Marion National Bank
Throughout the years, Marion National Bank has prospered and grown along with the community. It is the oldest most successful bank in Grant County, and it also is the largest such financial institution in the county. The bank has, for over a century, occupied a central location in the heart of Marion’s business district (Marion National Bank Retrospective & Annual Report 3). The bank is considered to be Marion’s first skyscraper and is also a landmark of Marion (Merchant).
The Early Days of Marion
Marion is the county seat for Grant County, which made it a suitable place to build a bank. It is on a sixty-acre tract donated by Martin Boots and David Branson, two of the three original settlers. They named it Marion in honor of General Francis Marion, who was a military hero in 1876 (Marion National Bank Retrospective & Annual Report 4). Marion proceeded to grow, but it experienced a majority of its growth during the gas boom in the 1880’s. During this time, banks were not needed. Taxes were not only just paid in cash, but also by means of the trade, like animal skins. The State Stock Bank was established in 1854, and was the first bank in Marion. Marion National Bank is considered to be the first bank of Marion among the citizens, but this is not true. It is assumed to be the first because it was the first successful bank.
Marion was still not economically developed during this time. There were not any attempts to establish a bank after the collapse of the State Stock Bank. From the years of 1854-1862 there was no bank in Grant County. Then on January 8, 1862, Jason Willson opened the doors to the Jason Willson & Company Exchange Bank, which later became Marion National Bank (4). Most people consider this the first bank of Marion, because it was successful, unlike the State Stock Bank. Jason Willson was a young man, and he co-founded the bank with his father-in-law, Adam Wolfe. Willson grew up in Salem, New York, and after he completed school, he taught in a local school. He traveled the United States, and stumbled across Muncie, Indiana in 1859. This is where he met his wife, Sabrina Wolfe, whose father was a banker. At this time, Willson opened a grocery store in Muncie, but after the marriage to Sabrina, a partnership was formed between himself and his father-in-law. They decided Marion was a good place to open the bank because it had growth potential in its industry and economy (4).
The original bank building was located at the northwest corner of Fourth and Adams in the old Spencer house. After twenty-one years in the business, Willson had six employees, after working the first three years initially alone in the bank. Willson paid the Stebbins family $1,600 for the corner of Fourth and Washington Streets, where he would soon erect his new bank, that would be three levels high (Bureau of Land Management). The bank continued to prosper and grow though the next ten years. One event greatly stimulated Marion’s economy. On January 13, 1887, natural gas was found under the surface at 14th and Boots Streets. Within two years, fifteen wells were producing this abundance of natural gas (Marion National Bank Retrospective & Annual Report 5). The population in Marion grew immensely. Within five years, fifteen thousand people moved to Marion for employment and their shot at the natural gas. Land was very high at that time, ranging from $125- $150 per acre. Years before pieces of that land were sold for $1.25 per acre (5). Twenty-four industry plants were in operation as soon as three years after the discovery of the gas.
Eventually, Willson’s bank was not the only bank in Marion. He competed with smaller banks in Sweetser and other county banks. Marion National Bank formed during these gas boom years, and two of these smaller banks merged with the bigger successful bank in Marion. This bank was successful from the contributions from his father-in-law, Mr. Wolfe and himself. Mr. Wolfe died in March of 1892 of old age. Willson shortly after had two sons, Fred W. and Albert J. Willson, who later joined the firm (5).
During the Gas Boom
Two other important men came to Marion during the gas boom, and were significant in the growth of the bank. These men were J. Wood Wilson and ‘Colonel’ John Lewis McCulloch. Wilson was a merchant and McCulloch had great management skills. Together the two formed the Marion Fruit Jar and Bottle Company, which became very successful. They expanded to many areas such as Fairmount, Converse, and Coffeyville, Kansas. It grew so much that it came to be the second largest bottle manufacturer in the country. Wilson and McCulloch later sold their business to the Ball Brothers Corporation of Muncie, Indiana (6).
Due to this vast amount of people, Marion held its first city election. On May 7, 1889, they elected Albert E. Steele, who was a Republican. He received 791 of the 1,268 votes cast (Marion National Bank Retrospective & Annual Report 8). He played an influential role in the development of the bank in its early years. He made improvements such as streets, a high school, and the Veterans Administration Hospital. E.E. Blackburn, a cashier since the bank’s organization, was elected to be the third president of Marion National Bank (“Marion National Bank Traces Its History Back To 1862”).
