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Part Two, Bingham Bank and family

Charlie becomes the 800-pound banking gorilla
(Woodframe Bingham Bank)
This is the woodframe building where Charlie Bingham and Albert Holland first located their businesses when they moved to downtown Woolley in 1896. They replaced it in 1905 with the present building. At far right is C.E. Bingham, and from left to right are his sons Q. A. and C. So far, no one has noticed the time paradox with this photo. Albert looks to be at least 14, which would mean this photo was taken in about 1909, four years after the new brick building was constructed at the southwest corner of Metcalf and Woodworth streets. So we must assume that the photo was taken while the stone building was being rebuilt after the fire of Jan. 14, 1909, or else it was taken much earlier and the young men in the photos are not the Bingham boys. Photo courtesy of Skagit Memories, which is still for sale at the Skagit County Historical Museum in LaConner.

      Located in downtown Woolley, Charlie Bingham and Albert Holland both worked hard to facilitate merger of the two towns and were leaders in the merger campaign until it was completed in 1898. In 1899 the business operated as C.E. Bingham & Co., Private Bank, and advertised a broad range of services in the Sedro-Woolley's Skagit County-Times. First, Charlie announced that the bank was the agency assigned for sale of nearly 1,000 city lots for: William Murdock's Grand Junction Land Co. on the acreage east of Murdock street; the property of New Yorker Albert Kelley, who marketed dozens of lots all over Sedro in absentia after his son Norman's death in 1894; and Ole J. Borseth's property in the plat of West Woolley. He also advertised Foreign & Domestic Exchange bought and sold, money loaned on approved securities, the highest price paid for marketable warrants and a full line of Travelers fire, life and accident insurance.
      After serving as mayor for one year during Sedro's last year, he was elected mayor of Sedro-Woolley at the first general election in 1899 and served four more two-year terms plus four terms on the city council. In May 1899 he addressed the Twin Cities Business League and urged a "large enthusiastic audience" to expand the new city's business interests beyond the limits imposed by ordinary country village conditions. He appointed an aggressive roads committee composed of business leaders George Green, Norris Ormsby, J.C. LaPlant, David Donnelly and Edgar Lafayette, the county road foreman, and instructed them to confer with the county commissioners about extending the new Cook road one mile through boggy Olympia Marsh, with one-third of the expense borne by League. That would connect the city with towns on the Samish bay and eventually with the Chuckanut Drive to Bellingham.
      In July 1900 he shocked his fellow Democratic party leaders by announcing that he was switching parties and was now a McKinley Republican. A year after that, the Criterion, the first annual of Sedro-Woolley High School, included an advertisement that listed Charlie as secretary-treasurer of Sedro Land & Improvement Co., the company that Norman Kelley headed when he originally boomed new Sedro in the early 1890s. By the time that McKinley was inaugurated that March, several changes had transpired in the bank and the family. First, late in early 1898 a stenographer-typist was added to the staff. Then in 1899, William T. Odlin finally decided to break free from his brother-in-law's stifling atmosphere and he moved his young family to Anacortes, where he became the cashier and stockholder of the new Citizens Bank. J.C. LaPlant and wife bought the Honeymoon Cottage in early 1900 and continued its tradition, soon producing a child.
      The staff at Bingham bank was slowly growing. Back in 1897, Charlie hired A.W. "Gus" Schafer, who was cashier of the Hamilton bank until it closed during the Depression, without any loss by depositors. That may have been the first sign for Odlin that the time had come to move on, just as Charlie did from Marengo ten years before. Schafer doubled with part of the bookkeeping and general cashier work. Schafer was from Wisconsin, the son of a German immigrant. When his father died in 1899, Schafer returned to Wisconsin and filled out his father's term as the instructor at a business college. When the economy upriver picked back up again by early 1900, Schafer returned to Hamilton and appealed to his uncle, Jake Jungbluth, to back him in a new Hamilton bank called the J. Jungbluth Co. His uncle, the owner of a large rooming house and hotel, apparently agreed if Bingham backed the idea and Charlie decided it was better to join his competitors rather than fight them. The results were so promising that Schafer moved up to partner three years later and the bank was renamed Bank of Hamilton. On Dec. 17, 1900, Bingham, Holland, W.M. Kirby, T. Moran and V. Stenward established the first bank in Arlington known as Arlington State Bank.. Bingham was the first president there and remained a director until his death.
      Charlie looked for entrepreneurs with the right stuff who could build local industries that would put the new town on the map. The first he backed was John Anderson's Sedro-Woolley Iron Works [SWIW]. Charlie bought lots just south of the S&N tracks, on the east side of Puget street and donated them for the company's original foundry, and he advised Anderson to quickly incorporate. He also backed a transplant from Superior Wisconsin named David G. McIntyre who hired on as a machinist and wanted to buy stock in SWIW. That led to Skagit Steel, the premier industry here. Charlie also backed the pulp mill down by the river, which provided an important local payroll until it burned in the 1920s.

