Sometimes when I find one of these obscure, random places to write about in my blog its hard to find enough information to write a sufficient article. Others I uncover enough interesting facts and history that you could write for hours and that is the case with the Old Shawneetown State Bank.
The Shawneetown Bank, a four-story, brick and stone behemoth with five massive columns was built in 1839 and is the oldest bank building in the state.
When its charter was first granted — the first bank in Illinois Territory in 1816 — it housed a federal land office and was the hub of financial activity in Shawneetown, an important commercial center, home to the state’s thriving salt industry. That bank, which started in a log cabin in Shawneetown, collapsed in a financial panic that swept Illinois in the early 1820s, but its charter was retained. When prosperity returned in the mid 1830s, the bank reopened and the Bank of Illinois’ board of directors planned a new building.
On Aug. 3, 1839, trustees laid the cornerstone of the Shawneetown Bank; it opened for business in 1841. The bank’s style-Greek Revival-style, a popular one for banks of the period, was believed to express the American ideals of liberty and freedom.
Soon after the new building opened, however, another financial depression set in, causing the Bank of Illinois at Shawneetown to suspend operations in 1842. The building stood empty for a decade until the State Bank of Illinois opened there in 1854.
By that time, Shawneetown had fallen on hard times. Railroads and canals had cut into the river traffic upon which the town depended before the Civil War and afterward, the population gradually declined.
The bank housed numerous financial institutions from 1854 to the 1930s, but finally closed its doors in 1942 and was deeded to the state. Some restoration was completed in the 1970s, but budgetary problems prevented further work. In 1972 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Landmark Illinois, a state historical preservation organization, listed Shawneetown Bank as one of the 10 most endangered sites of 2009.