Beloved cafe briefly home to ill-fated bank
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:09 AM
For those of you who haven't heard it - yes, at one time there was a bank at the site we know as Elaine's Cafe on South Broadway. It's my understanding that several folks keep asking questions about the bank vault that is in the basement, and sure enough, there is what appears to be the remains of a vault, as I did see it.
Some time ago the story was uncovered by historian, Sharon Jahn, from microfilmed files of the Spring Valley Mercury. A Certificate of Incorporation was published in October 1916, for "Farmers State Bank of Spring Valley, Inc. The general nature of its business shall be banking, receiving deposits, buying, selling and discounting notes, bills and other evidence of debt, domestic and foreign, dealing in gold and silver bullion and foreign coins, issuing circulatory notes and loaning money on real estate and personal security; and the place of business shall be carried on in Spring Valley in Fillmore County, Minnesota. Said corporation shall commence on November 15, 1916, and shall continue for the period of thirty years."
Whew! Quite an undertaking.
The government of said corporation was in the hands of six directors: E.F. Ostrander, J.W. Barber, T.E. Fryer, C.E. Lawrence, John Hoffman, all of Spring Valley, and S.A. Steffen of Winona. Capital stock was $25,000, fully paid in cash, of 250 shares, $100 each; with a surplus of $5,000. Witnessing the transaction were two Notary Publics, Sam'l Pattridge and Herman Weibel. Other notables involved: the State Dept. of Banking Supt. Albert Turritten, Secretary of State Julius Schmahl, and A.P. Nelson, Fillmore County Register of Deeds.
The Dec. 16 issue of the Mercury carried a large ad: "The best Christmas gift presented to every man, woman and child in Spring Valley and vicinity - the services of a brand new bank - everything absolutely new and up to date!" About a year later in January 1918, the publication showed a balance sheet of $242,179.36 with $35,615 in reserve. Changes in officers? A new director, E.N. Kingsley. Of note, the notary public who verified the balance sheet was John W. Barber's son, Charles F. Barber, who died only six months later at the very young age of 24.
Five years later, bad news: On Nov. 30, 1923, the bank did not open for business. At a meeting the previous evening, it was decided to close the bank and notify the state banking department. The reason? Bank funds had been over-loaned, making it impossible to meet the demands of depositors. The state banking department would be in charge of liquidation. According to the newspaper, deposits at the time of closing were about $200,000 with loans of about $240,000.
A brief bio on John W. Barber, Sr: born near Bangor, Wis., in 1865, John attended La Crosse schools. He became interested in telegraphy, learned the Morse Code, and became quite adept at serving as a substitute for the usual operator at the railroad station. He applied for his first regular job as night operator at Spring Valley's Milwaukee railroad station when several trains passed through day and night. He became the station agent in 1898. John married Susan Braxton (a sister of Charlie Lawrence) of Bangor, and they raised three children, one being John, Junior, who graduated from Spring Valley High School in 1919 in the same class as John Osterud. The two Johns remained life-long friends, even after the Barbers moved to Minneapolis after the bank failure.
It was noted in the Spring Valley Tribune at the time of the 1955 Centennial, that the Barbers came from Minneapolis where John Barber, Jr. worked at the Northwestern National Bank. He and his father, now age 91, were guests of Mr. and Mrs. John Osterud. John W. Barber, Sr., died in 1959, leaving a trust fund for the Spring Valley Cemetery.
As we know, Osterud also relished the banking business, and founded Home Federal Savings & Loan in 1934. This firm is now celebrating 80 years of operation in the area. Its first officers were M.A. Brehmer, president; Joseph Mlinar and E.C. Duncanson, vice-presidents; John N. Osterud, secretary-manager and treasurer; and C.O. Knutson, assistant secretary.
Can we get a picture of the vault in the basement at Elaine's Cafe? That's not an easy task, so take our word for it - it really is there, and Elaine can boast of her building having a long history in the Spring Valley story.