Young, eager, pliable recruits at the ground level
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      Charlie also began looking for young men who would work for low wages, follow instructions and his tutelage and stay with the bank for a long period so he could amortize the training costs. His first such hire was William West, who might have seemed an unlikely choice since he left school partway through his freshman year of high school to become Bingham's errand boy. But the results made Charlie look like a visionary. His roots were deep as he had come with his family from Wisconsin to Sedro in 1889. His 1952 Courier-Times obituary noted that his first duties in May 1900 were to sweep, dust, keep the fire going, run errands and be otherwise useful, thus freeing up other bank staffers to push profitable bank services. Because of his snaillike speed he was soon dubbed "Hotfoot." Besides Bingham, the bank staff then consisted of James B. Holbrook — Merritt's brother who moved from Marengo to take over from Odlin as cashier, and C.A. Watrous, bookkeeper. We know that James arrived in May 1899 because Jessie Odlin mentioned in a May 31 letter that he came that week along with more Marengo émigrés, the Mell and Nell Shaw family.
      Banking hours were then from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, with additional two-hour service from 8 to 10 on Saturday nights and from 10 a.m. to 12 noon on Sundays. The weekend hours accommodated nearly a dozen saloons and restaurants, a handful of bawdyhouses and other businesses that catered to loggers who got an occasional day or two to paint the town. The only mechanical device employed was a typewriter and all other recording work was done by hand, even copying letters on an old letterpress. West eagerly learned each of those duties along with performing his other menial tasks. Charlie promoted him to assistant cashier in 1913, and in 1920 West was promoted to the position of cashier. Altogether he worked for Bingham for 52 years and he married the daughter of A.W. Schafer on Sept. 8, 1910. He was a member of the York and Scottish Rite Masonic orders, a member of the city council and became a mentor for many young men who followed in his business footsteps.
      West's example was so promising that Charlie decided to hire another young man with no banking experience in the summer of 1901. This time he sought one of the first three projected graduates of the local high school. James B. Hamilton was the son of Frank Hamilton, one of the first homesteaders on the site of future Concrete. James was a man's man, who learned from his father how to hunt, fish and fend for himself in the wild. Sedro-Woolley was still a rough town where a man's word was his bond and a strapping young fellow who could talk the language of woods entrepreneurs would surely bring in a whole new sector of investors from the upriver mining district. While Hamilton started at least a half-rung up from West's initial lowly status, Charlie hired Laurence Ringer to be the sweeper-duster.
      By this time, Q.P. Reno had arrived from Marengo, with ten solid years banking experience behind him, most recently as a cashier. James B. Holbrook had just been a stopgap hire at that position and within a year of arriving, he joined Norris Ormsby as a partner in Skagit Commission Co., which bought hay and grain, sold feed for animals, supplied ice for both businesses and homes and distributed Rainier beer. The business was located in what is now Vern Sims Ford Ranch's eastern parking lot next to the railroad tracks. Their location was important because that year, the Union Depot was put on rollers and moved down from the 3-train triangle to a platform just west of the tracks and north of Ferry street. A skilled politician, Holbrook lobbied in Olympia for Bingham, and was soon elected the city council here. Ormsby had been the first temporary mayor after the 1898 merger of the towns and he also had a pretty young daughter named Hallie who was the city's first "Hello Girl" telephone operator. Reno stepped into Holbrook's shoes without skipping a beat.
      Like West, he would become a longtime employee, serving Bingham for 20 years, and West slowly learned how to spell him at the teller's window. Meanwhile, Q.P. Reno and Lena Soules soon became an item around town. Miss Soules was another of Charlie's brilliant hires. Her father, Thomas Washington Soules, was a surveyor from Vermont who came to Mount Vernon in 1889 and was soon hired by William McKay's townsite company to lay out the newest town that lay where the Great Northern north-south rail line crossed the Seattle & Northern tracks northeast of Avon. He was so proficient at his work that when the town fathers sought a name, his suggestion of Burlington — for his old favorite town in Vermont, was chosen. His wife followed in 1890 with their daughter, Lena, and son, Homer, arriving by rail in new Sedro at the old SLS&E depot. After graduating from high school, Charlie gave Lena her first job and aggressively pursued the fresh new money that was pouring into the growing Burlington townsite, so his market reached from the center of the county all the way east to the Cascades. By the time Q.P. proposed to Lena in early 1902, Hamilton had proved to be a quick learner and was promoted to sit at her stool at the high desk at the back and enter deposits and log checks in a big ledger. He was thrilled when his salary jumped from $15.67 per month to $50.

