DANVERS — In the small but tidy business district of Danvers stands a 102-year-old bank building with an interesting story or two. Located at the southwest corner of West and Exchange streets, the bank is now the Vault Bar and Grill, a gathering place for everyone from Harley bikers to young families.
The Vault, by the way, gets its name from the bank vault still in the basement, though the building has not served as a bank for many decades.
Reminders of the past can also be found on the exterior of this handsome two-story building (see accompanying image). Visible today above the main entrance is an elaborately carved limestone door header carrying the word “Bank,” and above that in the parapet, mounted in a stone medallion, are the letters “FSB.” And most prominently, along the Exchange Street side of the building and carved in limestone detailing, are the words “Farmers State Bank” (that is, “FSB” spelled out).
Farmers State Bank was organized in February 1911 with $40,000 in capital stock, and the corner bank building went up soon thereafter. Built in the Arts and Crafts style with design motifs of brick and limestone, it cost about $14,000 (or something like $340,000 today, adjusted for inflation). Frank Simpson was the bank’s first president, W.S. Otto vice president and F.W. Beyer cashier. Interestingly, Simpson eventually left the bank to oversee his cotton plantation in Tutwiler, Miss., and G.W. Springer, a cashier who had earlier succeeded Beyer, became the new president. Springer then left for Hollywood, Calif., and J.C. Nafzinger replaced him at the top.
Back in the early 20th century, Danvers was like hundreds of other rural cornbelt communities — small in population (593 residents in 1910) yet one with a surprisingly robust business district. The downtown thrummed with the hustle and bustle of commerce, serving village residents and — even more importantly — folks from the surrounding countryside. At a time when the rural population was significantly larger than today, it was the steady steam of farmers and farm families that made Danvers a thriving trade center.
In 1912, for instance, Danvers was home to four restaurants, three physicians, three barbers, two banks, two general merchandise stores, two blacksmiths, a grocer, a druggist, a combination furniture and hardware store, another hardware store, a butcher, a milliner, an implement dealer and a harness maker, among other enterprises. There were even were two newspapers — the Danvers Dispatch and the Danvers Independent.
Yet by the early 1930s, the Great Depression was wreaking havoc in communities large and small, and few sectors of the economy were hit as hard as banking.
On Thursday, Jan. 21, 1932, the Bloomington Clearing House Association directed banks in Bloomington to limit withdrawals from both savings and commercial accounts, all in the hopes of preventing “runs” and giving banks time to shore up ready cash reserves. “When a community loses confidence and decides to close its banks, it signs its own death warrant,” editorialized The Pantagraph, an emphatic supporter of the banking restrictions.
The following day, Friday, Jan. 22, Normal banks and those in smaller McLean County communities adopted the Clearing House’s limits on withdrawals. Unfortunately, such action came too late for Farmers State, as the bank had already experienced a “run” that left precious little cash on hand to protect remaining depositors. With few good options, the bank’s board of directors decided not to open for business on Jan. 22. Although the board said the closure would be temporary, a state examiner arrived that night to take over the struggling institution.
First National, Danvers’ other bank, also closed its doors, though in this instance such action was taken to preemptively quash a run. A federal bank examiner was likewise dispatched to take control of this bank. In the end, First National Bank reopened whereas Farmers State did not.
The formal end of Farmers State came with a public auction, held March 1, 1939, as the bank’s remaining assets, including the building itself, furniture and fixtures, and outstanding notes and bonds, were sold off in lots. The Great Depression claimed other local banks, including Liberty State Bank and National Bank and Trust (both of Bloomington), as well as the Bellflower Bank, Hudson State Bank and First National Bank of LeRoy.
For years the old Farmers State Bank building has been a tavern, and it wasn’t long ago that it was known as the Corner Tap. Danvers remains one of the lovelier communities in Central Illinois, though its “downtown” is much quieter today than it was a century ago when this bank anchored the once-busy corner of West and Exchange streets.