ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Merchant’s Bank

Merchant’s National Bank

Bank One

Former site of Exchange Hotel



1916 note: Built by Ferdinand Behlke, General Contractor  



This building is the location of the Merchants National Bank. The Merchants Bank was founded in 1892 with Joseph Terbrueggen as its first president. The building here was built for the bank and in 1905 the bank reportedly became the first in the community to establish a savings department. In 1905, as well, an annex at the rear of the building was built and the facility was enlarged and remodeled in 1937. The Merchants National Bank still operates today at new quarters in the downtown. It is part of the Marine chain of banks in Wisconsin.


This building has some historical interest as the home of one of the "big three" banks in Watertown, the Merchants National Bank. The building could be individually significant for the development of commercial financial institutions in the community.


Originally two 1890s buildings, both featuring towers on the facade, the historic Merchants National Bank (100 east Main) and the Clara Weiss Millinery Store (102 East Main). A concrete block and screen wall unites the front building to a cream brick two-story building located at the rear of the bank building, now the west section of the present structure. The east section, the former millinery shop, has a one-story addition at the rear.



___ 1855 __________________


           (not same as Merchants National Bank)

Last Monday, Messrs Nehrig & Frentz, visited the city for the purpose of making arrangements for starting a new moneyed institution here, to be known as the “Merchants’ Bank.”  We learn that for the present, the bank will transact business in the rooms previously occupied by the "Bank of Watertown."  Mr. Nehrig is now president of "Dodge County Bank," located at Beaver Dam, and will remain at that village in charge of that institution.  Mr. Frentz will come here and assume the management of the new bank soon to be put in operation.  Both these gentlemen are known as shrewd and careful businessmen, and we have every reason to believe their course here will give general satisfaction . . .   WD


Merchants National Bank  /  WHS_001_PC_084


___ 1892 __________________


In 1892 Joseph Terbrueggen was one of the incorporators the Merchants National Bank and was its first president, and at the time of his death was chairman of the board of directors of the bank.


Daniel H. Kusel was one of the founders of the Merchants National Bank, and was its first cashier, and at the time of his death was vice president of that bank. 


06 24       STONE FOR NEW BANK

That beautiful cut stone in the new bank building is from the celebrated quarry at Lemont, Ills, and was dressed and placed in position by Albert Krueger.  It is a neat piece of work and shows off to great advantsge, reflecting much credit to Mr. Krueger's skill.   WG


___ 1898 __________________

                MAX ROHR, SR. JOINS BANK

Mr. Rohr (1875 – 1952) was associated with the Merchants National bank since 1898.  In 1930 he became president, following the death of Charles E. Frey.  He held that office until his retirement on July 26, 1951.  He retained the position of chairman of the board and one of the vice presidencies.  He was reelected to both positions at the last annual meeting of the bank held Jan. 8.


Under his presidency the bank acquired a building east of the original location and the institution was greatly enlarged and improved.


On June 12, 1901 he married Miss Jennie Sproesser.  She survives, as do a son, Max Rohr, Jr.


Mr. Rohr was a member of the Fifty Year club of the Wisconsin Bankers association and was honored in Milwaukee with a membership some years ago.


Mr. Rohr was a warm, personal friend of a great many people in the community where he had long enjoyed the high regard, confidence and goodwill of his fellow townsmen.  His life was such that he had proven himself worthy of such respect.  As a banker and adviser he had few equals here.


Friend of Davies


He was a close friend of Joseph E. Davies, Watertown-born former ambassador to Russia and when Mr. Davies and his daughter, Mrs. Burdette W. Fitch of Washington, D. C., visited Watertown last Nov. 18 they were guests at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Rohr.  The two men had begun their friendship during their school days and it had lasted throughout the years.  They had kept up a correspondence for many years and Mr. Rohr had at various times handled local financial business for Mr. Davies.


At the time of his November visit Mr. Davies announced plans for a high school scholarship at the University of Wisconsin and had chosen Mr. Rohr as one of the men who were to administer it.  The other two are Attorney William H. Woodard and John D. Clifford.  Roger Holtz, superintendent of schools, also is to work with the committee m the matter.


