-by Greg Hoots-
The Alma National Bank enjoyed a prominent place in the history of the business community of Alma, Kansas, boasting a rich history in the very roots of the town. The Alma National Bank, founded in 1898, had its origins in the Alma State Bank, established by Alma businessman and photographer, Louis Palenske. Palenske, a prominent businessman in Alma since 1880, had begun banking operations as L. Palenske & Co. in 1888, offering loans to local businessmen and farmers.
By May of 1889, L. Palenske & Co. boasted deposits of $20,000, but Palenske sought more investors to expand the banking operation, hoping to create a chartered State Bank. Louis Palenske partnered with twenty-three stockholders to create the Alma State Bank which opened for business in the Palenske Building on June 24, 1889. Bank officers elected were President, Charles Ross, Vice-president, Fred Lutz, and Cashier, Louis Palenske.
After eight years of operation, the Board of Directors of the Alma State Bank sought to expand their banking operations to the level of a National Bank. On September 18, 1897 the stockholders of the Alma State Bank met and agreed to establish a new bank, the Alma National Bank which would purchase all of the assets and liabilities of the Alma State Bank.
The Alma National Bank opened for business on January 3, 1898 in the same building previously occupied by the Alma State Bank at 204 Missouri Street. The bank’s first published financial statement, dated September 20, 1898, lists the directors of the bank as Fred Reuter, John Cassidy, and Fred Lutz, with L. Palenske as Cashier.
On June 6, 1905, Louis Palenske resigned from his position of Cashier of the Alma National Bank. Shortly after Palenske’s departure, the bank moved into the building at 309 Missouri Street, formerly occupied by the Bank of Wabaunsee County in the Kinnie & Kerans Building. J. R. Henderson was appointed by the Board of Directors to the position Cashier of the bank, and Oliver W. Hess, the son of bank Vice-president Otto J. Hess, began working as an officer in the bank in 1906.
In 1913 Oliver W. Hess left the bank to devote his full time to the ranching business at Halifax, and J. R. Henderson resigned as Cashier to pursue his career in the real estate business. The Alma National Bank operated in the Kinnie & Kerans building for twenty-five years, and their banking business grew steadily during that time. New officers and directors began managing the bank, and by 1917 the officers of the bank were listed as Fred Reuter, President, Otto J. Hess, Vice-President, and O. F. Deans, Cashier, with directors, C. J. Glotzbach, C. Tomson, C.G. Willig, and J. L. Schepp. The bank’s capital and surplus cash continued to grow during the boom of the 1920s.
By the end of the 1920s there were three thriving banks operating in Alma, including the Alma National Bank (309 Missouri St.), the Farmers National Bank (227 Missouri St.), and the Bank of Alma (326 Missouri St.). The Great Depression caused upheaval in the banking business across American, and Alma was no exception. All three banks in Alma struggled to survive.
In 1932 the three banks were dissolved, their assets combined, and a new bank, the 1st National Bank, was formed. Bank officers included Otto Hess, Dr. F. J. Wagner, O. F. Deans, Max Mock, and A. F. Stuewe. The bank directors were F. Stuewe, O. F. Deans, A. H. Dieball, O. J. Hess, O. W. Hess, M. F. Mock, G. A. Mueller, A. E. Stuewe, J. H. Stuewe, F. J. Wagner, and William Wolgast. The new 1st National Bank would operate in the Bank of Alma’s building located at 326 Missouri Street in the Limerick Building until 1956 when they moved into a new building located at 304 Missouri Street.
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