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Matamoras Minute: Bank building houses society

Photo provided by the Matamoras Area Historical Society The Matamoras Area Historical Society’s museum and headquarters is shown in this photo taken in the early years when the building was the home and mortuary of the Cunningham family.

The story will now be told as to how the First National Bank building in Matamoras came to be the home of the historical society.

After the robbery of the bank things settled down with the boom of the prosperous 1920s in progress. But a reckoning is always lying in wait. And as everyone knows the Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression were challenges that arose for the nation and the world.

When the years of the Hoover Administration were over and Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency, a bank holiday was declared in March of 1933. All banks were closed and subjected to an auditing by the federal government. In his first fireside chat FDR told the nation that only banks in a sound financial standing would be reopened. And when that reopening occurred he warned the public not to resume with “runs” on the banks.

Well it worked. The public heeded Roosevelt. But for the Matamoras citizenry there was only one bank with the lights lit again. The Peoples Savings Bank had been judged to be solvent… the First National was not.

The bank was placed in receivership. Its assets were liquidated and the property sold. It would not be until the war years that the government sent funds to past customers of the bank.

No one received all of their deposits but some are better than none.

Meanwhile the former bank property was sold in 1937 by William Hood, receiver of the First National Bank, to William and Alice Payton. It was used as a private residence but more to the history that everyone in town knows so well, the first floor was leased to the U.S. Post Office.

As a child I remember the facilities and the postmaster of town, George Henning. Under the Kennedy Administration a new post office was built. Through some intervening transactions the site of the former post office was purchased by the Washington County Library. The library stayed until a new building was erected for its home on the north block of Merchant Street between Front and Second.

With the emptying of the old building, the Matamoras Area Historical Society bought the property in 1988. The society organized in 1983 spending the first five years elsewhere but for one-third of a century 200 Main Street has been home.

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