Was Music Lover


Mr. Rohr was for many years a member of the old Elks quartette which ranked as one of the finest male singing groups ever organized here.  Other members were William Sproesser, Edward L. Schempf and Dr. O. E. Meyer.  The quartette sang at all Elks initiations and for many special ceremonies.  The voices of the four men who were warm personal friends blended beautifully.  Mr. Rohr had also belonged to the Watertown Male chorus which for many years was directed by William Sproesser.  Mr. Rohr always took a great interest in music and was at all times ready to promote and encourage good music in the community.


Helped Develop Bank


Thoroughness characterized Mr. Rohr’s life.  He was thorough in everything he did and he played a large part in developing the Merchants National bank into one of the foremost financial institutions in this area.


He was always happiest when he was active and though he delegated more and more of his responsibilities to others in the bank, he enjoyed being there and having a part in its operation and meeting the patrons and friends and associates who dropped in.  No matter how busy he was he was always glad to spare a few moments for friends and one could get ready access to him at any time.  In the life of the community there have been few men as warm hearted as Mr. Rohr and he will be missed by his associates and by all who knew him.


Cross Reference:

   Buried in Oak Hill cemetery  


___ c.1900 __________________




___ 1902 __________________


At a cost of $375 a mechanical device is placed in the Merchants' Bank that accomplishes wonders in the way of adding figures.  It registers, prints and adds figures from 1 cent to $9,999,999.99.  It does perfect work in adding being always accurate, and saves much mental work for the bank employees.  It is a wonderful little machine, and well worth the inspection of any one.   WG


___ 1904 __________________

07 08       BANKING QUARTERS REMODELED / New Furniture

The business of the Merchants’ bank for several weeks past has been done in the rear part of the bank building while the regular banking quarters in the front part of the building were being remodeled and fitted out with new furniture.  The improvements are now complete, however, and business is being carried on in the newly arranged quarters.  The banking house furniture is very fine, and it is arranged in a manner that conduces to the convenience of both patrons and the bank officers and employees.  The safety deposit box department is very convenient to those who hold boxes at the bank and will prove very popular.  The bank building has a tile floor, an ornamental metal ceiling, and the sidewalls are covered with green-colored burlap, the effect produced being very pretty.  The president’s and board of directors’ rooms are very conveniently arranged and neatly furnished.  The Merchants’ bank is now one of the best-equipped in the state, and it is a credit to the business interests of Watertown.  The enterprise shown in the new order of things at this popular banking institution, certainly deserves commendation.       WG


___ 1905 __________________


Our savings pass books are becoming very popular.  We issue these books for deposits as low as a dollar and up to $1000.  Interest begins on the first of the month following date of deposit, but when a deposit is made during the first five days of any month, interest begins on the first of that same month.  We credit and compound interest twice a year, on June first and December first, on all sums of one dollar and over that have been on deposit for one month or more immediately preceding.  If the depositor can not call on these dates, his interest will be attended to just the same as though he were present.  Start your account now.  Merchants Bank.


05 10       BURGLAR ALARM

The Merchants Bank is about to install a system of burglar alarms which is by far the most modern and perfect of its kind that has as yet been invented.


The bank vault is to be lined completely with a double steel lining which covers every inch of the vault - floor, walls, ceilings, vestibule and doors. Inside of the vault is an electric cabinet connected containing the storage batteries, switches, timers, etc., that control the system automatically.


On the First Street side of the bank building will be placed a large electrical gong enclosed in a double walled steel housing.  Also over the vault doors in the banking room there are to be two more large gongs covered over by heavy steel shields. Inside the vault are still others.


Should burglars so much as touch the combination on the vault door, attempt to drill through the vault door or the vault at any point it would instantly set the entire system of gongs to ringing.  When they once begin to ring it is impossible to stop them except from the inside of the vault.  There are no wires whatever outside the vault that a burglar could get at. 


