By Elaina Pierson, LCHS Office Coordinator
"Early-day Moscow had a surprising number of banks," writes Lillian Otness in A Great Good Country. Even though Moscow’s population was only about 2000 throughout the 1890s, that decade saw at least ten banks and lending institutions in operation in the town. Most of these businesses did not survive the economic ups and downs of the time, but fortunately their finely-constructed buildings did. Follow along with us today for a (brief) history of Moscow’s historic bank buildings.
In 1883, the town’s first bank was formed by Dorsey S. Baker and Herbert Clark on the southwest corner of (what would become) Main and First Streets. The Baker-Clark Bank was housed in a log cabin built by Almon Asbury Lieuallen in 1875 as a general store. The cabin was replaced by a wooden structure, then by the town’s first brick building around 1885. By 1891, the Baker-Clark had become the First National Bank and moved to a new three-story construction on the southwest corner of Main and Third Streets.
Pictured below (click arrow to scroll): First National Bank - early 1900s, 1921, 1969.
In 1965, the building was replaced by the structure that stands today, fondly known by locals as the “Escalator Bank.” Though much different stylistically, it is an eye-catching part of downtown Moscow, and a great example of minimalist architecture (or brutalist, depending on who you ask).
Pictured below : Idaho First National Bank, AKA the Escalator Bank, 1970. LCHS Photo: 01-03-022
Moving north across Third Street, we come to the site of the comparatively short-lived First Trust and Savings Bank. Constructed in 1921, it was replaced with the today’s structure in 1964. With its pediments and columns and quoins, this building fairly screamed, “I am a bank!”
Pictured below: First Trust & Savings Bank. LCHS Photo: 01-03-399
A little further north and we come to the site of the Commercial Bank, an institution that lasted only two years. When constructed in 1890, it included significant ornamentation along the roofline. Though these elements are long gone, the tall arched windows of the second floor and the distinctive pointed entrance to the first floor stairway make the building easily identifiable to this day.
Pictured below : Commercial Bank, early 1890s. LCHS Photo: 01-03-056
Across Main Street and up to Second is the Browne Block, erected by Robert S. Browne to house Moscow National Bank, as the inscription above the corner entrance still proclaims. The unique corner entrance was a popular detail specific to bank buildings of the 1890s.
Pictured below : Moscow National Bank, 1890s. LCHS Photo: 01-03-058
Returning to the Main and Third Streets, on the northeast corner is the Cornwall Block, constructed by Mason Cornwall in 1890 with three floors and an ornate roofline. The Bank of Moscow operated out of the first floor. In 1904, a fire necessitated reconstruction and the roof was lowered to the present two-story level. Like many historic buildings, much of the original details are gone, but the characteristic corner entrance still greets visitors.
Pictured below : Bank of Moscow, 1890s. LCHS Photo: 01-03-059
Lastly, we travel south to the northeast corner of Main and Fourth Streets, site of the McCartor Block South built by Leonidas B. McCartor in 1891. The Farmers Bank occupied the corner space until it closed in 1896. The intricate brickwork and arched windows on the south side are still present, as well as the diagonal corner entrance.
Pictured below : Farmers Bank, 1890s. LCHS Photo: 01-03-055
The financial history of Moscow is a rich one and this article is not meant to be a comprehensive accounting. If you would like to know more, please feel free to give us a call or send an email!
As a final note, I would like to include a contemporary example of bank architecture, the new Idaho Central Credit Union building on west Third Street in Moscow. Our thanks to ICCU, a 2022 Gold Sponsor of the Latah County Historical Society, for sponsoring this post.
Lillian Woodworth Otness, A Great Good County: A Guide to Historic Moscow and Latah County, Idaho. 1983. Glen Barrett, Idaho Banking 1863-1976. 1976.