If these walls could talk: 101 N. Main Street

For this week's installment of our ongoing series of historical "walks" through Culver's downtown, I have to resist the temptation to tell the "story" of the State Exchange Bank (today's First Farmers Bank) as an institution, and the giants who made it what it was (such as W.O. Osborn). It's a remarkable story on multiple levels, and you can read it online at the Culver Public Library's and Judi Burns' websites, and in Latham Lawson's extensive printed history, archived at the Center for Culver History on Main Street.

The State Exchange really began south of the bank's present locale at 101 N. Main, but at least by 1901 it was known simply as the Exchange Bank, at 103 S. Main, which is home today to Skyline Builders and was for years Cultice Insurance. Schuyler Shilling bought the bank operation from M.C. McCormick with resources of $20,000.

John Osborn had owned the bank prior to McCormick, having bought it as an investment, ironic given the stature John's son Will would give the bank in its heyday.

Shilling's daughter, Minnie, would wed 1905 Culver High School classmate Will Osborn in 1906, Minnie already having been a teller at the bank.

On April 11, 1907, Shilling announced plans for a $10,000, two-story brick building on the corner of Main and Jefferson Streets. In its original incarnation, the bank entrance faced the intersection at a 45-degree angle, and the second floor of the building was home to Culver's branch of the U.S. Post Office, as well as renting space to the Culver Masonic lodge. By then, W.O. Osborn was cashier and Minnie assistant cashier, though by 1912, Osborn -- then an attorney -- became full partner with his father-in-law in the bank business.

Five years later, the bank's charter with the Banking Department of the State of Indiana led to its new moniker, The State Exchange Bank of Culver.

Were this a full-blown history of the bank itself, I'd detail major points such as the fact that in 1918, the bank became the only one in Marshall County to meet every quota of World War I Liberty Loan Bonds; the dramatic 1920 robbery there, in which Culver businessman Jacob Saine was shot at his shop across the street (102 S. Main St.); and the organization of the State Exchange Finance Company in 1923.

In 1924, the bank began an enlargement by purchasing the lot to the north (while work progressed, the bank operated from the Menser Building across the street). The stately new exterior, completed in 1926, was made of Bedford limestone trimmed in maroon brick, and the main entrance shifted to face Main Street. The Barnes Construction Company -- precursor to today's Easterday Construction -- occupied space for some time on the second floor of the bank as well. By 1952, the Russell Easterday Construction Company was listed there. During that period, the floor was also home to Western Union, Betty’s Beauty Shop, and the Methodist Church office (the church itself was two buildings north at that time).

Brass teller cages and marble counter tops, floors of mosaic tile, and walnut woodwork graced the interior. By this point, Drs. Mackey (general medicine), Norris, and Robinson (dentistry) shared the second floor with the Masonic Lodge. The story has been passed down that mint oil ($29 per pound) was stored in the basement vault as farm loan collatoral, and its leaking one day forced the bank to close for the strong odor.

The State Exchange Bank continued to make history: as the only bank in Marshall County to be licensed to reopen as a Class A financial institution with no restrictions following the nationwide bank moratorium during the Great Depression, and, what is remembered as one of Culver's finest hours, the capture by local and Culver Military Academy posse members of several Chicago bandits who held up the bank -- amidst hails of bullets from local storekeepers -- in 1933.

In 1936 another remodel was completed, this time including addition of a cafeteria (in the lower floor) for employees and guests. Several new technical additions dramatically sped up the workflow as well. In 1947, added bookkeeping facilities (lower floor), insurance offices (second floor), and night depository facilities were part of another renovation.

The same year, Osborn famously became keynote speaker at the IBM convention in New York and the IBM executive staff hosted in Culver for a tour of the bank/ Four years later, he became bank president following the passing of Shilling at age 89.

In 1957, the bank bought the lots to the west and a 60-car parking lot and renovated cafeteria and kitchen and offices, adding drive-up windows and central air conditioning. The Masonic Lodge moved across Main Street to the L.P. Building to allow for bookkeeping space, SEFCO and Insurance offices on the second floor.

The State Exchange weathered many a storm prosperously in the years to follow, a era ending in 1981 with the death of W.O. Osborn. In 1982, the bank worked towards merger with the Farmers State Bank.

In January, 1985, the Norcen company took over the bank, followed in 1991 by South Bend-based 1st Source Bank. In 1995, Indiana Federal Bank took over, and around 2001, 5/3 Bank launched its tenure in the building. In May, 2006, present owners First Farmers Bank and Trust moved in, longtime branch manager Larry Miller retiring a few years later, and present manager (and singer-songwriter!) Chad Van Herk taking over in his stead.

Things have changed inside the bank; nowadays, tellers interact with customers via closed-circuit camera rather than sitting at the window, and those psychadelic patterns which so delighted me in the carpeting of my childhood have given way to a more muted, less dazzling color scheme.

The remains of the glory days are still there, too, of course. The upstairs nowadays is empty and the basement level -- which for years into the 1970s was utilized as meeting space for local organizations and entities -- hearkens back to the wood-paneled, lush-carpeted heyday of the little Culver bank that made waves nationwide.