Bingham mansion becomes social center
      When Sedro-Woolley began recovering from the Depression in 1897, earlier than much of the rest of the country, Julia decided that it was time for her cottage to grow again and become the center of culture and social events in the town, especially since the towns were slowly growing together. The sisters Julia and Jessie strolled out most mornings and tended the roses and sundry flora in Julia's flower garden. Tuckered from plucking and pruning, they would then retire to the aviary, which Charlie built onto the east wall of the mansion so that Julia could keep canaries. Then on June 26, 1897, banker Odlin received the same little dividend that Charlie got five years before. The bouncing baby boy was soon named Reno for Julia's distinguished family. Young Reno would become the most successful banker of them all, later elected to be president of the American Bankers Association. Reno's son Reno "Spike" Odlin retired to a Hoogdal estate later in his life after sloshing around a few years in Day creek. He maintains an extensive correspondence, has been a very active translator and his writing art is displayed in galleries in Paris. He is as cantankerous as Mortimer Cook and father, grandfather and great-grandfather Odlins combined. His documents and recollections have been a very important key to unlocking some of the mysteries of old Sedro and for figuring out what made these related families tick. We are especially indebted to him for the copies he kept of Jessie's letters back home and to her Auntie Sarah in Chicago.
      Just a year after the wedding, she bragged to her aunt about what a good cook she was coming to be and how well she had trained her husband. She noted many small details about the Honeymoon Cottage, about how the family interacted and how baby Reno was obviously the brightest child to waddle around the planet in his cloth diapers. A good example of the high value of these letters is an aside in 1897 where she notes that once again a non-binding election in both towns resulted in voters favoring the name of Sedro for the proposed merged villages. But she explained that once again, P.A. Woolley refused to accept the results. If Democracy had ruled, the larger population of the town south of State street would have gotten their wish, but Woolley was nearly as strong as Bingham, if not more so, and Charlie chose his battles wisely.
      When Reno came along, the Odlins hired a servant girl from one of the local families and Julie thought that was her due. She told auntie that she almost always refused to attend public dances, preferring small get-togethers at "Jule's place" with people of their class. "But I can't make up my mind to dance in the same room with shingle-weavers and servant girls," she wrote in 1898. "I suppose if I don't they'll say that 'Mrs. Odlin is so stuck up.' Well, maybe it's the truth." By her letter of Jan. 4, 1899, relations between her husband and Julia's had deteriorated:

