In days gone by, banking was local | Wally's World

So now, if you please, a little local Banking History 101.

Open your books to the late 1880s, when Enumclaw didn’t even exist. There were no roads, stores, churches, lumber mills or any other signs of community and only a handful of hardy, widely-separated families who were scattered about a heavily-timbered region on land they’d claimed under the Homestead Act.

Across the Green River in the Black Diamond area, a number of coal-mining hamlets were connected to Seattle by the Northern Pacific Railroad. Across the other river, workers in a stone quarry had founded the town of Wilkeson, which the railroad had linked to Tacoma. (Interestingly, at the time Wilkeson was larger than Tacoma.)

Then, for whatever reason, Northern Pacific started laying track through the forest between the rivers. Perhaps some prophetic railroad execs foresaw the region’s timber potential and knew trains would be used to haul the product. Or perhaps they simply wanted to connect the Black Diamond and Wilkeson lines, if the rivers could be spanned. At any rate, Northern Pacific built a switchyard near the area that would someday become downtown Enumclaw.

Within a block or two of the yard, Joseph Fell opened a saloon, approximately where KeyBank sits today. (It warms my soul to realize this tavern was apparently our town’s first business.) Then, in 1880, Sam Lafromboise arrived on the scene. Sam was a hard-working, hard-drinking, rather boisterous, smart, innovative, son of a gun with a good business head. He bought Fell’s gin mill.

With the opening of White River Lumber Company in 1987, our population really started to grow. Soon there was a hardware store, general store, Catholic Church and some additional saloons, surrounded by several dairy farms, but there wasn’t a bank. However, there was a safe in Sam’s tavern. For a minimal fee-  if it was ever collected – Sam would store valuables for his customers. Such were the humble beginnings of Enumclaw’s first bank.

In 1904, Sam and five other entrepreneurs pooled their resources, a grand total of $10,000, and opened State Bank of Enumclaw in the town’s first brick building. (Today, it’s The Kitchen restaurant and the old, original iron safe is still there.) In 1910, B.R. Kibler and some associates established People’s Bank where Almost Necessities is located today. Both institutions were nationalized in 1922. The former became First National Bank of Enumclaw. The other became Enumclaw National Bank and the building still bears this title in red letters across the Cole Street facade.

Sometime in the 1920s, the First National moved into the brick building currently occupied by Europa at Cole and Griffin. In 1932, during the third year of the Depression, the Kibler bank went broke and the First National assumed its assets and liabilities.   Cash, bonds and financial records were moved kitty-corner across the street under the stern oversight of local sheriff Tom Smith.

In 1942, the First National moved to a new location across Griffin Street. (This site is currently vacant and still bears the First National title imbedded on its Cole Street entrance.) Then, if I’m not mistaken, around 1970, Rufus Smith, chairman of the board, approved the design and construction of a new building at 1212 Cole St. (currently Key Bank).

Throughout this history, the bank execs had always been longtime residents of the area with first-name ties to the people and their needs. Probably more than any other institution, the First National was responsible for much of the growth and prosperity of Enumclaw and many other local, Plateau communities.

This ended around 1990, when the First National was sold to outside interests. From time to time, there were other local banks staffed with local people, like Cascade and Mount Rainier, but eventually they also were sold and in their place a host of new banks came to town – Bank of America, Chase and Columbia, for example. Of course, these outside interests have served our community quite well. But, friendly and helpful as they’ve been, when push comes to shove and things are reduced to the bottom line, the execs in New York City really don’t give a damn about you or Enumclaw.

No matter how you slice it, something important has been lost here. You could always trust Sam Lafromboise and Rufus Smith, but can you trust the international banking cartel and the Wall Street bunch? (That’s not a serious question.)

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