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Fort Fairfield National Bank: From Past to Present – WFFJ-TV Documentary –

October 21, 2015



Please note a correction to the above video: "BoundarylineClub" should be "Borderline Club"


***The new price of the Key Bank building has been reduced to $49,900 ***


Fort Fairfield National Bank: From Past to Present

This is the text version of the above video


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, December 23, 2015


   The Fort Fairfield National Bank was chartered number 4781 by the U.S. government in 1892.  It served the town of Fort Fairfield for over twenty years from at least two different locations on Main Street.

   Northern industrialists pressured the U.S. government to create a national banking system in 1863 in order to finance the War of Northern Aggression against the Southern States.  The new banks were required to purchase government bonds to the extent of their capital and pledge them to the United States Treasury.   They were then allowed to issue artificially created bank note money against them to 90 percent of their value.  This scheme was designed to provide money to fund the war.

   In 1923 the Fort Fairfield National bank began construction on a new, three story brick building to comply with the town's recently enacted fire codes.  The construction foreman was Frank Murphy, who was also foreman for the new High School building at the time.  The bank's building committee was composed of T.E. Hacker, C.A. Powers and C. Fred Ames.  The new building was open for business in mid-November of that year.

   With the banking operations located on the first floor, the second floor of the new building contained the dental office of Dr. R.H. Skofield in the Northwest corner; also the law offices of Trafton and Roberts; the business office of C.A. Powers & Company and the business office of L.S. Black, the business manager of Aroostook Telephone Company.  The Aroostook Telephone Company occupied the entire third floor of the building.  In the summer of that year, a new telephone line was laid under Main Street, which was a mud road at the time.

   During the construction process, the oval window on the front gable at the third floor - which resembles a Victorian era picture frame - caught the attention of one Fort Fairfield youngster, who the Fort Fairfield Review quoted as asking who's picture was going to be place in it.

   Fort Fairfield National Bank existed at a time when the U.S. money supply was backed by gold and silver coin, per a U.S. Constitutional mandate - a mandate still in effect today.

   But the Federal Reserve allowed more paper money to be printed than there was gold in existence which ultimately caused a run on the banks in the U.S. as depositors were frantically trying to claim their gold before the supply ran out.

   This caused the great Bank Holiday of 1933 where all banks in the U.S. were ordered closed on Friday, March 10. 

   With the passage of House Joint Resolution 192, Congress abrogated the gold backing of U.S currency, confiscated all gold from domestic circulation, and with an amendment to the trading with the enemy act made the possession of gold illegal.

   The confiscated gold was then replaced with paper Federal Reserve Note IOUs.

   Over 1,000 banks reopened three days later when they could prove they were solvent in the new IOU money.  When the Fort Fairfield National Bank reopened on Monday, their new name was First National Bank of Fort Fairfield.  In 1954, the bank had a large staff consisting of Fred Kilburn, Willard Price, Ronald Grant, Marion Ireland, Kay Flannery Finney, Margaret Maguire Johnson, Alice Higgins and Judy Smith Young.

   Also around that time, Philip “Gee” Roberts joined his father's law firm, Roberts & Roberts on the second floor where he remained until relocating across the street in 2005.

   In the early 1960s the top floor of the building, once the location of the former Aroostook Telephone and Telegraph offices now hosted the location of a private, businessman's social club called The Borderline Club   .

   Steve Towle remembers how his family used the Borderline Club's banquet hall over the bank for their annual Thanksgiving Day dinners.  “Back in those days the Towle family, of course there was eleven kids in dad's family, come around Thanksgiving time there was no place big enough to host a so-called Towle family Thanksgiving Dinner.  So the Borderline Club was an option that we used for a couple of years,” said Towle.  “As a child I can remember going up with the aunts and the uncles and thirty cousins and first cousins from all the siblings and having a very enjoyable afternoon with food and getting a chance to run around and play around with all your first cousins.  Typically, the ladies occupied the kitchen, home-cooking like you can't imaging, pies, cakes, turkey and all the fixings.  The kids played throughout the major part of the hall.  They had a side room for the adult males, that was the card playing and cigar-smoking room.  45 was the game back then much the way it is right now and it ended with a very large sit down meal for twenty to fifty, gosh, I couldn't tell you how many were there.

