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March 14, 2019

The Construction of the First National Bank Building

The Construction of the First National Bank Building

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

With Key Bank closing its downtown Noblesville branch, that will be the end of 109 years of banking on that corner. However, the structure itself is unique with regard to other Noblesville buildings. There was a concise article about it in the Ledger in 1998, but the original reports about the construction show that it was meant to be a real architectural statement, much like the Richwine Building five years later.

The First National Bank, organized in 1893. announced the construction on April 9, 1909, and the estimated cost was $16,000.  They drew up plans and John W. Durflinger was hired as contractor with a bid of $14,917. Durflinger had done several buildings in town including the Interurban station and many businesses on the north side of the square. I mentioned him in a previous blog about the Llewellyn spring. Construction was supposed to be finished on December 17.

A big front-page story in the Enterprise newspaper on September 24 said that the exterior would be of Bedford limestone. The interior would have white tile floors, with wainscoting in olive-colored Vermont marble, and fixtures in mahogany and marble. It would have fourteen-foot ceilings on the first floor, twelve-foot ceilings on the second floor, and electric and gas fixtures. The vaults were from the Mosler Safe Company in Hamilton Ohio. They were very large, with walls that were 18 inches of reinforced concrete lined with one inch of Bessemer steel. The inner door was two inches of steel, and the outer door was 4 inches of steel equipped with anti-dynamite devices, a triple time lock, and compression bars. They weighed 17 tons, and the finish was “jiggered nickel”(I have no idea what that is).  The door steel was referred to in the newspapers as “Crome and Bessemer” which may have been some sort of chromium steel – an early type of stainless steel.

As work commenced, it ran into problems and the construction estimate grew to $20,000. The opening date was reset to December 25, and then later reset to January 1, 1910. The building was finally open on July 26, 1910. 3,000 people visited the building and a reporter for the Sheridan newspaper said, “Blessed be the First National Bank at Noblesville for giving us ice cream and lemonade in their new building.”

Public restrooms were installed in the basement, because they were needed for the downtown. The basement also had a walnut-paneled conference room. People soon realized the building was the coolest in town, and started holding meetings there. In August 1918, a county Republican meeting decided it was too hot at their headquarters and moved to the basement of the bank. The second floor had offices with doctors, dentists, real estate agents, milliners, and eventually, Republican headquarters.

The First National Bank failed in 1926 and was purchased by the American National Bank in 1928.  While the building was being redecorated, an article said that the interior was being “frescoed”, so perhaps there may be artwork under the paint.

The bank needed to expand in 1940 and purchased the building next door, a former meat market built around 1904. The exterior was remodeled to match and the new interior was designed by McGuire & Shook. The bank awarded the construction contract in July and moved to a temporary site in August.  One part of the project was to knock out the wall between the buildings, expanding the lobby to 24 by 20 feet and lowering the ceiling to match between the rooms. An after-hours deposit box was added – something new for Hamilton County. The bank reopened December 16.

The Wainwright Trust became a bank in 1949 and moved out 1957, leaving that half of the building virtually vacant until 1971 when it was purchased by ANB. ANB bought the Hege shoe store next door in 1964 and expanded again. The stone roof details began being removed in 1969 and replaced with a slanted metal roof.  The window over the central stairwell was closed at this time. The building still had some of the original roof decoration in 1988, but eventually it was all removed.  During this same time, the bank bought the Harrell Hospital building, the Diana Theater, and the Methodist Church building with the intention of expanding further. All of the buildings were eventually demolished and are now parking lots.

ANB was sold to Ameritrust in 1986 and changed in name in 1989, then merged with Society Bank in 1992, which merged with KeyCorp in 1994 and changed its name to Key Bank in 1996. It will be interesting to see what changes in the building the next phase will bring.