A great little piece of advertising history: House-shaped coin bank form People’s State Bank, Indianapolis. The back says, “Prompt attention will be given mortgage applications.” The front says, “The Peoples State Bank Felix T. McWhirter, founder — Indianapolis, Indiana.” (Item sold recently on eBay.)
Do You Remember Peoples Bank?
The oldest state bank in Indianapolis, Peoples Bank & Trust Company, was founded by a professor, businessman, and politician. They just happened to be the same man.
Felix Tony McWhirter was born in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in 1853. McWhirter was a man of wide-ranging talents and ambitions. While attending East Tennessee Wesleyan University, he met Luella Frances Smith, daughter of a Hoosier pioneer family. They were married in Greencastle, Indiana, in 1878. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to Indianapolis where McWhirter operated a pharmacy at the Bates House.
From 1884-1888, the couple resided again in Greencastle, where Felix taught rhetoric and English at DePauw University, eventually earning a Ph.D. Then for three years, he owned and operated a newspaper in Chattanooga, Tennessee before returning to Indy to pursue a career in real estate.
As a natural extension of his real estate business, McWhirter began to provide banking services for his clients who were awaiting real estate transactions. In 1900, McWhirter and four others (including his own wife) obtained a state charter for the Peoples Deposit Bank. Luella served on the bank’s board of directors — a first for women in Indiana. The bank was located in the Union Trust Building at 122 East Market Street.
Gregarious and driven, McWhirter would reportedly bicycle downtown to work and, when spotting someone new to the city, would extend a welcome, then solicit accounts for the bank. By 1902, the bank had amassed deposits over $91,000.
McWhirter swiftly became a community business and political leader, active in the Prohibition party. He was nominated for both mayor (1894) and governor (1904), though he was not elected. Luella McWhirter also attained local prominence, serving in the Women’s Club and Suffrage movements and as president of the Indiana chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
By 1905, the bank had outgrown its first premises and operations were moved down the block to the Law Building at 130 E. Market Street which, due to renumbering, is now 136 E. Market Street. In 1906 the name of the bank was changed to Peoples State Bank.
After Felix T. McWhirter’s death in 1915, his son, Felix Marcus, succeeded him as president. Felix M. was president of the bank for forty-four years and served another twelve as chairman of the board. Thankfully, the younger McWhirter followed his father’s conservative banking philosophy which provided the stability that helped Peoples Bank survive the Great Depression intact. The people of Indianapolis benefited greatly; during the Depression years, McWhirter chose to renegotiate the loans of distressed customers rather than foreclose.
Under Felix M. McWhirter, Peoples Bank:
– was one of the first banks to open after the bank holiday declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
– opened a trust department and in 1931 began operating a drive-up window.
– established the first FHA loan in Indiana in 1938.
– developed the Hopalong Cassidy Savings Club for children in the 1950s. Young club members could, with a deposit of $2.00, receive various premiums and incentives including a bank (perhaps our eBay bank?), tenderfoot badge, secret code, and welcoming letter from Hopalong.
– was renamed Peoples Bank & Trust Company in 1954.
The McWhirter family maintained a controlling interest in the bank throughout its history. Upon Felix M’s retirement in 1959, his son, Felix Tony McWhirter II, named for his grandfather, became president. Felix T’s son, William E. McWhirter served as president from 1984 until Peoples was acquired by Fifth Third Bank in 1999.
Tell us: Did any of your family members work at Peoples Bank? Were you a member of the Hopalong Club? We’d love to hear your stories.
Enjoyed this article. I worked in the marketing department for 4 years during Mac’s (William) presidency a d during their centennial celebration. The McWhirters were very fine people. I thought very highly of Mac and Felix. Loved my job there and often tell people it was a great place to work.
My parents and I never used any other bank while living in Indianapolis. I’m not sure, but were
they one of the first to install ATM machines back in the 70’s?
If you would like a little insight as to why the McWhirter-Peoples Bank of years past were the antithesis of the stereotypical greedy bankers who dominated the bigger banks of the post WW 2 era, here is a true story…..as told and retold by a returning Purple Heart veteran (Cortland W. Shea, wounded on his 2nd bombing mission with 8th AF over Germany, later a called up reservist in the Viet Nam conflict. Like so many of his generation, Cort was an IU freshman enrolled in the Flying Cadets abruptly sent overseas long before he would be able to establish credit ratings and the like. Like so many of what we now revere as the Greatest Generation, he came back to a community dominated by the Ingratist Generation dominating the local banking, retailing community–with one notable exception.
Back story here is that post D-Day, the men who had gone to service had left behind everything but t;here lives–automobiles, apartments, civilian clothes–and there was a shortage of everything (except shortages and of those there were many-cigarets,nylons,bread,sugar,meat, gasoline, and the money to get any of these on the limited post=military incomes. To buy a car, there was a long wait list, black market hanky panky and a fairly universal requirement that to be able to buy a car you needed to have a “trade-in.” Who among the returning overseas vets had had a trade-in? Cort didn’t. Additionally, the local banks were requiring established credit rating, employment history etc. He didn’t have that either–from campus to conflict to recovery wards didn’t provide credit history.
Unlike so many, he did have family resources, he did find a car to buy minus trade-in–but his application for financing at the “big” banks was a series of frustrations and the time was ticking for him with a long waiting list for that car–until he went to back off the main street Peoples Bank where the “clerk” serving him noted the uniform, the Purple Heart–Mr, McWhirter himself. As many times as the story was re-told over the next 50 years when he was a loyal Peoples customer, I don’t recall all the details except that Peoples-its owner was the ONLY bank who would finance, at a reasonable rate, that first Ford.. And, from that start in l945 until his death in l994, he financed from Fords to Buicks to a string of Mercedes-Benz, always with Peoples Bank.
What a great family story and testament to Mr. McWhirter! Thank you for sharing it.
This family descends from Dr. Samuel Hogg McWhirter and his wife Nancy Caroline Tyree. The lived in Lynchburg , Moore county, Tn.
I realize this is an older thread but had to add this one:
My grandmother worked at People’s Deposit bank, 1903-1906, as a Deposit teller. She lived the job and thought the older Mr. McWhirter a true gentleman. But she was a quiet and proper young lady and thought young Mr. McWhirter was too much the flirt and somewhat immature and didn’t care for his forward ways.
Forward 75 years and my first full-time job was at the Thompson Road branch. One day “Old man McWhirter” (the same “young Mr. McWhirter” noted above!) was touring the branch (about 3 mos after I started there.). He stopped at my window and introduced himself and chatted – a friendly, kindly gentlemanly chat – and asked if my family had long been with the bank or was I the first? I told him about my grandmother having worked for his father.
He asked her name and when I told him, he said: “She was a Deposit clerk as I recall! One of our best and a lovely young lady. But she didn’t take to flirting much!” (With a grin!)
He also said that if his memory served him, she got engaged and left the bank. Oh, and did she ever get her piano? (Yes, she did. That’s why she took full time employment.)
He asked several questions about family and my life and seemed truly saddened that she had passed too soon and that I never knew her. He commented that i favored her (yes, very much do!)
Quite the sharp memory for a 99-year-old!!
And clearly, although still a bit flirtatious, he had turned into a gentleman like his father. It was quite the pleasure to meet the son, now the grandfather, who worked alongside my grandmother.