The list of century-old banks is short. Some succumbed to Panics, the Great Depression, acquisitions by larger banks, or the recent technology and housing market turmoil. The survivors stayed the course with sound banking principles, cautious growth, and an appreciation for their customers. This is the story of how First Bank has survived since 1893.
The year 1893 was a turbulent time for our nation’s financial markets. Like the bursting of the technology bubble of the 1990’s and the collapse of the housing market in the early 21st century, the railroad industry expanded beyond reason in the 1880’s and exploded in 1893. Railroads were vastly overbuilt, immense fortunes were made, and greed gobbled up one company after another. Drought plagued farmers. On February 23, 1893, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad went into bankruptcy, a sharp decline shook the stock exchanges, and 500 banks failed. Over 15,000 companies filed for bankruptcy and labor unrest became rampant.
On “Main Street Carmi, Illinois”, the Hay and Webb Bank was rock solid and seemed to be weathering the financial storm. The bank sold foreign bills of exchange in all the principal European and Oriental cities. However, on July 14, 1893, Carmi’s only bank finally succumbed to the financial turmoil that had gripped our nation. Hay and Webb made a general assignment for the benefit of the creditors to P.A. Pearce, a local attorney.
In the spring of 1893, an ambitious young man, Thomas Hall, moved to Carmi from Saline County. He was 37 years old and his intent soon became apparent. Together with a group of prominent business associates, Nathaniel Holderby, C. S. Conger, Thomas W. Hall, and Charles McDowell a new bank began to take shape. The Carmi State Bank was first established under a state charter which evolved into organizing under a national charter to accommodate the community’s growing demand for bank services.
On December 20th, the first shareholders of The First National Bank of Carmi met to organize their new bank. The meeting was called to order and it was announced that all $50,000 in capital stock for the new bank had been subscribed. Adam Miller, Tom Hall, Felix Viskniskki, John Land, and John Crebs were elected to the board of directors. In addition, Adam Miller was elected the bank’s first president, John Land was elected vice president, and Tom Hall was elected cashier. In addition, J. R. Webb, who had done such a good job of settling the affairs of the Hay and Webb Bank, would become the bank’s assistant cashier.
On December 23, 1893, Adam Miller purchased the former Hay and Webb building for the new bank. On December 29, 1893, Comptroller of the Currency, James H. Eckels, signed the charter for The First National Bank of Carmi.
Adam Miller was the central figure in Tom Hall’s plan to form a new bank. Adam Miller was a self-made man. He was born in 1835 and at the age of 16 was left fatherless. His father, Sheriff Abram C. Miller was killed in the line of duty. At the age of 16, he began working on his mother’s farm to help support his mother.
In August 1862, Adam Miller joined C Company of the Illinois Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John M. Crebs, to fight in the civil war. At the end of his first year of active duty, he was promoted to captain and he fought heroically at the siege of Vicksburg, the capture of Jackson, Mississippi, and several other sharp engagements.
Upon returning to Carmi after the end of the war, Adam Miller purchased 120 acres of farmland and began a career as a private banker and trader. Miller would purchase walnut timber and boatloads of pork to ship to New Orleans. He always brought back goods to sell in Carmi. By 1893, he had accumulated over 1,000 acres of farmland and had significant other business holdings.
Adam Miller was not an easy sell on Tom Hall’s idea of starting a new well-capitalized national bank in Carmi. Mr. Miller's wife was adamantly opposed to Adam Miller joining the efforts to form a new bank. She did not trust banks and she was very content with the living provided by their current holdings. Upon hearing that her husband had finally agreed to join the group forming a new bank, Mrs. Miller demanded that their home should be in only her name for protection in case the new venture was not successful.
Judge Chauncey S. Conger, Sr. was 55 years old when the bank was formed. In 1861, Judge Conger was admitted to the bar and became a partner of Col. John M. Crebs. In November 1862, at the age of 24, he was elected to the Illinois General Assembly. In 1879, at the age of 41, he was elected judge of the Second Judicial Circuit of Illinois. In 1891, he stepped down as an Appellate Judge.
Charles and R. D. Stinson owned one the largest retail businesses in Southern Illinois with stores in Carmi, Enfield, Norris City, and Salem.
