My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Six: The Bank of Shipshwana

The Bank of Shipshewana mural is wedged between two windows, on the Hostetler Drug Store building on Main Street.  It pictures two men, identified as “Levi Miller, Cashier” and “Hewlitt Davis, President” and over their heads, “1904—Bank of Shipshewana.”

Hewlitt Davis was born in 1871.  He was the son of Shipshewana founder Hezekiah Davis, who is the subject of another Walldogs mural and another blog.  According to Ira Ford’s 1920 book The History of Northeast Indiana, at that time Hewlitt was president of the Farmers State Bank of Shipshewana and he was “a worthy representative of this sturdy old [Davis] stock.”

According to the book, Hewlitt finished high school and then attended business college in Toledo, Ohio.  Being the youngest of Hezekiah’s seven children, and Hezekiah having died in 1891, Hewlitt returned home to live with his widowed mother, Sarah Reynolds Davis.  Sarah ran the Bank of Shipshewana, organized by her late husband, with herself as president and her son as cashier, where Hewlitt remained until 1907. 

In 1907 the Bank of Shipshewana was reorganized and renamed the Farmer’s State Bank of Shipshewana, and Hewlitt at last had his own bank.  Through the years of his banking career, he also farmed 800 acres in the vicinity (Newbury Township), where he raised stock.

The 1910 census bears this out.  Hewlitt lives with his widowed mother in an expensive home on Morton Street.  Hewlitt is 38 and still unmarried, and his occupation is listed as “banker and farmer.”  As the youngest son, his mother must have remained his responsibility, even after he founded his own bank.

“Few banks,” said The History of Northeast Indiana, “have ever met with so many misfortunes…  It has been robbed four times…  In November 1897, when the safe was ruined and the contents all taken…  In 1905, when they did not try the safe and got only the change found within the vault…  In June 1916, the safe was not disturbed but they secured $1,100 in postage stamps in the vault…  August 26, 1919, when they made an attempt on the safe and ruined it, but were unable to get inside, but did get $200 in War Savings Stamps in the vault…        While the institution was yet the Bank of Shipshewana in July 1902, the bank was burned.”

In 1911 Hewlitt married Carrie Rogers.  The 1920 census shows them living with their daughter Sarah and son Herbert on Talmadge Street, and his occupation is “bank president.”  By the 1930 census, Hewlitt is 58 and has no occupation listed—he had retired.  (His next door neighbor is the wealthy Edward Wolfe, who I wrote about in another post.)  Perhaps his health was failing, as he died in 1935.  He was buried in Keightley Cemetery, where his wife Carrie joined him, but not before outliving him by 35 years.

And what of Levi Miller, the other man pictured in the mural?  According to The History of Northeast Indiana, he was from an old Shipshewana family whose Mennonite great-grandfather Christian Miller came from Germany to Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, and had over 700 American descendants by 1920.  Levi studied business at Valparaiso University and then in 1901 became assistant cashier of the Bank of Shipshewana.  The history section of the Shipshewana website says that until then, the bank was open only once in a while—but after Mr. Miller was hired, it was open every day.  When it was reorganized in 1907, Levi was promoted to cashier and in 1920 was “the genial and efficient man with whom most of the patrons have done business ever since.”