If Buildings Could Talk
Today when one approaches the old native limestone bank building in downtown Portis one gets an immediate sense of history. Very little had changed throughout the years by the time of its final closing in 1979. Those who had business in the bank at one time or another can remember the 1924 calendar hanging on the wall and the ticking of the grandfather clock. The backroom was a storeroom and office with a bathroom added on. The teller windows and bank vault were both original and the first heating system was still in use.
Before the stone building was built the Portis Bank opened in 1885 in a wooden store building at the same site. In November 1886 the bank became a State Bank and was distinctly a home institution because not a share of stock was owned by a non-resident of Portis.
The stone bank building was built in 1887. On June 2, 1887 the Osborne County Farmer (OCF) stated that the old skating rink was being torn down and its flooring was being placed in the new bank building. The OCF issued on June 23, noted that the outside work of the new building was finished and the decorators were completing the interior.
Around 1890 the bank failed and in May 1893 the building was sold to the German American Bank of St. Joseph, Missouri. In May 1904 J. W. Burrows bought the bank and then sold it to the First State Bank Corporation. Joseph Thomas took over the management and continued in that position until his death. His son, Carl Thomas, managed the business until the bank was sold in 1979 and moved out of town.
If buildings could talk, the First State Bank of Portis could tell many interesting and exciting stories. Foremost of these are the five burglaries and robberies attempted over the years. The first was June 1889 when an attempt to blow open the safe failed. In October 1921 the vault was entered and deposit boxes looted. The loss was estimated from $30,000 to $60,000.
A bold daytime robbery occurred shortly after noon, July 2, 1942. Joseph Thomas was pushed into the vault, but he had an emergency escape plan and quickly exited. Grabbing a gun he chased the burglars firing several shots at the fleeing car, injuring one of them. A posse later found the bandits' car abandoned in a granary at the Turner farm west of town.
An early morning attempted burglary was thwarted on September 21, 1966, when the torch being used on the heavy vault door tripped off the alarm.
Another robbery attempt in the 1970s occurred during the daytime when Faye Thomas was alone in the bank. She also was shut in the vault and the robbers fled. Seeing their flight the men at the Co-op service station ran to the bank, released Mrs. Thomas, and turned in the alarm. The burglars were then captured in a few hours.
The information for this story came from writings by Nellie McDaneld and newspaper articles from the Osborne County Farmer and Portis Independent newspapers.