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  • Writer's pictureTJ Blakeman

30 East Main Street - First National Bank

Updated: Jan 31, 2019

The first building constructed on this parcel was a small wood frame commercial building that is depicted in the 1858 Urbana-West Urbana map by Alexander Bowman and the 1869 birds eye map.  

This photo is of the "People's Store", along with the rest of the south side of Main Street (looking west/southwest).

This map below shows the original owners of land in the newly platted West Urbana. Joseph McCorkle owned both lots on the southwest corner of Walnut and Main Street which correlates to the name above the hardware sign in the photo above.

These wood frame building remained until they were razed to make way for the new First National Bank in 1872.

First National Bank Building (1st Building) Constructed 1872 Architect: Unknown Builder: Unknown Construction Method: Wood, brick, stone

The First National Bank opened on January 30, 1865 by local cattle baron and land owner Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Harris.  He had amassed his money and notoriaty in his extensive sucess with farming and cattle driving. He was the largest land owner in Champaign County.

This bank was Champaign's first "national" bank following the passage of the National Banking Act. The banks charter (No. 913) was secured March 20, 1865 and was signed by a personal friend of B.F. Harris', President Abraham Lincoln.  The First National Bank was the first to organize under this federal law. This was important because it estalished maximum interest rates and required oversight by bank examiers. The other banks in town dediced against become national banks and continued the practice of charging wide ranging interest rates and experiencing major swings of near failure. By 1872, the other three private banks in Champaign closed their doors.

First National Bank opened with $7,359.65. Below is a page from that charter indicating the initial list of organizers.

The bank was originally located near 45 Main Street but quickly outgrew its home.  In 1872, Mr. Harris constructed his corner building dedicated to solely to his bank. By 1875, the bank contained $114,022.62 in deposits.

South side of Main Street between Walnut and Neil Street.

The two story stone and brick back was built on the south side of Main Street between Neil and Walnut just a few doors down from the three story Eichberg Opera House and on the current site of the present day building.

This image of the fire department shows the newly constructed bank anchoring the southwest corner of Main and Walnut Streets.

The building was renovated in 1900 but by 1909, the bank became inadequate for the volume of buiness now being conducted. In 1905, the bank held $831,399.54 in deposits.

Unfortunatly, before the new bank was constructed, bank founder and President, B.F. Harris died. His son Henry H. Harris, who for decades had been active head of the bank assumed his fathers role as President.

First National Bank Building (2nd Building)

Constructed: 1910

Owner: Henry H. Harris

Architect: Jenney and Mundie - New York Life Building - Chicago

Construction Method: Steel, brick, stone

In 1909 the Harris Family decided to expand their bank.

"On January first we began tearing down an old "landmark" - the First National Bank Building of Champaign - to make way for the new "landmark" our Home after November 1910. Our temporary quarters are just in the rear, across the alley"

Constructed in 1910, the First National Bank Building represents one of the first steel-constructed buildings in Champaign.  The Chicago firm Jenney and Mundie designed the second renaissance revival structure and was described as representing the strength of Harris family's mighty financial empire.  

This view of the buildings excavation shows 29 Main Street sitting on the opposite corner along with a streetcar heading to a drop off location on North Walnut Street.

The image below from the Elmer Jensen Collection at the Chicago Art Institue is one of the only images that show the building under constrution. (click on the image to see full image metadata)

The building became the most imposing and grand structure in Downtown Champaign when it was opened in November 1910.

The original floor plan was laid out with the entrance to the north and a large stained glass window hanging above the vault to the south end of the building. Cashier cages lined the east side of the main hall with additional cages and the safe deposit department to the west.

Courtesy of the James Welch Collection at the Champaign County History Museum

The massive 25-Ton steel vault was the centerpiece of the grand lobby.

Courtesy of the James Welch Collection at the Champaign County History Museum

An interior view of the main lobby (below) slows the eastern cashier cages and the officers platform.  The large stain glass with the inscription "1st National Bank" hung above the vault and clock. The marble table in the center of this photo still exists in the permanent collection of the Champaign County History Museum and is on temporary display in the lobby of Hickory Point Bank at Park Street and Randolph Street. The second table also survives in a private collection in Urbana.

Shortly after the building was complete, Henry Harris asked his architects Jenney and Mundie if they could make a minor modification to the plans. He asked them to mock up a new flag pole that would extend from the building above the front door. They replied confirming it was possible with a note and this hand sketch over the original facade blueprints.

The installed flag pole can be seen in the photograph below. By 1915, the banks deposits had reached $1,626,274.38.

This early view of Main Street in the early 1920s shows all of the buildings had successfully been converted from wood to brick and stone. The beautiful white terra cotta of the Kaufman Department Store is seen in the foreground.

