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This is one of the most iconic and recognizable structures in Fort Smith, the First National Bank, located prominently on Garrison Avenue. The institution has a long history in the state, although this gleaming white glazed-brick building wasn't built until the turn of the 20th century, in 1909. When Arkansas became a state in 1836, the new legislature established two state banks, which failed shortly thereafter. In fact, banking was actually outlawed in the state in 1846. The passing of the National Bank Act of 1863 saw the opening of First National Bank of Northwest Arkansas, initially located in the original Fishback building at 324 Garrison Ave on April 1, 1872, during Reconstruction, near the end of President Grant's first term. There were only five other national banks in Arkansas at the time.

This bank was far more successful, however, and soon ran short of space. One measure of its success was the series of amenities it offered: in 1878, a telephone was installed, connecting the bank president to his mercantile store across Garrison Ave. In 1883, the National Bank of Western AR leased the west wing of the opulent Hotel Main in the 600 block of Garrison Ave. Fort Smith was growing rapidly but still had no water or sewage systems, no electrical or gas works, or even paved streets. The trolleys were pulled by mules.

In 1888, the renamed First National Bank of Fort Smith built its first building, a simple, two-story brick structure, adjacent to the Hotel Main, on the corner of Garrison and S. 6th St. Ten years later, this building was demolished, along with the west wing of the Hotel Main, to be replaced by the now-iconic, eight-story, white glazed brick building. It took an entire year to build, and eventually featured 179 rooms for banking, a professional office space, a women's banking room, and, in a moment of rare insight, even a drive-up window, for patrons on horseback, buggy or even on foot! A sign of the times to come! The upper stories were filled with prominent doctors, dentists, attorneys and insurance agents. There was also for a time, an office of the GT Kerr institute where patrons could take an "electric light" bath!

The bank has only had seven presidents over the course of its history, which has now spanned three centuries. Its first president was Bernard Baer, originally from St. Louis (a photo of his house in the Belle Grove Historic District is posted as well), who was also involved in construction of the Eureka Springs Crescent Hotel Upon his death in 1886, the second president was a notable name, indeed, one George T. Sparks (1848-1907), a Fort Smith native and a bank board member, who was also responsible for the construction of Sparks Hospital, just down the road on Towson Avenue. The hospital has changed names several times over the past decade or so, but the complex is still thriving. Sparks served as president up until his death in 1907. Although not constructed under their tenure these two visionaries had the foresight to conceive a structure which would stand the test of time, which was seen to completion by the subsequent bank president, Samuel McCloud, from New Rochelle, NY. McCloud eventually also brought first streetcar to Fort Smith. It was he who oversaw the construction of the new bank building, which many opposed, as Fort Smith was still just a small western frontier town at the time.

As such, the construction of an eight-story structure, which took a year to complete at the cost of $200,000 was seen as folly, a foolish risk at the time. The rest, as they say, is history, however. The bank officially opened on Jan. 31, 1910. Even during the Great Depression, the institution survived, and even continued to grow, when many others failed. The Hotel Main, a long-time next-door neighbor, was demolished completely in 1958 to expand the bank facilities, specifically for a drive-up window for automobiles. In the succeeding decades, the institution has expanded to new locations via branch banking, so locations are now found all over the region. Now operated by First Bank Corporation, it offers banking, insurance and investment services and remains one of AR's oldest businesses, nearly 140 years later.

About Fort Smith:

This moderately-sized town in America's heartland was founded as a western frontier military post in 1817, and, believe it or not, really WAS located on the frontier of the "wild west" for many years, as Indian Territory lay directly to the west just across the Arkansas River! The settlement was reportedly founded as a military installation to keep the peace between the Osage and emigrating Cherokee, who were being relocated to the neighboring Indian Territory (now comprised of the state of Oklahoma) from the east coast. Land speculator John Rogers later purchased the land and promoted the growth of a new civilian town, but the US government later re-established a military presence at Fort Smith during the Mexican War. Fort Smith is named for General Thomas Adams Smith (1781-1844) who commanded the US Army Rifle Regiment in 1817. It was headquartered near St. Louis, but General Smith had instructed topographical engineer Stephen H. Long to find a site where a fort could be founded on the banks of the Arkansas River. Interestingly, Smith himself never visited the town or the forts that bore his name. Sebastian County was formed in 1851 when it split from Crawford County. The army finally vacated the town in 1863, and federal troops followed shortly in 1871.

Some famous figures associated with it include Judge Isaac Parker and William Henry Harrison Clayton, who was appointed US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas by Ulysses S. Grant. Due to a lamentable lack of law enforcement, the town had at one point become "a haven for runaway slaves, orphans, Southern Unionists" and later brothels, saloons and outlaws who ventured into town from an even more lawless area across the river. Isaac Parker served as US District Judge from 1875-1896 and was the strong arm that was needed to keep things running smoothly. He was nicknamed the Hanging Judge because he reportedly hanged 8 people for murder his first term. Over the course of his career, he sentenced 160 people to death and executed 79 of them on the nearby gallows, which can still be seen today. The courthouse is now a National Historic Site where reportedly "more men were put to death by the US Government... than in any other place in American history."

Despite its rather lawless past and colorful history, Fort Smith underwent something of an economic boom during World War I when the Fort Chaffee Military Reservation was established on the east side of the city. It's now Arkansas's second largest city with about 84,000 inhabitants. The population has increased over the past few years, partly because of the founding of the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith (previously WestArk community college), designated as such officially in 2002. The city has a total area of 53 square miles. The town has been struck by three major tornadoes (1898, 1927 and 1996), the last of which caused great damage to the old downtown area, but much of it has since been restored.

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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1102] (1970)
  • Genre: Lugares
  • Medium: Cor
  • Date Taken: 2019-05-16
  • Versão da Foto: Versão Original
  • Date Submitted: 2020-05-30 11:35
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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1102] (1970)
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