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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Wildcats & Honest Bankers

Wildcats & Honest Bankers

GRHC - August 31st, 2011

Wildcat bankers and failed banks made for shaky finances for 19th century Grand Rapids citizens.



Banks did not always enjoy an envious reputation. In the early years, unwary settlers of the Grand River Valley were duped of their hard earned cash by “wildcat” banks that went defunct, or by unscrupulous individuals who set up banking operations in empty store buildings and absconded shortly thereafter, with the money.

The first bank in the Valley, organized in 1838, was Grand River Bank located in a small building on the northwest corner of Bridge and Kent (now Bond Avenue). Another bank that failed almost before it opened, also in 1838, was People’s Bank located in the Luce block. Louis Campau was its reluctant president. Rix Robinson lost some $900, which he had lent to its cashier to make a show of assets to the State Bank Examiner. The money was never recovered.

Cash was in short supply in those early years. In order to meet village obligations, the Village Fathers decided to print their own currency. Called “shinplasters”, these notes were in use for seven or eight years.

From 1840 to 1850 there were no banking facilities in the Valley. In 1851 William Welles opened a banking office on the corner of Monroe and Ottawa. Known for fair dealings, he was, however, forced to close the doors in 1861 because of poor business conditions brought on by the Civil War. Daniel Ball closed his bank under similar circumstances the same year. Both men, honest bankers, eventually paid their creditors in full.

Full Details

TitleWildcats & Honest Bankers
KeywordsGlance at the Past, history, wildcat banks, bankers, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission, radio, Podcast
Pubdate StringAugust 31st, 2011

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