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1st bank in State
John Marshall's house in Old Shawneetown - Site of the original Bank
Picture from "Historic Illinois" 1907

John Marshall's house in Old Shawneetown - the original bank
View of John Marshall's house from the South
1934 Photo from the LOC

Old Shawneetown is the site of the first bank in the State of Illinois. Local legend states that the Shawneetown Bank refused to buy the first bonds issued by the city of Chicago on the grounds that no city located that far from Shawneetown could survive. The bank building survives as the Shawneetown Bank State Historic Site.

After the Revolution, Shawneetown served as an important United States government administrative center for the Northwest Territory. Shawneetown and Washington, D.C., share the distinction of being the only towns chartered by the United States government.
(source: http://en.wikipedia.org)



One of the first banks in Illinois was located at Shawneetown, and was built of logs. A traveler who visited Shawneetown in 1818 found about thirty log houses there. "The chief occupation of the inhabitants is the salt trade." he wrote. "There is here a United States land office, and a log bank is just established. The chief cashier of this establishment was engaged in cutting logs at the moment of my arrival."

The first white settlement at Shawneetown is said to have been in 1800.  A jail was erected in 1810 and a courthouse in 1815. The land on which the town was located belonged to the United States until 1814, when lots were sold at auction to residents. The bidding was brisk and the lots sold for good prices.Two years later, however, the ground was inundated by the river, even as it has been frequently since that time. In 1816 lot owners petitioned congress to relieve them from paying further installments on their lots. They said they had purchased the lots at an excessive price and "that within a few months after the sale of the said lots, our town was visited by a most destructive epidemic, which nearly depopulated the place and immediately after in the same winter, the whole of the town on the river was inundated, the water being from 10 to 20 feet over the whole of that town; that alarmed and dishearteded, many persons have ceased to improve and have abandoned the place, and others have been deterred from settling here".

The salt works on Salt creek was the most important factor in the early developement of Shawneetown, together with the location of the land office there. The salt was sold to settlers all over that section of the United States. TAKEN FROM THE HENRY NEWS REPUBLICAN NEWSPAPER, HENRY, IL 100 YEARS AGO - Transcribed and Donated by Nancy Piper

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north view

View of John Marshall's house from the North
1934 Photo from the LOC


Shawneetown Bank, located in Old Shawneetown, is the oldest structure in Illinois built specifically as a bank. Constructed in 1840 during Shawneetown's commercial heyday, the Greek Revival structure housed banking operations for more than a century. The bank closed its doors in 1942 and was deeded to the State of Illinois. Today it is managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as Shawneetown Bank State Historic Site. (source: Illinois.com)

The "NEW" Shawneetown Bank
built in 1839

Picture courtesy of http://www.re-view.biz/portfolio-sb.html


The "NEW" Shawneetown Bank
built in 1839
(side view showing window restoration)

new bankPicture courtesy of http://www.re-view.biz/portfolio-sb.html

Shawneetown in the eighteenth century was the gateway to the Illinois Territory. Located on the banks of the Ohio River in what is now Gallatin County, Shawneetown was settled in the early 1800s and formally surveyed in 1810. The establishment of a federal land office in 1812 and profitable commercial salt-mining operations quickly led to Shawneetown's emergence as the commercial center of early Illinois. Other industries, including a tannery, distillery, and a spinning wheel plant, fueled the local economy.

Early Illinoisans looked to local banks for easy credit and circulating currency. Settlers entering the Illinois Territory needed credit to purchase property from the federal land office, and local banks provided paper money to conduct business. John Marshall in 1816 established the first bank of the Illinois Territory. His Bank of Illinois at Shawneetown, one of four privately owned banks chartered by the Illinois territorial legislature in 1816, was for a time located in Marshall's home. Although the bank collapsed in a financial panic that swept Illinois in the early 1820s, its charter was retained, and the Bank of Illinois reopened in 1834.

Illinois entered a period of prosperity in the mid-1830s filled with schemes for internal improvements, including roads, canals, and railroads. Those projects would be financed through an expanded banking system that would provide easy credit and paper money. To capitalize on this boom, the Bank of Illinois at Shawneetown in 1838 chartered branches in Jacksonville, Alton, Lawrenceville, and Pekin. The bank's directors even contemplated opening a branch as far north as Galena.

Confident of the area's future, the bank's board of directors planned a new bank building. On August 3, 1839, trustees of the Bank of Illinois laid the cornerstone of the four-story Greek Revival stone and masonry structure that would open for business in 1841. The bank's style-Greek Revival-a popular one for banks of the period, was believed to express the American ideals of liberty and freedom. Its style gave the impression of solidity, dignity, and strength, an important consideration since banks were viewed by many with great distrust.

The bank's features were sculpted in stone. Massive Doric columns sculpted of gigantic stone sections taller than a man rose from a sandstone foundation. The five-columned portico was highly unusual for Greek Revival buildings, which usually have an even number of columns. The unknown architect or builder may have employed the odd number of columns to disguise the aesthetic problems created the two front entrances. More than ten feet of carved cornice stone was placed atop the south wall. A metal gabled roof capped the structure.

A long flight of stone steps led to the bank's portico and second-floor lobby. Tall wood-clad steel doors studded with iron bolts opened to the banking space. A steel vault where notes and specie were kept was concealed behind twelve-foot-high doors. The lobby's elegant appointments included molded plaster rosettes that served as anchors for the chandeliers. A hall next to the lobby had its own front door, and a large spiral staircase led to a large office up above, presumably for the bank's board of directors. Behind the lobby were offices and a back stair that four floors of the building. Living quarters were contained on the third floor, though the fourth floor apparently was never finished. connected all.


Soon after the new building opened, another financial depression set in, causing the Bank of Illinois at Shawneetown to suspend operations in 1842. The building stood empty for a decade until the State Bank of Illinois opened there in 1854. A number of banking concerns occupied the building until 1942, when the state purchased it. By that time, Shawneetown had fallen on hard times. Even before the Civil War, railroads and canals had cut into the river traffic upon which the town depended. After the Civil War, the population gradually declined. Nature also tolled on Shawneetown. Situated on the Ohio River flood plain, the town seasonally took high water. Periodically, however, the Ohio would be supplemented by high water from its tributaries, causing great damage to Shawneetown. In 1937 a great flood hit Shawneetown and southeastern Illinois, forcing an evacuation of the town. Much of the town was destroyed, and the federal government decided to relocate what was left of Shawneetown. Through the Works Progress Administration, the town was moved to higher ground three miles west. The new site became Shawneetown, while the old village became Old Shawneetown.


Although the bank was the focus of some early restoration efforts, it wasn't until the 1970s that restoration began in earnest. Exterior walls and stairs were rebuilt, the roof restored to its early appearance, and new mechanical systems installed. Restoration continues, with much interior work remaining.

Located in Old Shawneetown just west of the bank of the Ohio River. Take Highway 13 into Old Shawneetown, the bank is just north of the highway. (Open ONLY on request and for special events)

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