Denhart's Baking Co. owner relates story of Washington's early bankers

Christina Smith
Dr. Tom Gross uses visual aids as he discusses the history of banking in Washington.

After Dr. Tom Gross and his wife, Judy, bought the former Denhart Banking Co. building on the square in Washington, they decided to research the architecture history of the building, in order to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gross’ research led him to reading old Tazewell Reporter articles and reviewing property deeds in Pekin.

Gross shared what he learned during a presentation, titled “Early History of Banking in Washington,” at the Washington Historical Society’s monthly meeting Monday night.

Prairie State Bank, which opened in 1848, was the first bank in Tazewell County, Gross said, adding Prairie State Bank was a bank of issue, which meant bank officials could print their own money.

Asa H. Danforth started the bank and his son, Almon G. Danforth, later began working with him at the bank. AG Danforth became president of the bank before it closed.

“Democrats tried to get rid of state banks for years and they were finally successful in 1857,” Gross said.

Because of the Democrats, Prairie State Bank closed and was reopened as the Danforth Bank by AG Danforth in 1858, Gross said.

Asa Danforth came to Washington in 1836 as a cabinet maker. Danforth erected a flouring mill and directed the Peoria Oquawka Railroad, Gross said.

His son, AG Danforth, worked as a cashier from 1857 to 1862 and had a mercantile business with his brother, HR Danforth.

 Paul Busse began working at the Danforth Bank in 1893, after graduating from high school in Washington. Busse became the bank’s president in 1932.

George Stimson worked as a banker in Peoria when he fell in love with Mary Danforth and moved to Washington.

After they married, the Stimsons moved into the Danforth house, located on South Main and Holland streets.

Frank Burkey, Win Himmel, Lucy Hornbeck and Ron Dingeldine also worked as bankers in Washington.

From 1866 to 1885, Charles Anthony and Henry Denhart were prominent business partners in Washington.

The two men each bought a half-interest in Dick Smith’s dry goods store in 1864, and kept people’s money in a vault inside the store.

“When they had more than $10,000 in the vault, they decided to start a bank,” Gross said.

Denhart also helped his nephews, Henry and Louis Harms start a bank in Roanoke in 1886.

Anthony’s brother, Clifford Anthony, was also listed as a banker with Anthony and Denhart. Frank Hops started working at the bank in 1885.

Anthony and Denhart also bought JC Kimbles’ lumberyard, along with owning Ogalalla & Swan Cattle Co. in Denver and Cheyenne.

Both men also owned the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Omaha, Neb., and the Anthony, Denhart, Wilson Bank in Chatsworth.

Dr. RBM Wilson was Anthony and Denhart’s partner in the Chatsworth bank.

Anthony was born in 1846 and attended Washington Primary School.

Gross said Anthony’s obituary stated he had “liberal education opportunities” and was tutored by RD “Dick” Smith.

Denhart was born in Germany in 1842 and moved to Washington when he was 11.

He also attended Washington Primary School, and was tutored by Dr. RBM Wilson.

Wilson was born in Ireland in 1827, and started practicing medicine in Washington in 1848.

“I think Wilson was responsible for introducing Anthony and Denhart, because he knew the Anthony family and had tutored Denhart,” Gross said.

Wilson became a state legislator in 1858 and worked on Stephen Douglas’ U.S. Senate campaign the same year.

Anthony and Denhart ended their business partnership in 1885 because they both had too many separate companies for their partnership to continue.

Anthony moved to Peoria and ran Anthony Loan & Trust Co., while Denhart stayed in Washington.

Even after his move, Anthony continued to advertise in Washington newspapers.

Clyde Dunnington started working for Denhart in 1894, and Harlan Kingsbury came to the bank in 1917.

At 75, Denhart sold both Hops and Kingsbury a one-third interest in the bank for $6,000 per share.

Denhart had aggressive lending practices and rumors of problems started in 1929, Gross said.

“To Washington residents, it seemed like it happened overnight, but it had been going on for years,” Gross said about the bank’s closing.

A Saturday morning special edition of the Tazewell Reporter focused on Denhart Bank closing, Gross said.

“People couldn’t get to their money or their safe deposit boxes. Residents who thought they owned their property found out it belonged to the bank,” Gross said.

Homeowners either had to pay their entire mortgage or the bank foreclosed on their property, Gross said.

“More than 10,000 banks closed across the country during the Depression and more than 500 closed in Illinois,” Gross said.

Although the bank closed in 1930, Gross said the bank’s legal problems continued into the early 1940s.

A Tazewell County Reporter article listed Denhart owning $850,000 in assets, with 85 percent of the bank’s money loaned out to customers.

While stock market investors lost 90 percent of their investments from the Depression, Gross said bank investors received 75 percent of their money back within six years.

Rae C. Heiple was appointed by the state as the receiver for Denhart Bank’s assets.

Heiple later started the Washington State Bank, which is still in business.

Hops and Kingsbury sold their houses in Washington, while Denhart sold his property in Illinois, Iowa and Montana, which was valued at $142,000.

Gross said the three men agreed to sell their property and turn over the money from the sales, in order to avoid being indicted.

When the men learned they would still be indicted, Hops, Kingsbury and Denhart tried to reverse the property sales, but it was too late, Gross said.

“At almost 90 years old, Denhart had to go to Pekin to stand trial for perjury,” Gross said.

Hops was accused of 27 counts of perjury, while Kingsbury was accused of 26 counts, Gross said.

“Hops died before the trial and Denhart was found innocent. Kingsbury was convicted after the jury reversed their decision,” Gross said.

Kingsbury appealed the ruling through to the Illinois Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction.

Denhart died a year after the trial, just before his 91st birthday.

 “The only reason I got interested in the history of banking was because of a building that hadn’t been torn down,”Gross said.

Dick Smith’s house, the former Danforth house, the Kingsbury and Hops houses are all still standing, Gross said.

“The homes are still here, which keeps the history alive of both the architecture and these men,” Gross said.