John Land was another local merchant who helped organize the new bank. He and his two brothers, David and Robert, owned a hardware store on Main Street in Carmi. In 1898, Mr. Land would sell his stock in the new bank and move to Ridgway, Illinois, to form a bank there.
Judge P. A. Pearce was another prominent lawyer of the time. He was active in Democratic politics and he was the guiding spirit in the construction of the First United Methodist Church at the corner of Main and Church streets in Carmi.
John M. Crebs was just 24 years old and already one of the leading businessmen in Carmi. His father, Colonel John M. Crebs, was a distinguished officer during the Civil War. In addition, Colonel Crebs commanded the regiment that captured John Wilks Booth, three days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In 1895, John Crebs sold his stock in The First National Bank of Carmi and would later help establish The National Bank of Carmi in 1900.
Felix Viskniskki owned a local grocery and hardware store and he was also a director of the bank.
George Wiist, Sr. also owned a grocery and hardware store near the train depot in Carmi.
L. Haas was the final founding shareholder. He was the owner of the Bankrupt Store, one of the busiest stores in Carmi.
Conservative banking practices allowed the bank to survive numerous economic shocks during the early part of the twentieth century. In 1931 and 1932, the bank had small net operating losses due to loan losses. However, in June of 1933, the bank purchased the assets of The Burnt Prairie State Bank from the government and in 1934 was one of the first banks to receive F.D.I.C. insurance coverage for its customers. While the Great Depression was too much for many banks, our Bank remained a stable part of our community.
Oil was discovered in the Illinois Basin during the 1940’s and the local economy boomed. Roughnecks and speculators from Texas and Oklahoma moved to the area and many new businesses thrived. Oil production and agriculture continued to be the backbone for our economy through the early 1980’s.
The 1970’s and 1980’s were turbulent. In the 1970’s, the price of farm ground increased from $450 per acre to over $2,000 per acre. Oil prices soared with the Arab oil embargo. The local economy was booming. By 1979, the nation’s economy was nearing a meltdown with runaway inflation and high unemployment. The recession of 1982 through 1985 was the most severe recession the nation had endured since the Great Depression, and it had negative impact upon our local economy. Oil and agriculture went from boom to bust.
By 1985, the First National Bank of Carmi had reached $66 million in total assets. Our loan portfolio was heavily concentrated in agricultural and oil and gas industries. Both of these industries were under very severe economic stress and the bank took heavy losses in these portfolios.
This near death experience has become an important part of our corporate psyche. It has been the motivation behind our management team in developing some of the strongest risk management systems in community banking today. Professional Bank Services has described our loan metrics as the best they have seen.
In the early 1990’s federal banking laws were changed to allow interstate branching of banks. A major consolidation of the industry had begun, and it became obvious to the Bank’s management and Board of Directors that we would have to grow the Bank significantly if we were to remain an independent community bank. In 1996, we opened our first branch outside of local community, and in 1999 the company was designated a financial services holding company, Southern Illinois Bancorp, by the Federal Reserve to allow it to acquire its first insurance agency, to diversify our source of income, and to provide additional stability to the company.
Over the 120-year history of The First National Bank of Carmi, we have only had five Presidents to lead our Bank. This longevity in leadership has provided the stability to face the difficulties of our uncertain times.
Adam Miller served as the Bank’s first president. His tenure stretched from December 20, 1893, until December 31, 1906, when he retired as President but remained a director of the bank.
By the end of 1894, the bank had total assets of $206,496.33. In its first year of business, the bank turned a profit of $8,571.62 and paid a dividend of $7,500. During this period, the bank’s total assets increased to $490,684.70. Adam Miller was now 72 years old and he knew it was time to step down. Adam Miller was very proud of the bank he had created and he was confident Tom Hall would be a worthy successor. Adam Miller died at the age of 75 on February 16, 1910. He was still serving as a director of the bank at the time of his death.
Thomas Hall became the Bank’s second president on January 1, 1907 when he was 51 years old. Tom Hall was born in 1855 in Johnson County, Illinois. He attended Ewing College and earned his teacher’s license. He taught in Saline County and later furthered his studies at Southern Illinois Normal University in Carbondale, Illinois.