Another very important feature is an arrangement whereby it makes it impossible for bank employees to forget to lock the vault doors at night. At nine o'clock every evening the system [secured]. If no attention is paid to the warning, then at nine o'clock the whole system of alarms begin to ring and will continue to ring until the vault is locked. After nine o'clock it is as impossible for the bankers themselves to enter the vault as it is for the burglars to do so.



Friday work was begun in clearing the ground at the rear of the Merchants Bank for the new apartment building which is to be erected.  It will face on First street, be two stories in height and modern in every particular.     WR


___ 1909 __________________


At the regular monthly meeting of the directors of the Merchants National Bank held Thursday of last week the following officers were chosen for the current year:


President—W. D. Sproesser


Vice President—Joseph Terbrueggen


Vice President—D. H. Kusel


Cashier—Charles E. Frey


Assistant Cashier—Max Rohr


Judges of election—John G. Conway, U. Habhegger, Fred Kusel


Examining Committee—John Habhegger, W. A. Beurhaus, F. Schmutzler, Fred Kusel, L. H. Cordes.     WG


___ 1910 __________________


The reports of the Bank of Watertown and Merchants' National Bank of Watertown show that in capital, surplus and deposits those two banks have now passed the million dollar mark, which speaks well for the business interests of Watertown.  The Wisconsin National Bank's deposits, capital and surplus are over $610,000, and judging from its last report, that old and popular banking institution is also on a solid financial basis.   WG


___ 1911 __________________


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09 14       IMPROVEMENTS

Several improvements are being made in the interior arrangement of the Merchants National Bank to accommodate its increasing business.  The vault has been greatly enlarged and the time lock safe is now located in the interior of the vault.  The latter is connected with the counting room by a new steel double combination door, weighing four tons.  A room in the rear of the vault, with a street entrance, is now at the service of the bank patrons who have boxes at the bank.  Into this room they may take their safety deposit boxes and look over their papers at their pleasure.  Several other changes are being made which will add to the convenience and safety of the banks’ business.   WG


___ c.1910 __________________


Night view  PC_050


___ 1915 __________________




___ c.1918 __________________




___ 1919 __________________



“Tomorrow – the only thing in the world that never arrives”


___ 1929 __________________


$5 Bank Note

$10 Bank Note  


___ 1944 __________________


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___ 1957 __________________


---             DIRECTORS  


06 26       ARTHUR A. ULLRICH, a teller at the Merchants National Bank, has retired.  He completed his long service with the bank with the close of business last Friday night.  His home is at 134 Corner Street.  Mr. Ullrich has been with the bank since July 2, 1906, and would be completing an even 51 years of service with the institution tomorrow.  Last year, on his 50th anniversary, bank officials and the staff tendered him a testimonial party at the home of the bank president, Col. J. W. Sproesser.  Mr. Ullrich joined the bank shortly after graduating from the Watertown High School and remained there throughout his banking career.    WDT


___ 1958 __________________

01 17       J. W. SPROESSER

Col. J. W. Sproesser who has been serving as president of the Merchants National Bank last night was elected chairman of the board and is being replaced as president by Arthur W. Hilgendorf who has been a vice president.  Mr. Hilgendorf was elected to the presidency by the board of directors following the annual meeting of the bank’s stockholders.  Dr. L. H. Nowack and H.A. Beurhaus were elected vice presidents, C. A. Wallman was elected cashier and S. C. Northrop was elected assistant cashier.    WDT


___ 1960 __________________


The Merchants National Bank last night held its annual election of officers.  There were no changes in either the officers or board of directors.  Officers re-elected are: A. W. Hilgendorf, president; Dr. L. H. Nowack and H. A. Beurhaus, vice presidents; C. A. Wallman, cashier.  The board of directors re-elected consists of: H. A. Beurhaus, Attorney H. M. Dakin, A. W. Hilgendorf, S. C. Northrop, Dr. L. H. Nowack, Dr. O. H. Moen and C. A. Wallman.            WDT



The directors of the Merchants National Bank of Watertown announced that they have purchased suitable premises to enlarge their banking facilities to better serve their customers.  Today's pattern of steadily rising costs and overcrowded lobbies make it imperative that a drive-in window will expedite transactions and encourage maximum use of the window during banking hours.  A building engineer has been retained to draft and prepare plans to improve these premises for drive-in banking services and additional space for other banking needs.


