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March 29, 2014

Delhi bank saw many ups, downs in 175 years

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The Daily Star

---- — They’re a dying breed — local banks with nearly original names. However, the oldest bank in Delaware County, The Delaware National Bank of Delhi, is approaching its 175th anniversary of doing business.

After a group of businessmen met at the Edgerton Hotel in Delhi on Thursday, April 4, 1839, Herman D. Gould was planning what was then a lengthy trip to Albany to take care of the necessary paperwork to complete the new bank’s organization.

Gould was appointed president of what was first called the Delaware Banke (sic), said to be third oldest bank in New York state. Gould, who was also a Main Street storekeeper, authorized the making of plates to print the bank’s first notes. Stockholders were required to back the venture with bonds, mortgages and cash. The bank began with $150,000 in assets, opening on the second floor of Gould’s store. According to the bank’s website, Charles Hathaway was credited with building the white pillared structure in 1841 on the corner of Courthouse Square, today’s 124 Main St.

The bank remained the Delaware Banke until the spring of 1865 after a national bank law went into effect. After three name changes in three months, the bank became known as The Delaware National Bank of Delhi.

The bank suffered one noteworthy heist in early 1858, and supposedly no one was around to witness it. When the bank opened on Nov. 1 the inner vault door could not be unlocked. A blacksmith was brought in to cut the heads off the bolts to open it, and the vault had been emptied.

Burglars had apparently used false keys to get into the bank from a rear door, sawed a hole in the floorboards, crawled under the floor 10 feet to the base of the vault, undermining mortared stonework to enter it. After taking what they wanted, they slipped a nail into the vault lock to prevent entry from outside. About $38,000 in bank notes, gold, silver and currency was taken. A $3,000 reward was posted.

The Oneonta Herald reported on Nov. 17, 1858, that the robbers had been caught, re-printing an article from The Deposit Union Democrat of Nov. 13.

“The New York Herald, and Journal of Commerce, of the 11th inst. say it is reported that the burglars who robbed the Delaware County Bank, at Delhi, two weeks ago last Saturday night, were caught on the 10th inst. on board a ship in the lower bay, and over $30,000 of money found with them. Raft men who came in from New York this (Friday) morning’s train, confirm this report, and say that that was the report yesterday in New York. The burglars were English, and had taken passage for England with their ill gotten plunder. If this be so, then there is one or more living near Delhi, that must know more of this robbery than an honest man would know. We trust the report may prove true.”

In addition to this noted robbery, the bank endured some turbulent times in 1898. A major employer in Delhi went bankrupt, and the bank lost $150,000 that had been mortgaged to the business, Crawford Wagon Works.

The Oneonta Star reported on what was called a bank failure on June 7, 1898. The bank closed that day, but “no run was made by depositors.”

“The Delaware National is the only bank in Delhi and its failure is a calamity to the village,” the article stated. It turned out to be a fairly short setback. “The resumption of the bank depends entirely on the ability of the Crawfords to pay back a goodly portion of the enormous loans and discounts they secured,” it was reported on June 28.

Stockholders in the bank had to come up with 50 percent to keep the bank open. On Aug. 19, according to the Star, “It is reported in Delhi that Russell Sage of New York, the well known financier, is to come to that place today or to morrow (sic) and pass Sunday, and has given assurances that he will make a large loan to the Messrs. Crawford. The villagers are hopeful that the affairs will soon be straightened out.”

One major fire also proved to be a temporary setback to the bank in 1934. The old building was damaged by fire on Jan. 1, which had started in the nearby store of H.S. Graham & Sons. The bank set up business in the nearby St. John’s Parish House while repairs were made, as five state troopers stood guard over the bank’s vault, “to discourage attempts at banditry.”

The Delaware National Bank of Delhi remained a single location until 1998, when it opened a branch in Margaretville. Since then additional branches have opened in Pindars Corners, Hobart and Oneonta.

On Monday: There were many ways of coping with local gasoline shortages in March 1974.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.