Gazette Article by: Jane Lord
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring 1998
The Village of Winnetka had no bank when M. K. Meyer acquired a safe for his general store in the late 1800s. After learning about the new safe, so many of Winnetka’s 1,000 residents prevailed upon Meyer to keep their important papers that he decided to establish a bank in a corner of the store.
Thus, with little fanfare, in 1894 the Bank of M. K. Meyer was born. Today the bank, now a branch of The First National Bank of Chicago, stands on the original site—the northwest corner of Green Bay Road and Elm Street. Three generations of the founder’s family headed the bank for its first 95 years; until it was sold in 1989, it was the village’s oldest, continuously run family business. Meyer’s grandson, Robert K. Humphrey, described local banking a century ago: “When the Bank of M. K. Meyer opened, it was the only bank on the North Shore between Evanston and Waukegan. Because that time was a cash society, banking was different than today, and personal checking accounts were rare.” The bank has undergone many changes throughout its 104-year history.
When Meyer’s banking business outgrew space in the general store, it moved to an adjoining building on Elm Street. The bank’s first telephone was installed in 1900 with “2” as its number. (Number “1” belonged to A. J. Vollman’s Meat Market.)
Fire destroyed both the store and bank on a December night in 1912. Hurrying to the scene, Meyer persuaded firemen to direct their hoses on the bank vault and successfully saved its contents. Afterwards, Meyer decided to concentrate mainly on banking, and a year later a new Bedford limestone bank building rose where the store had been. A 23-foot high ceiling distinguished the first floor. Meyer, who headed the bank for 43 years, was stationed at his desk on the first floor so that he could keep in touch with customers. After Meyer’s death in 1937, his son-in-law, Herbert K. Humphrey, a professor of electrical engineering at Rice University, returned to Winnetka to take over the business. He headed the bank for 30 years. His son, Robert K. Humphrey, continued the family tradition. He joined the bank in 1948 and became chairman in 1967.
In the 1960s the bank again needed to expand. The Humphreys used adjacent, family-owned property on Elm Street to provide additional space for a new building. The west side was constructed first, enabling bank operations to continue without interruption. The new building was completed in 1964. The bank’s name also went through changes. When a 1917 Illinois law required banks to incorporate, the Bank of M. K. Meyer became the Winnetka Trust and Savings Bank. In 1970 it was renamed The Winnetka Bank and assumed as its motto, “The Bank that Built Winnetka.” In 1989 the bank was sold to First Chicago Corporation, becoming First Chicago Bank of Winnetka. With a change in state banking laws, Winnetka’s oldest bank became one of First Chicago’s largest suburban branches in 1992.
The growth of the bank mirrors the growth of Winnetka. Humphrey family records show that at the end of its first year, 1895, deposits in the Bank of M. K. Meyer totaled $9,907.66. Today Winnetka’s First Chicago branch has deposits of more than $140 million.