Coal Country Trip to Tower City|
June 05, 2013
This month, as spring encroaches upon those of us in the Mid-Atlantic states, let’s take a nice leisurely drive into Pennsylvania’s coal country, and visit picturesque Tower City, whose wonderful old bank still stands as a monument to days gone by.
Interstate 83 North from Baltimore ends just north of Harrisburg at Interstate 81, which winds its way northwest through the old coal country of Pennsylvania’s Appalachian and Pocono Mountains toward Scranton. I have made this trip many times, and each time a different exit ramp invites me to veer off the highway and explore the scenic byways and small towns of this region. Such was the case with Tower City.
Tower City, Pa., is situated at the edge of Schuylkill County, about seven miles west of the interstate. When I exited the interstate and headed up U.S. Route 209 toward the town I expected to find some historic tower, but I soon learned that the town was not named for a tower, but for a man named Tower.
Tower City was founded by and named for Charlemagne Tower, a New York-born lawyer who had come to Schuylkill County, Pa., in 1846 to work with the legal issues regarding land claims to large coal and mineral deposits in that area. His first Pennsylvania practice was located in Orwigsburg, and then relocated to Pottsville in 1850 when it was made the Schuylkill County seat.
Not long after Tower came to Pottsville, he began furiously purchasing and clearing liens to lands containing large anthracite deposits in and around Schuylkill County. This was part of an elaborate land grab scheme devised by Tower and his partner, Alfred Munson of Utica, N.Y.
The plan called for Tower to use his legal acumen to clear all the liens and opposing claims to the 8,000-acre Munson-Williams claim, and to all the land around it. In short, the partners hoped to create a single landed estate, which would have measured 65 miles by 4.5 miles at its widest point. In return, Tower was to receive ownership and title to one half of all the land acquired once all the cost to Munson had been settled.
In 1867, Tower decided instead to establish collieries on the land; in March 1868 he leased 1,503 acres to two independent coal companies. The companies placed two collieries on the land, the Tower and the Brookside. Near the collieries, Tower began to develop a small town, which was named Tower City when first surveyed. Tower laid out the town, and rented lots to settlers. The town was up and running by mid-1872, and immediately suffered a housing shortage. After these initial growing pains, the town grew steadily due to the collieries, and was officially incorporated on Dec. 19, 1892.
Tower City’s emerging coal industry was initially serviced by the Good Spring Railroad. The Good Spring was initially controlled by the Reading Railroad, but transferred to the property of the Swatara Railroad in 1863. The Good Spring was then consolidated along with several other area railroads to form the Lebanon and Tremont Railroad in March 1871, and was reacquired by and merged into the Reading about a month later.
The success and growth of the town led to the creation of the Tower City National Bank, which received charter 6117 in mid-1902, a typical Gold Standard Act bank with an original capitalization of $25,000. The bank issued all varieties of Series of 1902 large notes and Series of 1929 small notes in the $10 and $20 denominations, for a total circulation of just over $800,000.
Closed by the receiver on April 20, 1934, as a result of local depression, the bank was immediately succeeded by the Tower City National Bank in Tower City, charter 14031, which issued Type 2 $20 notes for about one year until the circulation privilege ended. Currently, three large and around two dozen small notes are known from charter 6117; there are 16 notes known on charter 14031, including notes from the serial No. 1 sheet, which was cut several years ago.
About a year or so ago, Pennsylvania currency dealer Allan Teal, knowing of my interest in original bank photos, sold me an original 8 by 10 photo of a delightful national bank, its windows and entrance draped in July 4th patriotic bunting, circa 1910. Unfortunately, the bunting covered up the name of the bank, and the photo did not identify the town. Based on the hills rising in the background, and his knowledge of the origin of the photo, Allan told me he was sure it was a town along the route to Scranton.
About six months later, while perusing eBay for old photos of national banks to add to my archive, I clicked on a listing for a Tower City bank card and was amazed to find a view of the same bank, sans bunting. The mystery had been solved, and my original photo was of the Tower City National Bank. Now, I just had to make the visit and see what had become of the old building.
I recently had the opportunity to seek out Tower City; not knowing what to expect, I slowly cruised down Main Street, no doubt annoying the pickup driver behind me. Passing several business blocks, I did not see any building that resembled my vintage photo. I continued down the street, concerned at this point that the bank had been demolished.
Soon, to my amazement, I spotted the bank on the right side at the corner of Main and 9th streets. I was stunned; the building was virtually identical to my 1910 photo. It may well be the least disturbed national bank building I have encountered in all my small town visits. I pulled over and examined the building. It was still a bank, now the local branch of Mid Penn Bank. The entrance was flanked by two Doric columns; the Greek revival pediment still bore the words TOWER CITY NATIONAL BANK, and a crest above had the date “1902.” Just above the doorway was a magnificent stained glass half moon window, above which sat the obsolete burglar alarm box.
Armed with my vintage photo, I went across the street and set up my camera so as to take a photo from the exact vantage point from which the 1910 photo was taken. You can see for yourselves how the bank is virtually unchanged; even the adjacent building is the same, with just the wooden siding replaced with aluminum. A small drive-through annex has been added to the back of the bank, but the original chimney, as seen in the 1910 photo is still there. In addition, I was amused to find the word “BANK” in bronze letters implanted into the cement sidewalk in front of the building, easily dating from the early teens. Perhaps this was useful for those who kept their heads down in a blinding rainstorm? I have included various photos of this delightful building—then and now.
Now, I really wanted to add a large-size Tower City to my collection. This was going to be no easy task, as only three large notes were known and the county was very heavily collected by persons unlikely to sell their notes. Well, no sooner had I visited Tower City and taken all my photos, I attended a local coin show and one of the dealers called me over and offered me a small pile of nationals he had just acquired. It consisted of just a half dozen notes, but sure enough, in the usual stroke of pure serendipity, the pile included a coveted large size Tower City note! I have included a photo of that note, with its lovely two color pen signatures of A.D. Lewis, cashier, and C.M. Kaufman, president.
Thanks to all my readers who email me with comments and appreciation. Knowing that you enjoy and look forward to this column each month makes it all the more enjoyable for me to write.
Readers may address questions or comments about this article or National Bank Notes in general to Mark Hotz directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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