Perhaps the most challenging moment of the First National Bank came on January 18, 1932. On that day, First National Bank and the Commercial State Bank both failed to open their doors that Monday morning after panicked investors made massive withdrawals. In fact, the bank had already lost over $1,000,000 in withdrawals since the first of the year and on Saturday, January 16th more than $150,000 had been taken out of the bank in a single day. The banks found themselves in grave danger. While they held securities to pay their customers, those securities had lost so much value due to the stock market collapse in 1929 that selling them to pay depositors would result in massive losses. Taking this action would ensure that the bank would close and never open.

The mayor of Urbana, Reginald Harmon, took the drastic step of ordering all businesses in town to close in an effort to keep the panic from spreading to Urbana's institutions such as Busey Bank. The move cost businesses in the community over $75,000 per day in sales but was necessary to prevent runs on the Urbana banks. Additionally, nearly every community leader including business owners, mayors, and the University President wrote editorials in all area papers to calm fears and convince people to return their money to the banks.

Eventually, deposits returned and fears calmed but in the wake of the panic several local banks including the First National Bank of Leroy, the John Weedman National Bank in Farmers City, the First National Bank of Foosland, the Farmers State Bank of Sadorus, and the University State Bank at the corner of Wright and Green Street failed or closed temporary during the crisis.

This article appeared in the Daily Illini on January 19th to convince the students to keep their money invested in the banks. Articles like this appeared in all of the local papers throughout the week.

Daily Illini - January 19, 1932

The bank reincorporated under new articles of incorporation in January 1933.

Courtesy of the James Welch Collection at the Champaign County History Museum

The First National Bank survived the panic but the bank was weakened. On December 31, 1930, three weeks before the panic, the bank held $6,700,000 in deposits. By June 30, 1933 the bank held only $1,500,000 in assets, less than the bank had on hand in 1915. However, by end of WWII in June 1945 the bank had bounced back and reported $11,100,000 million in deposits. The mighty bank had weathered the storm.

The interior of the grand lobby remained virtually unchanged through World War II but times and tastes were changing.

The original ornate marble and plaster no longer symbolized the strength of the growing bank.

As the banking industry began to change and modernize, so too did the First National Bank. The modern bank needed to convey the technology involved in modern banking and needed more room for the expanding programs and offerings of the bank. Therefore the old lobby had to go. A mezzanine was added in 1955 to increase the banks square footage which lowered the ceiling of the great hall.

Courtesy of the James Welch Collection at the Champaign County History Museum

This view below shows the work space gained by the addition of the mezzanine.

Courtesy of the James Welch Collection at the Champaign County History Museum

The lobby was reconfigured and modernized with all new teller windows and a sleek design for the 1960's. These images were taken during the banks re-grand opening.

The renovated lobby on opening day. Photo provided by James Welch

Another view of the new lobby on opening day. Photo Courtesy of James Welch.

In addition to the main lobby, the office space on the upper floors was also modernized.

The new Board of Directors conference room shows off the modern feel of the new office space. Photo Courtesy of James Welch

In 1961, the bank acquired the Imperial Building located south of the bank. The building was razed to make room for parking and the banks new drive-thru facility.

The new drive through allowed motorist to circulate through the building off of Walnut Street and back onto Taylor Street.

In 1966, the bank leased the vacant lot at the northeast corner of Walnut and Taylor Streets to add 17 additional parking spaces.

To shield the back of the neighboring buildings and provide for new advertisement for the bank, a large wall was erected with an ad for First National Bank.

Photo Courtney CU Poster and Advertising

First National Bank continued on under steady leadership for another 30 years.

On February 1, 1990, First National Bank was acquired and renamed by First of America Bank. The new name was First of America Bank - Champaign County. This was further changed to First of America Bank - Champaign June 30, 1993. Eventually National City Bank merged with First of America.

National City then merged with PNC Bank during the financial crisis in 2008.

In the fall of 2018, PNC Bank, which still owned the entire building, announced their plans to auction the structure and move their branch to the newly completed Midtown Plaza on First Street.

In December 2018, Janet Bubin, owner of the popular restaurant KoFusion closed on the property and the final day for PNC Bank was January 18, 2019. This marked the buildings final day as a bank. The new owner are currently evaluating plans for the renovation of the building.

1,538 views2 comments


Jun 28, 2022

I started my banking career in 1972 at the beautiful First National Bank. I have many wonderful memories of my 5 years of employment and all the great people I worked with. I’m sorry to hear it is no longer a financial

facility. I have a few memorabilia pieces if you would be interested

I see many photos from James Welch. I worked at the bank when he was VP great man. Kathy Heiserman Hughes


Rick D. Williams
Rick D. Williams
Jan 05, 2019

I so appreciate your timely attention to this historic landmark. All of your pieces here are wonderful. The use of photos and maps with insightful yet concise details is perfect for teaching local history. My students loved your site! Sorry I’m just getting around to commenting. Thanks for your devotion to local history.

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