      You remember I told you a long time ago about that company in Tacoma writing to Charlie about Will, and then getting another man because they got no reply. Well, the other day they wrote Will that they had another opening for him. Will was going to write and say he wouldn't consider it but I told him not to do until he found what there was in it.
      Within a few months William Odlin was the cashier at Citizens Bank and Jessie was carting their possessions over to a new house in Anacortes, one load at a time, probably by the S&N train. In her 1937 memoir, she recalled the "neat little house on a nice corner" that they built near downtown Anacortes, but she never liked it. She preferred the big, drafty place "just outside of town," which still stands today west of Commercial avenue. Jessie Reno Odlin was very comfortable with herself and usually she could amuse herself better than others could. She did not burn her bridges, however; she just didn't cross them often and only when she was truly hungry for Jule's wisdom or laughter, or when Bess came back for a visit from Alaska.
      After Marie and Baldy LaPlant bought the Honeymoon Cottage from the Odlins in 1900, Jules persuaded Marie and Q.P.'s wife, Lena, to join her clubs. And Jules became great friends with Carrie Kirby, the wife of a local timber mill owner, Wyman Kirby, after they built the third home on the block, just east across a gravel driveway from the mansion. But that came later because we found in a 1904 Skagit County Times that "C. E. Bingham and J. C. LaPlant build [tennis] court on lots between their residences on Talcott. Lawn tennis is very popular now."
      Wherever Carrie Kirby lived before Talcott street, she hosted a hospital music social in February 1901 that showed the Julia touch. They raised $14 as Mesdames Howard, Julia Bingham and Blanche Gray helped. Solos were performed by Mesdames Clark, Ames, Caskey; Gray, Ames and Miss Estelle Milhollin played piano for a recital. Boys and girls "of color" gave a cakewalk and other minstrel diversions and a "masked young man established his reputation as a buck and wing dancer."
      Julia's social skills were on parade in September 1903 when local Chapter D of the PEO held its charter meeting at the mansion. It was the fourth such club in the state and 138 were scattered nationwide. The charter members were Hallie Holbrook; Eleanor Capp, Carrie Kirby, Mae Caskey, Catherine Czueska, Julia Bingham and Lena Reno and Mrs. H.H. Shrewsbury, Mrs. N.G. Davis, Mrs. M.L. Holbrook were apparently initiated.
      Nearly 20 years later, Carrie Kirby nearly split the Reno sisters apart because of some supposed slight to sister Bessie. By then, Wyman Kirby was mayor and Carrie soon became a famous local benefactor when she donated a piece of land on Samish island to the Campfire girls that is still in use.
      Years ago we found a fantastic photo of a masquerade ball but we could not establish if it was thrown here until we found a March 1, 1906 copy of the Skagit County Times with the headline, "Masquerade ball at the Bingham mansion." Note that this is the first instance we have of the word mansion being used for their home. The PEO fraternal club staged a masquerade ball at the Bingham mansion and the Wyman Kirby house, with a historic theme. Dr. Mattice sponsored the orchestra. Charlie became a social leader on his own in the early years of the century while mayor, speaking to the first picnic for the new Pioneer Association of Skagit county in August 1904.

Charlie becomes controversial and envied in business and politics
1st National Bank opens in 1905

(Mattice Winton Six Auto)
      Dr. Mattice's new 1909 Winton 6 automobile parked (at left) in front of the Bingham-Holland building. The folks in the two autos were: (l. to r.) Mrs. Susie Alverson (owner of music store); Mrs. M. Schneider (husband owned building where bowling alley is today); A.E. Holland, the druggist; Miss Beckie Schneider; Mrs. P.A. Woolley (at the wheel, note it was on the right); auto dealer Mr. Lowe; Charles Harbaugh Jr. (young boy, Mrs. Woolley's grandson); two boys against building unfortunately not identified; Mr. Campbell (chauffeur with Lowe's company, sitting on running board, sported folks around town for a week or two as part of package); car on right side, Junius B. Alexander; Mrs. Florence Morgan (husband owned water company); Mrs. C.C. Harbaugh (Kate, the Woolleys' daughter. Great hats, huh? Photo supplied by the late Wyman Hammer.

