19th century banking in Monroe County

PHOTO: $2 banknote from the Stroudsburg Bank – dated May 1863.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

These days, banking is convenient. ATMs are practically everywhere, ready to dispense our hard-earned cash. Making a transaction is as simple as clicking an app on our smartphones. Banking in the mid to late 1800s, however, was not quite as easy as it is now.

In 1857, the Stroudsburg Bank became the first official bank in Monroe County. Before this time, there were no banking institutions in Monroe County, and local residents had to travel to Easton for their banking needs. Citizens kept their paper and coin at home, hidden away in tin boxes or stuffed in or under their mattresses. Bartering, exchanging goods or services without the use of money, was commonplace. There are many stories of local farmers who traded chicken eggs or sheep’s wool as payment for a doctor’s visit.

As local communities grew and “modernized,” citizens demanded secure financial institutions to help control their money. On January 9, 1857, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an act to incorporate the Stroudsburg Bank. Five months later, on June 23, Gov. James Pollack authorized the Legislature’s act, officially chartering the bank.

By July, the first Board of Directors was elected. Depuy S. Miller served as the president and was joined by fellow board members, Jay Gould, Stephen Kistler, Henry LaBar, Thomas W. Rhodes, Charles D. Brodhead, John Boys, Stroud Hollingshead, Davis Walton, Michael Shoemaker, Charles Saylor, Morris Evans, and William S. White. James H. Stroud was hired as the bank’s cashier, a position he held until 1867.

The Stroudsburg Bank’s location at the corner of Main and 7th Streets in downtown Stroudsburg was purchased on February 9, 1858 for $1,100 from James Stroud. The total cost for the three lots and the construction of the building was $5,770.47. Part of the original bank structure was torn down in 1893 but was rebuilt. Until about 1954, further additions and changes were made to the original bank building.

The Stroudsburg Bank officially opened for business on August 17, 1857. The total deposits made on its opening day added to $3,264.59. For 25 years, the Stroudsburg Bank had no competition, and many credit this institution with establishing and supporting the early development of business in Monroe County.

The National Bank Act of 1863 sought to turn state-chartered banks into nationally-chartered banks. Passed by the U.S. Congress on February 25, 1863, the act gave banks the ability to register as “national” banks. Until that time, banks were either state banks or were private banks, and the laws and regulations that now govern banking were nonexistent or vague.

The National Bank Act was passed during the Civil War when there was a serious coin shortage. Many banks were printing their own money, and Monroe County merchants were issuing private scripts. Even the Monroe County Commissioners issued loan certificates to help pay for the high cost of the War. With the National Bank Act, uniform regulations were put into place.

After its first national charter, the Stroudsburg Bank received two additional 15-year charters under the National Banking Act, and on February 4, 1887, the bank’s official name was changed to Stroudsburg National Bank.

The second bank in Monroe County was known as the Monroe County Bank. Located on the 500 block of Stroudsburg’s Main Street, this bank opened on January 2, 1870. The president was Thomas Bell, and the Cashier was Edwin A. Bell. Little information survives on the history of this bank. Reportedly, there was only a sheet of paper in an old ledger containing the entry, “January 2, 1871: First day’s deposits $408.07.”

The Monroe County Bank did not survive long and was taken over by the First National Bank in Stroudsburg. The First National Bank began on September 29, 1882, and while this bank was not the oldest institution in town, it was the first bank to have been formed after the National Bank Act was passed. Therefore, the bank had the privilege of being able to use the word “first” in its title.

Our county’s third bank was also the first official local bank to operate outside of the Borough of Stroudsburg; it was the East Stroudsburg National Bank. It is not surprising that the Borough of East Stroudsburg played a major role in the early banking history in Monroe County. At that time, East Stroudsburg was experiencing faster growth in population, business, and industry because of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad.

The East Stroudsburg National Bank, located at the corner of Washington and South Courtland streets, started on April 17, 1889. Lafayette Westbrook, M.W. Welter, James Harry Shotwell, M. Luther Staples, Frank L. Dennis, and Louis M. Burson served as the bank’s first Board of Directors. The first president of the East Stroudsburg National Bank was Milton Yetter, who served in this capacity until his death in 1911. The Board hired L.H. Nicholas as the cashier who was employed in that position until 1905.

The fourth bank to be established in the area was the Monroe County National Bank. Also located in East Stroudsburg, this bank was positioned on Crystal Street across from the train station. Chartered on August 31, 1900, the bank had as members of its Board of Directors: T.Y. Hoffman; J.S. Schoonover; Jesse R. Smith; Obadiah Zimmerman; Philip Ruster; Wesley Henry; Frederick Fabel; George Rasely, and; Arthur Taylor. The first cashier was N.S. Brittain; he served in the position until 1908.

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, there certainly was a need for organized banking in Monroe County, and it is hard to imagine a time before a bank’s services were offered to the public.

While citizens certainly took advantage of the new institutions, banking in the 19th century only meant that someone had a safe place to keep his or her money. Banks only offered withdrawal and deposit services. For loans and trust services, residents still had to travel outside Monroe County until 1909 when the Security Trust Company of Stroudsburg was formed.

With the continued economic growth of Monroe County, the need for greater commercial banking facilities became apparent. Growth in manufacturing, commercial ventures, agriculture, and the tourist industry drove the demand for more financial institutions. Today, hundreds of banks of all sizes are readily available to meets all of the financial needs of Monroe County’s citizens.