The Region

Old-Style Banking: Montana Bank Gives New Look to Old Building

Kathy Cobb | Assistant Editor

Published December 1, 1989  | December 1989 issue

About 80 miles east of Great Falls, tucked between the valleys and mountains of central Montana, is the town of Denton, population 356. And on Broadway Avenue in Denton is the Farmers State Bank building—looking exactly as it did in 1913.

Following a recent interior makeover, the bank has rediscovered its roots and now reflects the architectural charm of a bygone era.

Originally the First National Bank of Denton, the bank was among many in the small towns that sprouted along the railroad between 1912 and 1915.

When A.C. Edwards saved the bank from its demise just before the Depression in 1929, it became Farmers State Bank and eventually was one of only four banks of 34 in the county to survive the Depression. Today the bank serves a 60- to 100-mile radius of Denton.

In the mid-1950s, son Bill took over the reins and remodeled the bank—adding paneled walls, a suspended ceiling with acoustical tiles and florescent lighting and antiqued gold interior.

Then in 1988 the bank's presidency moved to grandson Wayne Edwards. He decided to expand the tiny bank by adding a board of directors room that could double as community meeting space.

A history buff, Wayne Edwards worked with architect Jim Bauer from Bauer Group Architects Ltd. of Billings to design an addition that would complement the original structure. This led to the discovery of hidden architectural details, and a total restoration project was under way.

Those architectural discoveries included a teller counter of rich Honduran mahogany beneath a layer of paint, and an ornate tin ceiling covered by the suspended ceiling installed in the '50s.

The most challenging aspect of the project, according to Bauer, was to avoid damaging the original work in addition to finding materials and artisans for the restoration. Bauer used a South Dakota firm to match the brick, the chandeliers and wall mounts are from a St. Louis company specializing in old light fixtures, and a replacement tin ceiling was created by a Minneapolis company. Arches, window frames and sashes were handmade to match the originals, and hand-milled oak was used for the woodwork.

The centerpiece is the teller cage, with its original protective bars. In addition to restoring the counter woodwork, the old gold foil signs were recreated by a young sign painter in Lewistown who learned the painstaking technique from his grandfather.

Many of the Edwards' family papers are on display in the new board room, and older members of the community enjoy sifting through them and reminiscing about the town's history.

Today, the Farmers State Bank of Denton looks much the same as it did back in 1913—only larger. The bank, and the community, has its much-needed meeting room; but they've also uncovered a treasure.