A staple of the community built by early titans of Titusville, the bank building at 127 West Spring Street, founded as the Titusville Trust Company, opened its doors 100 years ago this Monday, August 12. A magnificent example of architecture and design, the Titusville Trust Company building, now Farmers National Bank, hearkens back to an era of wealth and opulence in the Oil Region. It even harbors a few secrets in its basement, once bustling with activity and life.
The Titusville Trust Company was incorporated in the summer of 1917 by James Curtis McKinney, William Muir, and Frank Von Tacky. The company opened for business on March 18, 1918 in a temporary location at 134 West Spring Street with $700,000 in capital. Today, that amounts to around 11.8 million dollars; an enormous amount for a fledgling bank.
J.C. McKinney wanted his bank to be spectacular and knew the Titusville community could support an amazing structure. The Roberts Block was razed to make room for the new building. With over $300,000 dedicated to the project, the bank’s cornerstone was laid on June 27, 1918. McKinney and company hired Alfred C. Bossom of New York as the architect and the General Contractor was the Henry E. Shenk Company of Erie.
Bossom was an architect who came to know McKinney through Bossom’s father-in-law who was president of Seaboard National Bank (New York) and where McKinney was on the board of directors. Born in England in 1881 and educated at the Royal Academy of Arts, Bossom practiced his craft in the United States from 1906 to 1926 before returning to England where he was later elected to Parliament.
Work on the structure took a little over one year before it was formally unveiled to the public on August 12, 1919. James Curtis McKinney and Agnes Moore McKinney presented the building to their stockholders as a gift, and what a gift it was.
The Titusville Trust Company building was more spectacular than anyone could have imagined. The Titusville Herald wrote that “it is no exaggeration to state that few were prepared for the beauties revealed when its doors were thrown open to the public yesterday. It is truly a wonderful building and one of which every citizen of Titusville may well be proud.”
The exterior was made from New Hampshire-sourced Concord granite, while the lower-interior was made from gray sienna marble from Spain and the upper-interior in greyish-pink tavernella marble from Istra, Austria (a peninsula now shared by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). The mantels in the banking room were made from Alps green marble from France and the floors were of Tennessee marble. The walls were made three-feet thick and the first floor interior was finished with bronze and American Black Walnut.
When bank patrons and spectators alike first crossed the threshold of the building, they were greeted by twenty-three eye-catching murals mounted on the ceiling. Three main paintings grace the middle of the ceiling with twenty in surrounding panels. The border paintings tell the story of oil from start to finish — from nineteenth century drilling methods through the changing forms of oil transportation to the end results of the oil process such as powering steamships, trains, planes, dirigibles, and other machines.
Most of the murals and ceiling decorations were completed by Mack, Jenney, and Tyler of New York, but the centerpiece — the one everyone still talks about to this day — was crafted by Alfred Valiant, a prominent young muralist.
Colonel Edwin Laurentine Drake, and those who helped him strike the first commercial oil well in 1859, is celebrated in the center mural. McKinney visualized it as a memorial to the oil pioneer since Drake had such an impact on McKinney’s young life. Colonel Drake struck oil when McKinney was only fifteen years old and the oil fervor seized him and guided his professional path from then on.
The original layout of the bank had the tellers situated in the middle, surrounded by a bronze and marble cage-like structure with a cork floor. Behind the tellers sat, and still sits today, the steel vault. The vault was constructed by Herring Hall-Marvin Safe Company of New York City. The door was protected by a modern electric system and weighed twenty-six tons. While photos of the vault cannot be taken today (though you can certainly view it in person), the bank distributed a photo via their thirty-year anniversary pamphlet in 1948 that can be seen here.
In the back of the building, James Curtis McKinney and his brother, John L. McKinney, had private offices and meeting places where they would conduct important town business.
As opulent as the first floor of the bank was, the basement was arguably even more outstanding. The building was heated with gas and coal, but the heating systems were not the only things in the basement. McKinney commissioned a basement ice-making plant that could provide drinking water to the upstairs.
The basement also afforded patrons a fur storage vault where ladies could safely store their furs, as well as a vault for trunks and silver.
One-half of the basement was allocated to a variety of other businesses including public baths, manicurists, and hair dressers. The baths were something of which McKinney was particularly proud. Hydrotherapy was quite popular and one could request anything from ice cold to 110 degrees in their bath. There were even electric baths with water charged by hydrocarbonated gas. These chambers were lined with multicolored bulbs so that light would reflect on the body via mirrors and be akin to standing in sunlight.
The basement is a place of interest for another reason: a part of Oil Creek runs underneath it. The Titusville Trust Company building is called a “living building” because of the way water rises and falls underneath it and throughout the basement, yet still it stands strong so many years later. In parts of the basement, old street levels can also be seen through doors that now lead to nowhere. But, in 1919, those doors lead people into a floral-scented wonderland of structural perfection.
On opening day, Titusvillians were welcomed by begonia and fern arrangements throughout the building by W.A. Murdoch and by new employees L.M. Campbell and Frank Pill (tellers); Grace E. Smith, Ruth M. Howard, and Harriet A. Young (bookkeepers); and stenographer Sadie A. Metzger. Women were not tellers in most early banking institutions and even by 1980, according to longtime employee Diane Bienio, there were no women lending officers in Titusville. In contrast, the employees at Farmers National Bank Titusville Branch today are all women.
The Titusville Trust Company has been through a rollercoaster of ups and downs through the years. Only five years after opening, James Curtis McKinney died of a stroke on December 6, 1924. His son, Louis C. McKinney took the helm of the bank. In 1928, the company combined with Titusville’s Commercial Bank and Trust Company, increasing their resources to over $8.5 million. By 1948, their resources topped $17.8 million and during the war, through bonds and savings, they helped raise more than $33 million for the war effort.
In later years, the bank changed hands often, at times known as Pennsylvania Bank and Trust, Penn Bank, Penn Bank Corporation, Integra, Integra Corporation, and finally, Farmers National Bank for the last ten years.
It is fitting to close the first 100 years and start the next with a poem Louis McKinney included in an early history of the bank:
“Behind every successful business —
Behind personal financial security —
There is one basic fact:
Someone at sometime saved enough
To make the start and kept going.”
Sources: “Our First Thirty Years,” Titusville Trust Company, 1918-1948, Titusville, Pennsylvania; “Alfred Bossom” by Lu Donnelly, Western Pennsylvania History, Summer 2007; Farmer’s National Bank History Pamphlet; Titusville Herald 8/13/1919; Oral History Interview with Diane Bienio, 5/7/2019