Perham State Bank
History written by Frank P. Sahli, submitted to East Otter Tail County History Museum, Vol. 2, published 1994
Across the street from the Sear's catalog store is a building, built in 1897, now owned by Dorothy Ryan. It has a semicircle front window with the inscription, THE BANK OF PERHAM. It was a privately owned bank.
Its chief officer, probably its president, was F.L. Weber. It was locally referred to as the WEBER BANK. In March, 1908, it was chartered as the State Bank of Perham. The incorporators were Fred L. Weber, M.A. Weber and Jim Shea. It was declared insolvent in January, 1932 due to the Great Depression of the 30s.
The vault is still in place that may well be a collector's item. So, if there should be anyone out there that has a hobby of collecting vault doors, this one could be looked at.
Prior to that time, The First National Bank of Perham, was chartered in May 1902, and located in the building now occupied by the bakery. The officers were E.P. Hancock, president, L. Struett, vice president, L.E. Bopp, cashier, and C. B. Bopp, assistant cashier. Three of these names are not familiar to anybody alive today anymore. Struett of course was a businessman in early Perham.
The record is not clear when the original owners sold their interest to a local group composed of the following: P.A. Callaghan, Bertha Callaghan, John Oswald, Frank and John Kukowske, C. D. Pancratz, Dr. John Esser and E.W. Pirk. Joe Ulland from Fergus Falls, also had an interest in it. The date of this transfer of ownership could well have been 1920- 2 1.
During this period, Otto Bremer, financier, of the Bremer Foundation, St. Paul, visited occasionally, perhaps with a view of buying an interest in the bank. The bank went into voluntary liquidation in December 1925.
It's assets and liabilities were absorbed or taken over by the Farmers State Bank of Perham, and in the process the capital structure was wiped out and the stockholders walked away empty handed. This bank was chartered in October 1921 and located in the Bauck building formerly occupied by the Red Owl Store. It later moved into the bakery building. In Bill Bauck's Mall hangs a calendar of the year 1929, that shows its officers as: H. F. Thoelke, president, John Mattfeld, vice president, A.B. Schwarzrock, cashier. Directors not listed were John Delaney, F. D. Sieling, John Buechler, and Albert Benke. This bank also succumbed to the Great Depression, in August 1932. That left me as an employee, jobless and without income.
I was almost ready to sell pencils on the street comers but I didn't have any money to buy pencils. Times were difficult all over the country, as the Depression deepened. Some jumped out of ten story buildings to end it all, however since Perham didn't have any such tall buildings, I spared myself of that tragedy. The chances are however, that if we did have such buildings, that by the time I would have climbed to the top and looked down, I would have turned chicken anyway...so Perham was without a bank for nearly two years.
It's hard to imagine what a handicap it was for a community with no bank. Drahmann brothers made room in their store for people to pay their property taxes without having to drive to Fergus Falls. The bank in Dent survived the Depression and some people did their banking there.
During these hard times many farm loans the banks had made, became delinquent. The U.S. Government came to their aid by creating the Farm Credit Administration and taking on some of these loans. As I was still unemployed and looking for a job, I was fortunate, due to the right political connections, to be appointed field man. This work brought me in contact with many banks throughout the territory. And this brings me to the last chapter of this story.
Bill Lee and Don Christie owned and operated a number of banks in and around the Parkers Prairie and Long Prairie area. When they became aware that I was from Perham, the conversations, especially during coffee breaks, turned to the no bank situation in Perham. I kept repeating that there is a golden opportunity for a bank in Perham and that sooner or later we will get one. These talks finally brought results and Lee and Christie moved their bank. The Farmers State of Bertha, to Perham in June 1934 and changed the name to the Perham State Bank. I feel, quite modestly, that I had some influence in their decision to make this move and it truly has turned out to be a golden opportunity ... (Maybe Jack will now buy me a steak dinner, but since I don't much care for steak, I would settle for a Sunday Smorg at the Lanterns) ... In May 1975, the Western Minnesota Federal Savings and Loan of Fergus Falls opened a branch in Perham, later changed the name to Home Owner's Savings and Loan.
In my travels I also had contacts with Bill Browne, president of the Wadena State County state bank and got to know him quite well. He too was interested in the Perham banking situation. I asked him once why he spelled his name with an "E" when most people don't use the "E".
He said, with a chuckle, that his family belong to the aristocratic branch of the Browns. At a later date when I saw him again and he had heard that Perham had a bank now, he said that he truly missed the boat. While reviewing all the changes in the banking field, as noted above, it may be worthwhile to look at a framed poster hanging in Strom's Cafe. It was put out by the Perham Chamber of Commerce in 1947, showing all the businesses in town then. Some are still here but many are not. Would you believe that we had eight eating places at that time? How things have changed! But always forward and upward to where we are now. The Fargo Forum, a while back, in an editorial, stated that Perham is a vibrant community. And so it is!
In 1977, the Perham State Bank moved to it's new location at 155 2nd Street S.W. Total assets were 16 million on December 31 of 1977. In 1988, a 1,000 square foot addition was added to the building. Assets on December 31, 1993 totaled $63,000,000.00.
The bank is operated by the Cavanagh family, with Jack Cavanagh being the President. The Cavanaghs are descendants of the Lee family.