|Merchants Bank Donates Historic Bank Building to the Fund for North Bennington and the Preservation Trust of Vermont|
Molly Dillon of Merchants Bank, Rob Woolmington of the Fund for North Bennington, Michael Tuttle of Merchants Bank and Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust of Vermont.
Representatives of the Merchants Bank, The Fund for North Bennington and the Preservation Trust of Vermont announced today that the Bank has donated its 1864 building in the center of North Bennington Village to the two nonprofit organizations.
Three months ago Merchants Bank announced that the North Bennington branch and Main Street Bennington branches would consolidate on Northside Drive, due to changing trends in local banking business. Representatives of the nonprofits began discussions with the Bank about the desire to secure the building as a key part of the Village vitality, streetscape and heritage. The gift will allow permanent protection of the High Victorian Italianate building constructed by Trenor W. Park to house the fledging First National Bank of North Bennington and the local post office during the post-Civil War era.
The two organizations stated their primary purpose in accepting the donation of this critically important structure is to protect it, help retain the visual and community character of North Bennington and make certain there is continuing commercial vitality on Main Street.
Although plans for use are not complete, the new owners expect to maintain the historic character of the facade, lease the two stories of office and meeting space, continue paying local property tax, and improve the energy efficiency of the building, as well as store North Bennington archives in the vaults. The Merchants Bank ATM will continue to operate in its current bank drive-up location.
At the public announcement May 20, conducted at the Bank and open to all members of the Village community, three speakers told the story of the donation and the remarkably linked history of the Bank, the Preservation Trust and the Fund for North Bennington. Descendents of Trenor W. Park, William and Babs Scott, had worked with Paul Bruhn, director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont to establish the Fund for North Bennington twenty years ago. Michael R. Tuttle, president and CEO of Merchants Bank Corporation, explained the Bank's decision and the good wishes for a thriving future that come along with the gift. Molly Dillon, President of Merchants Trust Company and a key partner in the decision to donate, also spoke.
The Fund for North Bennington was established in 1992. It has conserved hundreds of acres of farm, forest and trail land in and around the Village, and in its efforts to enhance community life has made nearly $1 million of grants to local nonprofits, as well as assisted people and businesses in making historically correct improvements and repairs to their homes and building. The Fund's website, www.northbennington.org
is visited by thousands annually for information, photos, maps and information on the Village, its land and buildings, and its unique history. The Bank is the first building to be owned by the Fund.
The Preservation Trust, in addition to serving as the only statewide historic preservation organization in Vermont since 1980, devotes much of its resources to the revitalization and repurposing of village centers. It has partnered with a wide range of organizations and individuals in the preservation of many key Vermont buildings over the years, most recently the Marble Museum in Proctor.
The Merchants Bank was established in 1849 and is the largest Vermont-based bank today, independent and locally operated. It has more than 30 community bank locations statewide, 300 full-time and 40 part-time employees throughout Vermont. Merchants acquired the North Bennington building in 1979 when it merged with the Catamount Bank.
Although both the Fund for North Bennington and the Preservation Trust of Vermont are tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, they clearly stated that they intend to continue paying property tax on the building as the Bank did. The property will be held jointly by the two nonprofit organizations.
Merchants Bank, formerly the First National Bank of North Bennington, c. 1890.
The Bank building on the corner of Main and Bank Streets sits at the center of North Bennington Village and was constructed by Trenor W. Park in 1864 when he established the First National Bank. The brick building was even more imposing then than it is today, with a rooftop balustrade and three tall paneled brick chimneys. Its trim is brownstone, and the tall first floor windows are arched and fanned.
Originally the building housed the Post Office as well as the Bank, and at some time during its history also housed a general store. The First National Bank became the Catamount Bank in the mid-twentieth century, and then was sold to the Merchants Bank in 1979. The second story was a community meeting room which has seen local parties and film showings, and once was the office of federal judge James Holden; it is currently office space. The fašade has seen changes as well, with much of the trim removed, a small ground-level office space added along Bank Street and the original Post Office entry doors replaced with a window.
The history of North Bennington has reflected a changing world over the nearly 150 years since the Bank was built, and the current change in banking practices reflects this. Originally a portion of the building was used as a bank, then the entire building, and now an ATM will be left in place for daily transactions. The Fund for North Bennington and Preservation Trust representatives reflected on this evolution in their thinking about the building's future, suggesting they are open to creative ideas for potential leases and uses for the building.