First National Bank, now US Bank, celebrates 125th
Frontier Historical Society
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
“The business of Garfield County will soon attain such proportions that there will be room for more than one, and more than two banks, and the businessmen of the county may congratulate themselves upon securing the additional facilities of such assured stability as will be the case with the First National.”
– Article announcing the formation of the First National Bank of Glenwood Springs, Aspen Daily Times, Jan. 1, 1887
In Pitkin County on April 17, 1886, five men incorporated a new bank in Glenwood Springs. These visionary men possessed power and influence in Aspen’s mining industry and were investors or officers in the Colorado Midland Railway. They knew that Garfield County was to grow and knew that Glenwood Springs would be the economic center of that growth.
So, it was without hesitation that James J. Hagerman, Jerome B. Wheeler, D.R.C. Brown, Walter B. Devereux (future developer of Glenwood Springs) and George Henry Hewitt invested $50,000 to start a new bank, with Walter B. Devereux holding one-half of the stock. That new bank would be the First National Bank of Glenwood Springs.
The First National Bank would not be Glenwood Springs’ first bank. That void had been filled in June 1885 when 25-year-old George Arthur Rice opened his private bank, George Arthur Rice and Co. Capitalized with $10,000, Rice tended to the financial needs of a growing community.
However, the First National Bank would bring the strength of its stockholders. Through its approved application to the Comptroller of the Currency of the United States Treasury, the First National Bank also brought the backing of the U.S. government, with its currency honored at all national banks.
To further foster a presence in Glenwood Springs, lots at 802 Grand Avenue were selected as the site of the new First National Bank building.
On March 15, 1887, excavation for the three-story brick and stone building commenced. The Glenwood Echo newspaper reported that the bank’s offices on the northwest corner of the first floor would be constructed of iron and glass, and that the fireproof vault extended from the basement to the second floor.
Three storefronts would be available on the Eighth Street side of the building. The second floor contained office space for rent to tenants, and the third floor was a proposed meeting hall for secret societies. The safe, furniture and fixtures were to come from the Aspen National Bank.
The First National Bank of Glenwood Springs opened for business on June 1, 1887. Ten days later, deposits totaled $100,000.
However, the partners received competition from a new national bank – the Glenwood National Bank – which opened in July 1887 at 828 Grand Ave. The directors and stockholders of the Glenwood National Bank – among them John Cleveland Osgood, future developer of Redstone, and J.L. McNeil, president of the Carbonate Bank of Leadville – were heavily invested in the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.
With the Colorado Midland Railway and Denver and Rio Grande Railroad locked in a race to arrive first in Glenwood Springs, the town boomed with the bustle of railroad workers and real estate speculation. The railroad arriving first would win the opportunity to control the economics of the entire valley.
In October 1887, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrived first in Glenwood Springs, and then began building track to Aspen. The Colorado Midland Railway arrived in December 1887. Squeezed out by the two competing large banks, George Arthur Rice consolidated with the Glenwood National Bank in November 1887.
Any successful banking operation required an excellent cashier. The First National Bank hired 30-year-old John H. Fesler for that position. Fesler had extensive banking experience, and brought a calm and professional demeanor to the new bank. He resigned as cashier but continued as a director after he was elected Colorado State Treasurer in 1898.
In July 1891, the Glenwood National Bank voluntarily liquidated, leaving the First National Bank to solely fill the community’s needs.
The First National Bank again received competition in 1903 when a group of Glenwood Springs businessmen opened the Citizens National Bank at 729 Grand Ave. In 1914, the Citizens National Bank built a stately new building at 801 Grand Ave., directly across the street from the First National Bank.
The two banks competed for nearly three decades until the stock market crash of 1929. Three years later, the Citizens National Bank closed its doors, leaving the First National Bank again as Glenwood Springs’ sole banking institution.
Directors of the First National Bank operated in a conservative and measured manner. The difficult times presented by the Great Depression proved no exception. In July 1935, the stability of the bank was proven again when the First National Bank became member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Deposits insured to $5,000 gave the bank’s customers a sense of security in difficult times.
In 1940, the bank’s owners remodeled the building exterior and interior space to provide a beautiful and inviting business and work environment. The teller cages were repositioned and all fixtures and flooring replaced. Central to the remodel was the massive new time-release vault, which again provided a sense of security to customers. The First National Bank building would be remodeled again in 1960, and expanded and remodeled again in the 1980s.
The First National Bank of Glenwood Springs became Central Bank Glenwood Springs in 1987. Afterward it became part of Colorado National Bank, and then, in 1997, US Bank, currently the nation’s fifth largest commercial bank. It is said to rank first in trust, security and overall customer experience.
Undoubtedly Walter Devereux and the other founders of the First National Bank would find satisfaction that their visionary institution remains strong at 802 Grand Ave. and continues to serve the Glenwood Springs community 125 years later.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours, starting May 7, are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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