Jim McKee: Lincoln’s First Bank |
The First National Bank of Lincoln was not the first national bank in Nebraska, preceded by two in Omaha and one in Nebraska City, but it was the first in Lincoln, the third in Nebraska, and No. 1798 in the United States .
The name lived on for over a century and is still well known as one of the city’s economic founders.
The town of Lincoln was barely a year old when James Sweet of Nebraska City and his nephew, Nelson Brock, opened their private bank on the southwest corner of the Sweet Block at the northeast corner of 10th and O in June 1868.
Private banks were often the first banks established, not incorporated entities but partnerships operating as specialized institutions, and reached their peak in numbers in the 1870s. Sweet & Brock soon became Lincoln’s bank, of Lancaster County and the State of Nebraska, but closed in 1871 with the establishment of the State National Bank of Lincoln.
After the 1960s, private banks became primarily associated with high net worth individuals.
Amasa Cobb was born in Illinois in 1823, called to the State Bar of Wisconsin in 1850, and moved to Lincoln in 1870, having served as Justice of the Peace, Postmaster, District Attorney, State Senator, colonel during the Civil War and member of the American Congress before his arrival in the capital.
In Lincoln, Cobb joined HTM Marquette in a legal partnership located in their two-story brick building at the northwest corner of 10th and P streets. In 1870, Cobb and JF Sudduth established a second private bank.
On February 13, 1870, a meeting in their “banking rooms” included Cobb, later Mayor of Lincoln in 1875; EE Brown, mayor in 1872; Robert Silver, mayor in 1873 and 1876; and three others.
Cobb then traveled to Washington, where he obtained a Federal Comptroller of the Currency Charter, and the First National Bank opened for business in March.
A month later, deposits totaled $70,412, with share capital listed at $35,000. In 1872, First National began planning a new three-story building on the southeast corner of 10th and O. Bank assets had grown to $232,969.97.
In 1874, after the move to O Street, John Fitzgerald, Lincoln’s would-be first millionaire and railroad entrepreneur, became the president of First National while Sudduth remained vice-president.
After surviving the Depression of 1873, the Depression of 1895 saw Lincoln’s population decline for the first time. By the end of the year, it was becoming apparent that a run on the bank was waiting in the wings and that its failure was imminent.
First National immediately saw the Burlington Railroad, already a major depositor, as a savior. After initially refusing to increase deposits, the railroad responded, without the knowledge or permission of Chairman Charles Perkins, to allow Perkins’ name to be published as a board member. form the bank.
Perkins, at first enraged, soon saw the bank’s possible failure as negatively affecting the City of Lincoln, Lancaster County, the State of Nebraska and their own railroad deposits and reacted by purchasing the major part of the bank’s share capital. The scheme worked perfectly and by 1900 the bank was considered perfectly sound.
At the turn of the century, S. H. Burnham purchased the shares of Perkins and became the president of First National, which consolidated with the American Exchange Bank, which had been formed by wholesale grocer Lincoln Isaac Raymond in 1885.
Other consolidations, all of which retained the First National name, included the 1872 State National, the 1882 Lincoln National, and the 1890 Columbia National.
First National Bank established First Savings Bank in 1911 at the same time it razed its 10th and O Street headquarters, engaging Chicago architects Hyland & Green to design a new eight-story building to be constructed by Seldon-Beck Co. of St . Louis.
Acquisitions continued, with First National Bank buying City National in 1923, Central National in 1929 and Continental National in 1960. The latter changed its name to First-Continental National Bank, but it dropped the word Continental as its new 20-story building was completed at the northwest corner of 13th and M streets in 1968.
First National Bank of Lincoln and Omaha National affiliated as FirsTier Bank NA in 1984. A list of First National acquisitions published in 2012 stated that FirsTier Bank was “inactive as of 1996-02-20. Merge without assistance.
Two of First National Lincoln’s buildings still stand, as do a few bank buildings from institutions it absorbed over the years. Three different listings of Lincoln’s banks, all in 2022, show there are “101 branches of 22 banks in Lincoln”, another shows 20 banks with 126 branches in the city, while a third shows there are has 118.
The only complete building currently standing on the entire block bounded by Ninth, 10th, P and Q streets is on the northwest corner of 10th and P, a bank – City Bank & Trust.