The Jefferson County Savings Bank Building
The Jefferson County Savings Bank building, later known as the Jefferson County National Bank, the Watertown National Bank and the National Bank of Northern New York, was built in 1894 on the corner replacing the former two story structure built in 1822. The names (and buildings) have changed over the years on the Washington and Stone Street corner making its history a bit confusing at times.
The older Jefferson County Savings Bank on the corner of Washington and Stone Streets was replaced by the larger bank in 1894. The bank shown here was previously known as Wooster Sherman’s Bank. Photo: Watertown Daily Times.
In January of 1893, the Jefferson County Savings Bank would report a surplus of $150,000 and its trustees would look at the feasibility of “erecting a large and handsome structure for banking and office purposes during the coming season” according to the Watertown Daily Times. Several months later, the banks would survive a major run due to some unknown panic that stopped almost as abruptly as it began. The event made ripples throughout the North Country and caused a flurry in the streets of Gouverneur.
Nevertheless, the Jefferson County Savings Bank would move ahead with its plans. As reported in the Watertown Re-Union, April 18, 1894 edition–
New Bank Building
The Jefferson County Savings Bank, having bought the site upon which the Jefferson County National Bank is now located, will erect upon the corner a bank and office building.This matter was decided upon at a meeting of the trustees Saturday night, when they selected the third of three plans which were drawn by John W. Griffin, the architect, who has designed a number of the most attractive buildings in town.
The plan adopted calls for a bank building having a frontage of fifty-six feet on Washington Street and seventy on Stone Street. The foundation above the sidewalk, three and a half feet high will be of buff Ohio sandstone and will look very pretty. The walls of the building will be erected in pressed brick and terra cotta trimmings.
In May of the same year, the old building, built by Levi Beebee and later used as a store by Adriel Ely before becoming Wooster Sherman’s bank, would be torn down to make way for the new construction. Built in 1828, it would not become home to the Jefferson County Savings Bank until 1882.
On July 18th of 1894, the corner stone of the Jefferson County Savings Bank building was laid with a number of artifacts, including a map of the city, photographs, copies of newspapers… a plethora of historical treasures that comprised a time capsule for the Watertown of the future.
In 1923, the Jefferson County Savings Bank would relocate from the nearly 30-year old building into another new building, located next door between its old location and what is now the Jefferson County Historical Society. The former location would become home to the Jefferson County National Bank whose sign can be seen in one of the photos in the gallery.
Sometime between 1942 and 1943, Watertown National Bank would take the place of the Jefferson County National Bank which appeared to only list its office at its Mill and West Main branch at the time according to various advertisements in the Watertown Daily Times.
In the last five years of the building’s existence, the Watertown National Bank would merge with the Massena Banking and Trust Company in 1963 to form the National Bank of Northern New York. In 1968, the famous three-faced clock that graced the building for the last five decades was “retired” after it had problems operating. It was, in a sense, a “sign of the times” as the building’s days were numbered, too.
The following year, the grand old bank building would be razed and replaced with an equally attractive slab of concrete and steel to its counterpart on the north corner of Stone and Washington Streets. Much like the other fine architecture of its era, e.g. the State Office building, the bank buildings, together, look to have been built to stand the test of time, if not an outright nuclear holocaust. Their magnificent views overlooking Washington Street, particularly from Key Bank’s fourth floor, are surpassed only by the views of Court Street as seen from the inside the old Jefferson County jailhouse.