Hall began his banking career as the cashier at The Saline County Bank in Harrisburg. He decided to further his banking career and was instrumental in the formation of The First National Bank of Carmi.
Tom Hall faced his first major economic challenge in 1912. The Titanic sank and Woodrow Wilson was elected President of the United States. The United States was also sinking into another economic storm. In 1913, disastrous flooding occurred along the Ohio, Mississippi, and Wabash Rivers. During this time, the bank’s assets dwindled from approximately $460,000 to $328,000 in 1914.
On January 15, 1914, the Bank became a member of The Federal Reserve System.
By 1920, the bank had outgrown its building. On April 9, 1921, the bank dedicated its new building at 201 E. Main St. in Carmi. On April 22, 1925, Carmi had its first million-dollar bank. Tom Hall was proud to announce that the bank's total assets had reached $1,012,559.
In March 1929, Herbert Hoover became President of the United States and in October, 1929, the stock market crashed. By the end of the year, stock values had declined by $15 billion and before the crash had ended the market had declined by $50 billion. The impact of the depression on The First National Bank surfaced in 1931 when the bank lost $2,258 and again in 1932 when the bank lost $2,005.
In June, 1933, the bank purchased The Burnt Prairie State Bank. In August, 1934, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation purchased $50,000 in preferred stock of the bank to assist it through the depression. This preferred stock was retired by December, 1937.
On February 12, 1937, Tom Hall died from influenza at the age of 81. He served as President of the First National Bank for 30 years.
Jennings F. Marlin began his career at The First National Bank in August, 1922. In 1923, Marlin became assistant cashier and was elected to the board of directors. In 1935, Marlin was elected Vice President of the bank and was appointed President of the bank on March 8, 1937, upon the death of Tom Hall. When Marlin became President, the Bank had total assets of $1.3 million.
World War II and the oil boom dominated Jennings Marlin’s years as President of The First National Bank. In the late 1930’s, oil was discovered in the Storms Field in Heralds Prairie Township. Carmi’s population increased from 2,900 people to over 5,000. Major oil companies such as Sinclair, Phillips, Superior, Humble, and Continental established offices in Carmi.
Marlin became a good judge of character as many new people moved to the area and sought help with their housing and business needs.
In 1955, Marlin purchased the adjacent building to the bank and started construction of an expansion to the current bank. On September 14, 1955, Jennings Marlin died at the age of 55 of heart disease. He did not live to see the completion of the building renovations. During Jennings Marlin’s years, the bank’s total assets grew form $1.3 million to over $8 million.
Curtis Bohleber began working at The First National Bank of Carmi on August 17, 1937, as a bookkeeper. In January 1952, he was named cashier and upon the death of Jennings Marlin he was appointed Executive Vice President. In January 1956, at the age of 37, Curt Bohleber was named President of The First National Bank.
During Bohleber’s tenure, he supervised three major remodeling and expansion projects to the bank’s building. In 1957, he completed the remodeling planned by Jennings Marlin. In 1964, the bank opened the first drive-up bank in Carmi. In 1975, the second major remodeling project was completed.
The 1970’s and 1980’s were turbulent. In the 1970’s, the price of farm ground increased from $450 per acre to over $2,000 per acre. Oil prices soared with the Arab oil embargo. The local economy was booming. By 1979, the nation’s economy was nearing a meltdown.
In 1980, the bank formed a one-bank holding company, First Carmi Bancshares, Inc., to give the Board of Directors more flexibility to deal with the changing banking environment.
In 1980, interest rates soared as The Federal Reserve increased rates to slow the economy. The prime lending rate reached 20%. Agriculture, which was heavily dependent upon credit, began to suffer significant financial stress. In 1984, The First National Bank charged-off $2,429,000 in loans and suffered only its’ third loss since it was established in 1893. The bank had a loss of $692,000.
In 1986, the second shoe fell when the price of oil plummeted from $26 per barrel to $8 per barrel. Virtually all oil and gas exploration in the Illinois Basin ceased. By the end of 1986, the bank charged-off another $1,976,000 in loans and recorded its’ fourth loss of $1,365,000.
By the end of 1988, Curt Bohleber had served as President of the Bank for 33 years. During those years, the bank grew from $8 million to over $60 million in total assets. He managed through the economic tranquility of the 1950’s, the boom of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the collapse of the agriculture and oil and gas industry in the 1980’s. Bohleber was now 70 years old and he was confident the bank had seen the last of the agricultural and oil and gas “problem loans”. It was now time for him to retire. Bohleber continued as a consultant to the board of directors and management until his death on February 17, 1992.
Alvin Fritschle became the bank’s fifth President on January 1, 1989. Fritschle grew up on a farm near Newton, Illinois. In 1976, he graduated from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston with a B.S. in Business Administration. In the fall of 1976 he entered the M.B.A. program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. In May, 1977, Fritschle started to work for Dycus, Schmidt, and Bradley, Certified Public Accountants and became a partner in that firm in July, 1981. He managed several bank audits with the accounting firm, including The First National Bank of Carmi.
In April 1986, Fritschle was appointed Vice President and Senior Loan Officer at the Bank. He was responsible for the management of the Bank’s problem loan portfolio.
On May 15, 1990, the Bank opened a new branch on the west side of Carmi near the larger retail businesses located in the community.
In April, 1993, the bank installed its first in-house computer system. The bank had previously outsourced its data processing. The in-house system gave the bank greater control and more timely information and improved customer service.
In 1994, the bank had outgrown its main office and additional space was required. The current building was remodeled several times but was now over 70 years old. The property adjacent to the main facility was purchased and the old bank and adjacent buildings were demolished. A new 9,000 square foot bank was opened on May 7, 1995.
On September 15, 1996, the bank opened a full service branch in Grayville, Illinois, a community 13 miles from Carmi.
On September 30, 1996, The First National Bank of Enfield was acquired. FNB of Enfield was a $24 million dollar bank approximately 10 miles from Carmi, and it was assimilated into a full service branch of the Bank.
On September 30, 1999, The First National Bank of Carmi entered the insurance business with the acquisition of Becker & Hall Insurance Agency and Schumaker Insurance in Carmi. The two agencies were merged into one and renamed the First Insurance Agency.
Between 1995 and 1999, total assets of the First National Bank grew from approximately $62 million to over $108 million. The number of employees increased from 22 in 1995 to 41 in 1999. With the rapid growth, the new bank facility was filled to capacity. The property adjacent to the Bank was acquired and in April 2000, construction began on a 2,000 square foot addition to the main office.
In 1999, the bank formed a brokerage alliance with Fintegra, LLC to offer brokerage services to our clients under the name of First Financial Services.
In June 2000, The First National Bank announced it had completed its virtual Internet branch, firstbank.bz. In addition to online banking, the site included a portal containing updated news and weather, community bulletin board, online shopping, and an Internet search engine.
In 1982 Southern Illinois Bancorp, a financial holding company, was formed to own and manage First National Bank of Carmi, Illinois, (First Bank), First Insurance Agency of White County, Inc., (First Insurance), Southern Illinois Title Insurance Services, Inc. (Southern Illinois Title) and First Financial Services. By structuring these businesses ‘under one roof’, our clients benefit from a continuity of interconnected financial services with a single relationship.
Additional milestones accomplished under Fritschle’s leadership and guidance from the Boards of Directors:
Purchased financial centers from Fifth Third Bank in Albion and Mt. Carmel, Illinois
Completed construction of our Operations Technology Center in Carmi, Illinois
Opened de novo financial center in Mt. Vernon, Indiana
Opened de novo financial center in Poseyville, Indiana
Opened de novo financial center in Princeton, Indiana
Opened de novo financial center on Eagle Crest Boulevard in Evansville, Indiana
Opened de novo financial center on Red Bank Road in Evansville, Indiana
Opened de novo financial center on Fares Avenue in Evansville, Indiana
Acquired the Cecil Logan Insurance Agency in Carmi, Illinois
Acquired the Charles L Miller Insurance Agency in Mt. Carmel, Illinois
Acquired the Given Insurance Agency in Carmi, Illinois
Formed Southern Illinois Title Service, Inc. to speed the residential mortgage closing process
Acquired White County Abstract, Inc.