Banking has always been integral to conducting business in a modern society. This was certainly true in early Laramie.
Probably even before the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad in May 1868, informal banking was taking place in the vicinity of what would become Laramie. Undoubtedly military personnel at Fort Sanders (near the present-day Cavalryman Restaurant) engaged in borrowing and lending of money. The fort’s civilian merchant, John Wanless, likely facilitated these transactions as was common practice in the West.
The first commercial banking, however, was conducted by J.A. Ware. He was a banker from Omaha and had a private bank in Cheyenne. Ware advertised in both the Cheyenne Leader and the Frontier Index (published in Laramie) that he had sent a man to Laramie in May 1868 to conduct banking in his name. Apparently Ware’s business was not profitable as his activity in Laramie was last noted in the Index in June.
The first permanent banking establishment in Laramie was owned by H. J. Rogers and John Donnellan. Rogers, like Ware, had a private bank in Cheyenne and decided to expand to Laramie. He partnered with Laramie resident Donnellan and built a stone walled bank on 2nd Street in 1869 that cost $10,000. The bank opened for business in the summer of that year. Rogers and Donnellan continued operations until late March 1871, when they sold the bank to Posey S. Wilson who had worked with Ware in Cheyenne. He paid $8,000 for the bank but sold it for the same price to Edward Ivinson in May, less than two months later. Apparently, Rogers and Wilson ran into financial difficulties with their interests in the new First National Bank of Cheyenne, forcing Wilson to sell; both left the state.
Ivinson, who already had a dry goods store in Laramie, fell into the banking business at the right time, getting a bargain on the bank. He ran it as a private bank for two years before he received a U.S. government charter to conduct business as the Wyoming National Bank of Laramie in 1873. With the approval of the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, he appointed his wife Jane as one of the bank’s directors in 1876. She was probably the first female west of the Mississippi to hold such a position.
Ivinson had no competition in Laramie until 1877, when Channing S. Dunbar and Henry Wagner opened a private bank in town. Their bank operated for less than six months; Wagner returned to full time operations of his Laramie dry goods store and Dunbar to his grocery store. Ironically, within the year, Dunbar would drown in Hutton Lake while duck hunting with Ivinson’s soon to be son-in-law, Galusha Grow.
It was not until 1881 that Ivinson would again face competition. In this case, Henry Balch, D.C. Bacon and the aforementioned Donnellan opened the Laramie National Bank less than a block from Ivinson’s bank. Ivinson was not fazed and held onto his interest in the Wyoming National until 1888. He sold out to Balch and Bacon, who left the Laramie National Bank. Both banks operated successfully until they combined assets in 1895 and formed the First National Bank of Laramie. A third bank had opened in Laramie in 1887. Laramie rancher Ora Haley was president of the Albany County National Bank (later renamed Albany National). It also eventually merged with First National Bank.
Thus, Laramie entered the 20th century with three banks for a population of about 8,000. Banks were open on Saturdays, a popular time for ranchers to come into town for provisions and banking.
By Kim Viner