___ 1961 __________________


City Attorney James A. Fitzpatrick who has been conferring with architects and representatives of the Merchants National Bank relative to plans for the bank's expansion by utilizing the property to the north of the banks' present building at Main and North First Streets, expects to make a report to members of the city council shortly regarding the expansion project.  Last year the bank purchased the Minning property which houses the Minning Liquor Co. business in North First Street.  This property includes the area which runs to the Elks Club building, including the three-car garage on the premises.  The Minning Liquor Co. is to move to a new building and is to vacate its present quarters by July 1 when the bank expects to begin the remodeling improvements and expansion program.  WDT



       Minning Liquor Store demolition



         Mining Liquor demolition


07 14 1961:  BANK EXPANSION UNDERWAY — The Merchants National Bank, corner of North First and Main Streets, in downtown Watertown, is getting a new look and it is also being expanded to include a drive-in banking service.  The top picture is an architect’s sketch of the transformation which is underway, with the Maas Bros. Construction Co. of Watertown, in charge of the general contract.  The bottom picture shows the drive-in unit, with a part of the Elks Club building at the extreme left.  The alleyway, which now leads from North First to North Second Streets is a public alley and will be maintained.  There will be a tunnelway under the alley.  The former Minning Liquor Co. building in North First Street, which the bank acquired last year, is being demolished and that area will be occupied by the new drive-in unit.  The lower portion of the bank will include lannon stone and vertical panels will be of colored ceramic tile.  The upper portion, beginning ten feet above the sidewalk to the top, will be a solar screen, projecting about 18 inches away from the building, with louver arrangement and will permit viewing from the inside but not from the outside.  From the outside it will appear to be solid construction.  The project is expected to be completed about Nov. 15. Architects are Reddemann and Domann, Elm Grove, Wis.     WDTimes




___ 1962 __________________


Arthur A. Ullrich, 134 Corner Street, for many years a member of the Merchants National Bank staff, will be honored by Watertown Lodge on exalted rulers’ night which will be observed at the Elks Club on Feb. 14.  Mr. Ullrich has been a member of the Elks for 50 years, and during that time has held different offices in the lodge and has been active in the organization.   WDT





___ c.1965 __________________


100 E Main, City assessor form, WHS_006_009a

1962c, 100 E Main, City assessor image, WHS_006_009b


___ 1965 __________________

11 21       Changes in the staff of the Merchants National Bank were announced today, following a meeting of the board of directors Wednesday evening.  D. J. Priebusch, 304 South Montgomery Street, a member of the bank staff since 1958, has been named cashier, succeeding Robert Cutter whose recent resignation took effect on Nov. 1 when he moved to Cassville where he has accepted another banking position.  Also announced today was the fact that R. J. Hoge, 605 Labaree Street, has joined the bank staff and has been named vice president.  WDT


___ 1967 __________________




The Merchants National Bank at Main and North First Streets will observe its 75th anniversary next week, with open house during regular banking hours, Monday through Friday, Sept. 25 to 29. The bank opened for business on Oct. 1, 1892, so the actual anniversary date will fall on the Sunday following the open house period. The 75th anniversary will be an important milestone in the history of this banking institution which was organized in 1892.


Contributed:  The 75th anniversary was while I worked there.  We handed out ash trays and evergreen seedlings.


___ c.1968 __________________

                MAXWELL STREET DAY



___ 1969 __________________


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Members of Watertown Chapter of the FFA distributed samples of dairy products to customers of the Merchants National Bank.  Pure Milk Products Cooperative, Piper Bros. Dairy and the bank cooperated in sponsoring the project.  Serving a dairy treat to Fred Grimm is Gary Schmidt of route 5.  Looking on is Bruce Wahl of route 5.


