Amherst bank celebrates 125 years
By Gene Kemmeter
Special to the Gazette
The International Bank of Amherst will celebrate 125 years of doing business in the Amherst area Saturday, Sept. 15, with a party for its customers at the Amherst Fairgrounds. It is the oldest continually operated bank in Portage County and one of the oldest in the state.
H.B. “Butch” Pomeroy, president of the bank, said the bank will show its appreciation to its customers on this unique anniversary in a period when many local banks are disappearing through mergers and other factors. “It’s definitely unique,” he said.
When the bank celebrated the 100th birthday 25 years ago, he said, there were close to 1,000 banks in the state, but most have merged or failed since then. “It’s an accomplishment (to reach 125 years.)”
The bank was established in 1892 at a Nov. 25 meeting in the office of H.H. Nelson when 19 residents of the Amherst area and Stevens Point subscribed for capital stock in the amount of $25,000. The bank was the 37th bank chartered by the state, Pomeroy said, so it may be among the oldest in the state now.
The bank was created six years before the village of Amherst was incorporated and about 50 years after the first settlers arrived. The need for a bank in the area was apparent because Amherst was becoming a business center for buying and selling potatoes.
The Wisconsin Central Railroad and the Green Bay & Western Railroad crossed tracks in nearby Amherst Junction, and Federal Highway 18 (first called the “Yellowstone Trail” and now U.S. Highway 10) went through the village.
The first stockholder’s meeting was held Jan. 6, 1893; and the articles of incorporation was signed. The name chosen for the bank was “The International Bank of Amherst,” acknowledging the capital raised was 2-1/2 times the amount required for a state bank charter and half the capital required for a national charter, thus the prefix “inter,” to mean between state and national.
The bank purchased a building constructed in 1851 on a lot at the corner of Main and Wilson streets, the same location where the bank is today. The bank occupied the first floor of the building, and the second floor was rented out.
The bank was the site of a burglary on the night of March 10, 1899, but was never the subject of a daytime robbery when it was open.
In that burglary, more than $5,000 was taken from the safe. The Stevens Point Journal of March 11, 1899, reported L.A. Pomeroy, the cashier, entered the bank about 8 a.m. that morning and found the safe had been blown open with nitroglycerin. The time lock on the safe stopped at 3 o’clock, so authorities presumed that was the hour the safe was entered.
A neighbor told authorities she heard a noise in the night and believed it may have been the explosion when the safe was blown open. Authorities also discovered someone broke into the Wisconsin Central depot and theorized it may have been the burglars, apparently to keep warm until the entering the bank.
Butch Pomeroy said a conductor on a Wisconsin Central train alerted authorities that he had two suspicious men on an early morning train, so the search for suspects was expanded to include neighboring cities.
A few days later, two men were apprehended in Wausau, with $1,801.25 in bills pinned to their undershirts and coins in their pockets. About three weeks later, two more men were apprehended in Schofield with around $400 in their pockets. Later in the summer, two bonds worth more than $2,000 were found in a wooded area near Wausau.
Questions about security arose again after the start of World War I during a period of numerous bank robberies across the nation, and the board of directors wanted to protect its money and customers. The bank constructed a new building in 1920 on the same site as its existing building and added an elaborate security system to the building in the late 1920s.
The building was updated through the years, and in 1981, a drive-up banking facility was added. That 1981 addition was removed in 2002 for an extensive addition and the 1920 structure was completely remodeled. Several years later, the bank added solar panels and a battery storage system.
The Great Depression of the 1930s impacted many businesses and was affected by the severe drought conditions on the Great Plains and elsewhere in the nation during that decade. The nation saw high unemployment, business closings, reduced farm production and severe stock market losses.
More than one-third of U.S. banks closed, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was created in 1933 to provide stability to the American banking system. The International Bank of Amherst quickly applied for membership and deposit insurance coverage in the FDIC, which became responsible for establishing order and preventing “runs” on banks, stabilizing the economy.
Butch Pomeroy said the FDIC was a most important feature of the banking industry. Before the FDIC began, when a bank was robbed or there was a run on money from the bank, a bank had to have money on hand to pay back its customers, a precarious situation after the bank was robbed. Banks were stressed, he said, because they had to have a large amount of cash on hand.
In the late 1920s, banks were failing because robberies took their cash, and they couldn’t ask their customers to pay back their loans in order to pay off investors, Butch Pomeroy said, so the FDIC saved them by guaranteeing customers’ investments by providing insurance to cover the stability of banks.
He said the bank in Amherst has been able to succeed because of its ties to the local community and its decisions are made by people who live in the Amherst area. Nearly 100 percent of the deposits are reinvested back into the community in the form of home mortgages, commercial loans, agricultural loans and municipal loans, he said.
The loans help generate jobs that lead to economic expansion, better equipment, better efficiency and a better standard of living, he said, and the bank has also put profits back into the bank’s future, becoming one of the first banks of its size to install computers and incorporating energy efficiency by installing solar panels to provide 40 percent of its electricity.
The Pomeroy family has been affiliated with the bank since its beginning, initially as an investor. Later, L.A. Pomeroy agreed to take over management of the bank in 1898 when he was 37, and he worked there for 37 years and remained on the board of directors until he died.
His son, Harry, joined the bank in 1911 when he was 20, and became the manager in 1928, eventually retiring in 1971, and remaining on the board of directors until his death. His son, Louie Pomeroy, started his banking career in 1948 and took over as manager in 1971, retiring in 1988 and remaining on the board of director’s until his death.
Louie’s son, Butch, began his banking career in 1974 and took over management in 1988. He continues to serve as president.