.H. Stephens and J. A. Murray were directors of the Board.

In 1969, Babcock sold the bank to a group from Omaha, Nebraska. It then became locally owned by a one-bank holding company, Plains States Financial Corporation. J. A. Murray was president until his retirement in 1971. James L. Conder was elected president. Directors were Gerald Ariano, Virgil Ladurini, Floyd Murr and Alton Tirey.

A drive-up facility was built at Sixth and Albert in 1972.

In 1979 the bank underwent a major remodel adding a second story in the lobby area which accommodated operational offices and the bookkeeping department.

In 1981 the bank opened a branch office in La Veta at 102 East Field Street.

1995 brought many changes to the bank, beginning in January with the sale of the bank to Community Bankshares, Inc. At the time of the sale the bank's total assets were $27,580,000 with a total capital of $2,394,000. Then in August 1995, Keith E. Varner was appointed president and chief executive officer. James L. Conder retired and remains active in the bank as chairman of the board. The rest of the board is made up of Virgil Ladurini, Dr. Fred Menghini, Neal Cocco, William Wood and Gerald Ariano. Rita Cordova is secretary of the board. Today the bank's total assets is $42,883,869. Capital is set at a total of $3,755,869.

Currently, the bank has had a major remodel "face lift". The second story in the lobby has been renovated, restoring the high ceilings. The main bank building has been extended to include a previously empty adjoining building, known to many residents as the former "Star Market." The new area now houses the loan department offices for loan officers and Keith Varner's office.

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