By JEFF PICKELL
For the better part of a century, the Sky Bank in Fayette was a business you could set your watch to, quite literally.
Until it was retired four years ago, the clock on the front of the building was the village’s unofficial time keeper since its installation in 1917. The bank has been managing the financial assets of many area residents for much longer—it observed its 100th anniversary last month.
It has had a variety of names, but it began as the Farmers State Bank Company of Fayette, and officially opened on Nov. 10, 1906.
He held the position for 41 years before retiring in 1947, during which time the bank managed to survive the Great Depression and two World Wars and increase its worth 100-fold. A leaflet handed out in celebration of the bank’s 40th anniversary stated that it had $2.5 million at its disposal.
As its assets grew, so did the bank itself. The company has always been located at the northwest corner of Fayette Street and Main Street, but it originally occupied just one small building which ended at the pillar that today stretches from the ceiling to the service desk.
The first major project came in 1917, when a sidewalk was added to the building’s exterior. That same year, the International Red Cross began using the bank’s second floor as an office and used it for the rest of World War I as a headquarters for staging local collection drives.
The bank got its first washroom in 1939, and in 1946, an oil-powered heater was installed. A drinking fountain, night deposit box and air conditioner all followed, but the biggest change came in 1969, when the bank acquired the two buildings west of it and underwent substantial renovation.
The construction proved quite an obstacle to conducting business, remembered Dee Ferguson, who was employed at the bank from 1964 to 1994 and eventually became branch manager. Cashiers had to report to work, pick up their cash drawers from the vault, then head across the street to a vacant grocery. Workers had set up temporary partitions and cubicles to grant loan customers privacy, said Ferguson.
But 1969 is a lot different from 2006, Ferguson explained. An arrangement like that today would pose too much of a security risk.
At the time, though, bank workers were more concerned about searching out an elusive poet who put the following rallying cry in the bank’s night depository:
It will be a couple months now
Before we get our way
And we hope we’re in our new bank
Before next Christmas Day.
Then we’ll have a big Grand Opening
And you all can come and see
That the Farmer’s State Bank in Fayette
Is the best a bank can be!
It has been conjectured, but never proven, that Nancy Myers, a bank worker herself, had penned the rhymes. Earlier that year, she had written a playful poem to announce the birth of her son.
The bank did, indeed, reopen by Christmas and it was big news. The Fayette Review devoted its Dec. 11 front page to the opening celebration and printed 10 congratulatory ads, sponsored by more than 40 businesses and individuals.
After that, the bank’s first drive-through window was open to people who needed to do their banking on the run. The window was actually on the west side of the building—drivers turned into an alley behind the bank and entered a tunnel between two downtown buildings to get to it.
However, there were some logistical problems with the new window. There was only one lane, which worked well most of the time, said Dee, until Friday afternoon came around and the factories let out.
“People would be lined up around the block waiting to cash their checks,” she said.
Additionally, the dark tunnel gave area mischief makers a place to gather at night and vandalism became a problem.
The bank eventually closed the drive through window, adding the three-lane drive-through in a building just a short walk down Main Street in 1983. Finally, in 1986, the main building was remodeled a second time.
Due to the many renovations the building has undergone, it’s hard to discern just how ancient the bank is at first glance. But a keen eye can spot a few details that betray the building’s age and provide reminders of the business’s rich history.
The circular table in the center of the main lobby has been there since the bank’s opening day. Almost everything about the interior appearance has changed except the table, said branch manager Mike Figgins.
Framed pictures mounted on wells throughout the bank today also provide a reminder of the transformation the bank has undergone. One, just outside branch manager Mike Figgins’ office, shows a dozen or more horses hitched to posts outside all the downtown businesses.
Additionally, the sidewalk just in front of where the drive-through used to be is still ramped so that cars can drive over it, but the tunnel has been blocked off, which is why people new to Fayette might wonder why there is an apparent turn-in to nowhere.
In name, the Farmer’s State Bank Company ceased to be in 1971, when it merged with First National Bank of Archbold. A decade later, that bank merged with the First National Bank of Bryan, and in 1987, it merged with the Mid-American Bank of Toledo. The last name change came in 1999, when the company merged with the Sky Financial Group.
It has taken many names, but the bank is second only to the grain elevator as the longest consecutively operating business in the village.
As former president Walter H. Britsch wrote on the bank’s 50th anniversary, “We look to the years ahead with faith and courage and confidence. We feel our best years are yet ahead. May our associations continue to be pleasant and our ties of friendship be a continued source of strength.”
That sentiment worked at year 50. It still works at year 100.- Dec. 13, 2006