Friday, June 22, 2012

First National Bank: a Tale of Two Buildings

A reader asked about the history of the First National Bank, the bank once housed at 300 North Main Street—the corner of Main and 2nd Ave NE, north of the old courthouse square. Back when the bank was founded in 1868, the streets were Main and Bridge and at that time, north of the NEW courthouse square. Here is the early history from the 1896 ‘Souvenir of Austin’ pamphlet:
“The First National Bank is the oldest financial institution now doing business in Austin. It was organized in 1868 and its subsequent successful career has been a natural outgrowth of substantial development of the city and surrounding county. But few changes in its management have occurred since its organization, as O.W. Shaw has been president from the first and there have been but two cashiers. The present cashier, N. F. Banfield, succeeded H. W. Page in 1885. The First National Bank corner is one of the landmarks in the history of the city’s business interests, as it has been the site of all the bank’s transactions since its inception nearly thirty years ago. The original building was destroyed by fire one month after occupancy. The brick structure which was erected in its place did valuable service for many years and was one of the substantial blocks of the city. In order to meet the demands of an ever-increasing business the present year has witnessed the construction of a new and larger building of modern architecture. It has been built of brick with solid stone front and it is conceded on all sides to be the finest and most artistically designed business structure in Austin. With the new vault, together with new and modern furnishings, the bank is justly entitled to be ranked among the progressive and up-to-date financial institutions of the state.”

Photos show First National Bank buildings in 1869 (top) and 1896 (bottom). Both courtesy of Mower County Historical Society.
The building, at 300 N Main Street, has been restored to it's 1896 exterior by owner Patrick Bradley and is seeking a tenant. For information, contact me at

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dutch Town and the Bloody Third Ward

Last week I mentioned “Dutch Town,” a neighborhood on Austin’s east side in the late 1800s. Here is an essay by Dr. Francis Meany explaining Austin neighborhoods in the early 1900s from “Mill on the Willow: A History of Mower County, Minnesota:
“Doc Meany’s East Side Story
My father ran the Democratic party in the third ward and served three terms as alderman. That was before he took out his final citizenship papers in 1896. He ran Tom Meany’s Saloon on Railway Street (10th St NE). I was born in 1895 in a little house just behind the saloon.
The saloon was sold after my father died in 1905. One night a fire started and the East Side Fire Department was called in. They saved all the whiskey and cigars, but the saloon burned down...
There were definite boundaries within Austin. At least as far as the boys and girls were concerned. There was Dutchtown, east of the Milwaukee tracks. The west side was everything west of Main Street. Then there was the toughest section of all, the ‘bloody third ward.’ That covered the area bordered by the river on the west and the Milwaukee tracks on the east.
In those days the best looking girls lived in the third ward, but one of those uptown birds had better not cross the lines and come visit them...”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beaver Lake vs. East Side Lake

In 1858, someone built a mud and log dam on Dobbins Creek, east of the then-fledgling village of Austin. It was built to power a flour mill; it also served to create a large lake about 15 blocks east of Main Street. Known as Beaver Lake, it became an area recreation center: offering swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Beaver Lake was especially popular with the residents of 'Dutch Town,' the neighborhood sandwiched between the railroad tracks and the lake.
Then in 1892, the dam was washed out by a flood on Dobbins Creek. The lake was drained, leaving swamps and pasture land.
Fast forward 120 years to 2012. Austin's east side is home to another large lake: East Side Lake. The lake defines the eastern approach to our community and provides recreation to residents. The Vision 2020 project even seeks to expand the recreation on the lake, and other waterways.
But East Side Lake is not Beaver Lake. How was East Side Lake created? Who lead the effort and why? Come find out at Mower County Historical Society's Lunchbox History at the fairgrounds on Thursday, June 28 at noon. I will speak about the history of East Side Lake. The event is free, call the MCHS at 437-6082 for more information.

Photo of East Side Lake in the early 1960s, courtesy of Tim Ruzek at the Cedar River Watershed District.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Miss Jane Todd Makes Her Mark on Austin

As with many families in Austin’s history, the Todds had two generations of influence in our community. Municipal plant superintendent William Todd had four daughters and the oldest one served the city for 40 years.
Born in 1891, Miss Jane Todd began working for the city municipal plant as an assistant to her father William Todd on July 6, 1900. (His obituary from 1931 states that she had been his secretary since ‘childhood.’) She continued to serve for 9 years after his death, retiring in 1940. She was appointed secretary of the city’s first board of water and light commissioners in 1903. According to an article from the Mower County News on May 2, 1940: “She... saw the plant grow from a small institution of an investment of only $16,000 to the present large plant valued at about two million dollars and she took part in that expansion.”
Miss Todd was honored by city leaders including chief electrician Wallace Gregson, plant chief H. W. Boody, commissioner C. F. Cook, water department chief E. C. Butler and gas department chief Elmer Nelson. The article also notes that six office employees spoke honoring Miss Todd: Edith Laufle, Esther Marcusen, Florence Wilder, Margaret Boyd, Blanche Mahachek and Dorothy Johnson. Miss Todd received a gold wrist watch in appreciation of her service.
Jane Todd lived in her childhood home, 419 E Mill Street, until her death in 1949. She was staying in the Curtis Hotel in Minneapolis after attending a national trustee meeting of the Order of the Eastern Star in Chicago when she suddenly became ill and died.
Photo above: Jane Todd at work at the city municipal plant.
Photo below: The Todd sisters
Both photos courtesy of the Mower County Historical Society