As Santander Bank leaves Pottsville, future of historic Miners National Bank building uncertain

Mar. 22—POTTSVILLE — On Wednesday, the day before Santander Bank closed its branch, the executive director of the Schuylkill County Historical Society was unsettled over the future of the historic Miners National Bank building.

"I'm really concerned about what's going to happen to it," Diana Prosymchak said. "It's been such a staple in downtown Pottsville. It's an amazing building, and it needs to be preserved."

At 4 p.m. Thursday, Santander will lock the front doors of the 95-year-old bank building at 120 S. Centre St.

The Pottsville operation is being consolidated with the Santander Bank in Schuylkill Haven, the bank previously said.

Efforts to reach a Santander spokesperson in Boston, where the bank is headquartered, were unsuccessful.

Mayor Dave Clews said the city has not been officially notified of Santander's plans for the building, which opened in 1928.

The future of the bank building was briefly discussed at Wednesday's meeting of the Pottsville Redevelopment Authority, the mayor said.

The authority has let Santander Bank representatives know of Pottsville's concerns.

"The city wants to make sure that it just doesn't sit there and become a problem," said Clews, who is in his first term as mayor. "We're interested and concerned, and we want to work with Santander on the bank's future."

Since he was a child, Clews, 65, has been particularly fond of the bank. He visited it many times when his mother worked there as a teller. His uncle, the late James Clews, was a loan officer.

The mayor acknowledged, however, that finding a use for the building could prove difficult. Its main lobby is three stories high, and heating costs alone could be a major obstacle.

"I think of it as a place for citizens to gather," Clews said.

Architectural gem

The coal industry was booming when the Miners National Bank was formed in 1828, only 40 years after woodsman Necho Allen discovered coal on Broad Mountain.

The bank was incorporated on Oct. 28, 1828, eight months after Pottsville was incorporated as a borough and the year before D.G. Yuengling & Sons began brewing in Pottsville.

Between 1828 and 1928, the bank printed thousands of bank notes in denominations ranging from $5 to $100. The remaining notes are sought by collectors.

The current building was constructed in 1927 in celebration of the bank's 100th anniversary. Designed by Cass Gilbert, one of the nation's foremost architects, its exterior is marked with the dates 1828-1928.

Gilbert designed the Woolworth Building, the U.S. Supreme Court building and the Detroit Free Public Library.

He designed the Miners Bank's exterior with Harvard brick and Doric columns of white Georgia marble.

Referred to as a "Temple of Commerce" at its dedication, the design incorporates elements of Greek and Colonial American architecture, and includes busts of the ancient gods Mercury and Pluto.

The bank's 10-foot-tall front doors, which depict miners at work, were made by John Polachek, a renowned New York sculptor, at a cost of $10,000 in 1927. His relief of President Woodrow Wilson is in the Smithsonian Institution.

The interior walls are of Jeanne d'Arc stone, French limestone, and the floors are of Roman travertine, the Italian stone used in the Colosseum.

Forging a legacy

The Schuylkill County Historical Society is hoping that Santander Bank will donate a wooden sculpture of a miner that's displayed under glass in the bank lobby.

Prosymchak would also like to add a large photo of the original interior of the bank that hangs in the president's office to the society's archive.

It shows the original vaulted ceiling and chandeliers, which were removed when a drop ceiling was installed decades ago.

Prosymchak and Steve Young, assistant executive director, paused Wednesday to display a portion of the society's archive on the bank.

Among a dozen or more framed portraits of bank presidents is one of John Shippen, president from 1831 to 1882, who shaped the institution in its formative years.

Another is of his successor, William L. Whitney, president from 1882 to 1894.

Scrap books of news clippings meticulously kept by bank employees provide a glimpse into the past.

They show how the Miners Bank opened branches in Port Carbon, Minersville, Tamaqua, Hometown and Williamstown.

In 1960, for example, the bank was paying 3% interest on savings accounts. And when it opened its branch in Hometown in 1961, the bank emphasized that it had a drive-thru window and offered a $20 savings account as a door prize.

An ad in the Pottsville Republican in November 1961 said the bank had paid out more than $500,000 in Christmas Clubs that year.

"Santa says: Next Christmas is in the bag when you join our 1962 Christmas Club," the ad read.

Contact the writer: rdevlin@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6007