___ 1972 __________________


     Marlene Stangler.  The “Thank You” Bank.


___ 1975 __________________







___ 1978 __________________



Watertown Radio Inc. (WTTN) has purchased Merchants National Bank building.  The announcement was made by Carl V. Kolata, general manager of the station


WTTN will move its studios and offices to the new location immediately after Merchants Bank relocates in its new location at Fifth and Main Streets.


The purchase of the present Merchants Bank building is the latest in a series of changes the local radio station is making to meet the needs and desires the listening audience in the Watertown area.  WTTN recently became an affiliate of the Mutual Broadcasting System and the Wisconsin Independent Network, bringing more in depth coverage of state, national and international news along with numerous feature programs.  Watertown Radio Inc. also became a member of the Radio Advertising Bureau, providing assistance to clients in advertising and cooperative coverage.


Remodeling of the first floor of the Merchants building to meet the needs of a broadcasting facility will begin shortly after the bank vacates the building.  The move of office, technical and transmitting equipment will be carried out over a period of days but daily programming of WTTN AM-FM will not be interrupted. The stations are not expected to be off the air during the move.


Kolata said the move will provide Watertown Radio Inc. with needed additional space for expanded programming and staff. He added the new location will give the station better visibility in the community and easier access to the public.


The marquis in front of the building will continue to be available for promotion of community events as well as local programs aired on WTTN.


Kolata also stated that in the near future, WTTN-FM, will go to stereo programming and offer separate programming from WTTN-AM.


The president and general manager of the station noted the operation has come a long way from the early 1950's when live bands performed regularly from WTTN's large studio on the third floor of Wisconsin National Bank and both an engineer and announcer handled the programming schedule.  Today, the positions are combined with a separate engineering staff to handle major technical work.


Watertown Radio Inc. was formed in 1950 as an AM station. WTTN-FM went on the air in 1960. Studios and offices of WTTN have been located on the third floor of the Wisconsin National Building since it began operations.


Office space in the building will continue to be available in the building for small concerns and private individuals.


The Watertown Chamber of Commerce will move to the new Merchants Bank facility.


___ 1992 __________________

10 13       100th ANNIVERSARY

Bank One of Watertown will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding with an open house on Thursday and Friday.  Lobby hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday.  Although the bank has had several name changes over the last century, its roots go back to Oct. 1, 1892, when Merchants Bank was founded at 100 E. Main St. under a state charter.  First president was Joseph Terbrueggen and the bank had 32 original stockholders.  By Dec. 2, 1899, the bank grew to $412,257 in total resources. Merchants Bank was a pioneer of savings banks in Watertown, opening up the first savings department in 1905.  That same year, an addition to the rear of the building was constructed to provide much needed space.


___ 1993 __________________


The owner of Watertown’s radio station says he hopes to restore the former Merchants Bank to its original appearance.  Renovation has been temporarily halted to the building at First and Main that currently houses WTTN-AM, but owner Chuck Mills says repairs will begin again once warmer temperatures return to the area.  Mills said he’d like to see the building restored to its Victorian look prior to 1961, about the time Merchants Bank changed the appearance of the building by adding yellow reflective panels and a stone look over the bricks of the original building.  Mills said the bricks in the building are in poor disrepair, partially due to the renovation done by Merchants, and total restoration could be difficult.


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Cross References:



       Uncertain date.  Watertown Historical Society Collection


Merchants Bank

Ferdinand Schmutzler, organizer, director

Merchants Bank

Omar Gaston, organizer and pres

Merchant's Bank

1975, 100 E Main, rear of bldg, drive-through, WHS_005_283



Cross References:

Louis Cordes was a director for 20 years.

John Schempf, bank founder and director.

William Sproesser assumed management in 1894

Omar Gaston, architectural engineer, former organizer and president of the Merchants National Bank.

                Death of Richard Hoge, 1983




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin