LOST COKATO: FARMERS & MERCHANTS STATE BANK

In the first decades of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon to have multiples of the many typical businesses found in a frontier community. Cokato was no different.

Cafes, general stores, pharmacies, blacksmiths, and clothing stores could all be found lining the streets of communities like Cokato. Banks were also a common sight.

Today, Cokato has two banks. In the early part of the century, it had three. Two of them still exist today — the First National Bank of Cokato and Kensington Bank (the new version of the State Bank of Cokato). The third was the Farmers & Merchants State Bank.

In mid-1901, a group of business and community members met for the purpose of organizing a second bank in Cokato. Funds were raised through the sale of stock in order to build enough capital to start making loans and accepting deposits. The Farmers & Merchants State Bank, as it was called, officially opened for business on January 2, 1902.

The advertisement seen at left [not avialble in the on-line version], from early 1902, was typical of business ads at that time. Not flashy at all, quite straightforward. One item that jumps out though is the line: "This message applies to the men and women alike." At this time women were generally not given loans for anything. Was it perhaps merely a ploy to gain more depositors?

The bank initially occupied the home of the former Cokato Produce Company on the west side of North Millard Avenue. In 1905 they built a new home literally across the street. Typical of buildings at that time, a date stone was placed on the u structure’s upper façade.

By all accounts, the business of the bank moved forward without hindrance. For over two decades it operated, by all accounts, prosperously and without incident. But in early 1926, something happened that would spell the beginning of the end.

On March 9, 1926, the bank failed to open. The closure was, according to media reports, voluntary on the part of the bank’s directors. The stated reason was "heavy withdrawals by depositors". The reason for the run? Rumors of an impending closure that the bank's directors could not squelch. As a result, the institution's finances became shaky and officials from the state of Minnesota stepped in to assist.

What happened next was an almost ten-year saga that culminated in the final sale of the assets of the bank. Being that this all began before the inception of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), there were people who lost savings. How much we are not sure. The official record does not say.

What is known is that for several years following the closure bank and state officials initially worked to re-open it. But the onset of the Great Depression put much stress on banks nationwide, making the chances of re-opening uncertain. By 1931 all hope appeared gone and by 1936 the final sale of the bank's assets were scheduled.

For over six decades the bank's building was the home to the Cokato Enterprise (later Enterprise Dispatch). In 2007 the ED moved to its new quarters on Third Street West The building sat empty for some time and was purchased in 2008 by Minneapolis-resident Larry Hunter to be a studio called The Art Pig. This venture lasted only a short while. In 2013 the building was being converted to the new home of Elbows Allowed Catering Service, owned by Mary (Raisanen) Pipenburg.

This article first appeared in the October 2013 edition of In The Midst Of. (c)Cokato Historical Society, 2013.