   In 1967 under the management of David Dorsey, the bank's Vice President and Cashier and bank president, Medford C. Locke the First National Bank of Fort Fairfield acquired the C.A. Powers building next to the bank, which at the time was one of the largest wooden structures in the town.  The Powers building was demolished the following year in order to provide a spacious parking lot for the bank's customers.  The bank was also renovated to include a new teller line, a new loan office and the first and only drive-thru teller's window in Fort Fairfield.

   In 1970 The First National Bank of Fort Fairfield became affiliated with Depositors Trust Company with the board voting for an exchange of 100 percent of the bank's stock in exchange for Depositor's Corporation shares.  Five years later, the name was changed to Depositors Trust Company of Aroostook.  David Dorsey became president of the bank at that time.

   In 1985 Key Corp bought Depositors of Aroostook and the name was changed to Key Bank of Northern Maine.  David Dorsey remained there as bank President until 1989 when he left to form First Citizens Bank in Presque Isle.  The building was sold to a private owner and Key Bank leased it until 2013 when they decided to close the bank and move its operations to their Presque Isle location.

   After sitting empty for two years the interior of the bank is beginning to suffer from the effects of water and moisture damage.  The large steel vault is developing surface rust and some of the interior walls are deteriorating.

   Fort Fairfield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Tim Goff says they are aware of the damage and are working with the building owner to find a potential buyer to preserve the building.

   “It's one of things where you don't heat a building in Aroostook County, that's going to lead to issues.  We believe the main source of the water leakage is a ledge that's only on that side of the building, the side that's closest to the post office.  We believe it's as simple as sealing some of that with a rubber or an epoxy of some sort.  Ultimately, there's still going to be other issues with leakage around windows and seals.  Some of the windows on the top two floors are fairly old and some of the brick on the sills are actually pointed inward, instead of sloping outward.”

   Goff and the building owner went through the building in January, 2015 to assess the situation to figure out how the town could help as a community position the building to be sold.  “It's still private property, we don't own it, and it's something ultimately that's going to take some investment.  We've been trying to find some creative solutions to try and keep it and refabricate it into something that's more viable and modern.  It has some unique characteristics and some unique challenges.  That's really the difficulty.”

  One of Goff's goals in this process was to bring awareness to the building and its plight.  “If people don't know it's here and in danger of being torn down then maybe the right buyer doesn't come in or the right solution or the right idea that we can reformulate this with.  Where it's been such a key and unique character piece in downtown the universal sentiment is it would be a shame to lose it but I think just after that it becomes what do you do with it?”

   The price of the building has been reduced to a very reasonable $69,000 [now, $49,900] but as Goff explains, the price to buy isn't so much the problem as it is the price to rehab it.  “We believe through our conversations with various contractors that the windows on the top two floors would have to be replaced, the bricks on probably all four sides would have to be repointed, and the ledge on one side of the building where the major leak of water has been would need to be sealed and then the roof would need to be done.  Then commence whatever you want on the interior because it's kind of a blank canvas in a sense but at the same time has some real neat character pieces to it.”

   Goff says out of about fifty potential buyers about ten had very solid business credentials and ideas.  “A lot of the plans that they came up with align with what we came up with under the previous town manager and myself as we were looking at this building with residential uses for the top two floors and some sort of mixed commercial or co-op use on the first floor.  The town is definitely committed to helping somebody find whatever source of funding that we can.  We've reached out well beyond our borders and well beyond the borders of Maine and solicited a quite a bit of information and feedback from people.


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