During the same month he was appointed, the exterior touches on the new Marion National Building were completed. The building was finished on March 1, 1917. The construction of this bank started in October of 1916. The winter of 1916 was harsh, and it caused the construction of the bank to take longer than expected. The bank was officially commissioned on January 12, 1916 (Merchant).
A Changing of the Guard
Among all the good news, lay bad news also. After the death of the founder Jason Willson on March 10, 1913, the bank never felt the same for a period of time. Following this tragedy was the death of J. Wood Wilson on October 21, 1916. He had been seriously ill with Bright’s disease. This was McCulloch’s brother-in-law and close business associate. According to the October 23th edition of the Chronicle, “The body of the beloved citizen lay in the west room of the home, covered and surrounded by a wealth of flowers sent by his friends from all over the United States” (Marion National Bank Retrospective & Annual Report 12). Wilson barely got to live in his newly built mansion on Fourth Street, which is now know as the Hostess House in Marion.
Marion National Bank continued to grow throughout the late twenties and early thirties. During this time it strengthened its position as the biggest and most successful bank in Marion. The bank merged with two other county banks, the Home Savings and Trust Company and the Marion State Bank (“Marion National Bank Traces Its History Back To 1862”). The Bank’s total assets multiplied dramatically from 1917 because of its economic growth and the population growth.
E.E. Blackburn, then the current president in 1928, was delivering a speech at a banker’s meeting, and died suddenly from a hemorrhage. George Bell, then the chairman of the board, was elected as the president of the Bank. When he was elected, the country was suffering very much in the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president of the United States in 1933, and he made many laws for the banking industry. In 1933, the bank took out a new charter and changed the entire capitalization of the bank. This enabled it to takeover deposits of the South Marion State in 1927 and this became the first branch bank (“Marion National Bank Traces Its History Back To 1863”). The board hired Thomas Wilson fresh out of college, to handle the reorganization of the bank. Marion National Bank was the first in Indiana to win federal approval of its reorganization plans. The Bank consolidated with South Marion Branch of Marion National Bank in 1937. The bank also expanded with new resources and physical facilities which made it better to serve Grant County (Marion National Bank Retrospective & Annual Report 15).
World War II
The 1960s and 1970s
During the seventies, inflation and unemployment were major battles that were fought by the Bank. In 1972, Marion National opened a third branch on the corner of 16th and Baldwin Avenue. The bank also remodeled its main building downtown in 1974 (18). The beautiful murals were then painted over to keep them from deterioration. The building itself has not deteriorated much, considering it’s age. In 1977, the Bells sold the bank to American Bank and Trust Company. After that, the bank has been sold three more times. It was American Bank from 1978 through 1986. In 1986, it was sold to Summcorp, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and became Summit Bank (McKown 244-245). Summit was sold in 1992 to NBD Bank, and NBD was sold in September of 1998 (“NBD Banks Sold”).
Today: Union Planters Bank
Currently, the bank stands as Union Planters Bank. It was bought in 1999, and its current president is Edward Merchant. The year 2000 marked Merchant’s second year at the bank. During an interview with Merchant, he stated the status of the bank and how it grows along with the community. He also said, “... the main purpose of the bank is to serve the community.” (Merchant). He hopes they continue to keep up this philosophy in the future.
Marion National Bank was and still is a key and an asset to the community of Marion and of Grant County. Not only was it a very successful organization over the years, but also it still strives with the same dedication and service as it did the first day it opened. Whether it is under the presidency of Jason Willson or Ed Merchant, Marion National Bank throughout the years has prospered and grown along with the community.
- Berry, Wayne M. “NBD Banks Sold.” Marion Chronicle Tribune 9 Sept. 1998: A4.
- Bureau of Land Management. General Land Office Records. 4 Jan. 2001. http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/default.
- "50th Anniversary Marked In 1965.” Marion Chronicle Tribune 27 Feb. 1966: 3.
- Marion National Bank Retrospective and Annual Report 1976. Marion: Don Cole & Associates/Advertising, 1976: 2-18.
- “Marion National Bank Traces Its History Back To 1863.” Marion Chronicle Tribune 27 Feb. 1966: 3.
- McKown, June R. “Summit Bank.” Marion: A Pictorial History. St. Louis: G Bradley Publishing, Inc., 1990.
- Merchant, Edward. Personal Interview. 22 Dec. 2000.
- “Myers, Townsend named new directors.” Marion Chronicle Tribune 30 Dec. 1972.
Michelle Faroh submitted this paper in January 16, 2001 for Mr. Munn's and Mr. Lakes' classes at Marion High School.