      Back in 1904, Charlie learned that his power in the young town did not make him immune to hatred and envy. As the election neared and he stood for re-election as mayor, a two-page bill or flyer was distributed all over town to "proper people," especially the ones who were tee-totalers, prohibitionists and anti-saloon. Reading the flyer, you would conclude that Charlie was more than a passive bystander who looked the other way as dens of iniquity such as the Keystone Hotel and Saloon spread vice and drunkenness. Although the sponsor was anonymous, people generally concluded that he or she or they were backers of Dr. C.C. Harbaugh, who wanted to unseat Bingham as mayor. There was a distinct whiff of fire and brimstone in the air and the writers apparently approved of Harbaugh's mother-in-law, Mrs. Catherine Woolley, and suspected that the Binghams were not properly God-fearing. Charlie and Julia were married by a Presbyterian minister, but they did not attend church regularly. Charlie had apparently done a good deed for a church in the very early days, however, and many old timers remembered it. June Burn wrote in 1930 a tale that may have been apocryphal but has a ring of truth:
      Once the only church in town blew down. It was a tent. A Rev. Baldwin, Methodist, was the first preacher. The people built a church in more permanent form, but the bank had to take it over in lieu of the money owed on it. Dr. Baldwin pleaded with Mr. Bingham for help to pay off the loan held [by his own bank]! And so, as private citizen, the banker went from saloon to saloon, exhorting the boys to help the church out of its difficulty and they came across, and so the note was paid and the church was clear and everybody was happy. The only sufferers were the boys who may have missed getting as drunk as they had intended. The preacher never knew how the money was raised.
Regardless of Charlie's churchification, Sedro-Woolley was a wet town and his honor easily won re-election.
      His business faced a more serious challenge the next year. After a 15-year monopoly locally, Bingham's bank was challenged for the first time when the 1st National Bank was incorporated with principal stockholders, Dr. C.C. Harbaugh, F.A. Hegg and John C. Wixson. The new bank became the primary tenant of the new two-story building at the northwest corner of Metcalf and Ferry streets, constructed by Arthur C. Seidell. The new bank competed primarily for customers who were in the logging and mill business. The new bank did a brisk initial business. After studying the new bank, Charlie decided to counter the new bank by emphasizing four major strengths: 1) Length of service since 1890; 2) Stability, evidenced by their weathering the 1890s financial storm without any depositors losing their savings, unlike the dozens of banks in the Puget sound region that failed or suffered a run and then discounted customer assets; 3) The safety and security of having city hall and the police station right next door; and 4) Combination of old fashioned values and a brand new building with the newest equipment. That summer, Bingham and Holland moved their old wooden building on rollers across the Second street alley and built a bold new building of stone.
      On July 4, 1906, the two businesses opened their doors. Bingham recovered some of the business he lost to his competitor, but the economy had grown so much by 1906 that there was plenty to go around. Bingham warned the doubters that some day the economy would turn drastically for the worse and only his bank could ride out the storm. Most people shrugged off the warning and that challenging storm did not blow in for another 26 years. That December, Bingham was not re-elected for his fourth consecutive term as mayor. Instead, the town turned to Emerson Hammer, the manager of the Union Mercantile department store and a colleague of F.A. Hegg. Two years later, however, Bingham was elected again.

      Details of the photo at the left above: Dr. Mattice had his office on the second floor of the Bingham Bank when this photo was taken of his new car in the fall of 1909, after the brick building was rebuilt following the fire in January. The brand new 1909 Winton 6 touring car cost the good doctor about $3,800, which included the chauffeur standing in back in his white coat. That model was one of the most sought-after "status cars" of the age. When you drove it, people commented that you had made it. Ladies of the small timber town showed up in their finery, some posing for photos and some brave enough to take a ride in the doctor's horseless carriage. Don't you love their hats? We assume the car was delivered by the Northern Pacific Railroad from a dealer in Seattle because there were no car dealers yet in the county. Len Livermore would open the first auto dealership in town for Henry Ford in 1910. This view is from the east. The unknown photographer was standing in P.A. Woolley's orchard at the southeast corner of Woodworth and Metcalf streets, about where the video store is located today. PS: can anyone tell us about the second car behind the Winton? Photo courtesy of the late Wyman K. Hammer of Eugene, Oregon.

      Some felt bruised by Charlie's business methods while others shrugged them off, deciding that really powerful businessmen sometimes pushed hard just to remind people of their strength. Charles J. Wicker Sr. told his family that Charlie deceived him. Wicker claimed that when he and Harry L. Devin were partners in the early days of Skagit Realty, he needed $1,500 quickly to purchase a quarter section of land. He said that he had buyers for three 40-acre parcels and a good prospect for the fourth one. Bingham refused to make the loan, telling Wicker the collateral — the mortgage on the land, was inadequate. Wicker said that soon after that, he discovered that Bingham bought the property himself for $1,600 and kept the profit for himself. The family member admitted that he had not attempted to verify Wicker's story. Not mentioned was the fact that Wicker was a vociferous Democrat while Bingham was a Republican who had switched from the Democratic party to support McKinley and Roosevelt in 1900. So we will never know how much of the story was true. Regardless, Wicker apparently re-told the story many times and some people's opinion of Bingham was colored by it. Businessmen both high and low will tell you that they are often the butts of accusations that they cannot answer, especially the biggest, strongest businesses on the block. His detractors delighted in calling him "2 percent Charlie."
(Clearing House certificate, 1908)
Clearing House certificate, 1908

      If nothing else, the challenge from the new bank down the street and widely spread rumors served as a valuable wakeup call and made Charlie aware that good public relations was a necessary aspect of business, no matter how strong you are in your field. Sometimes just plain friendliness or an entertaining show could go a long way. Six months before Homer H. Shrewsbury bought the first automobile and brought it back to Sedro-Woolley, the Skagit County Times reported that Bingham's friend P.S. Cook from Bellingham brought his new car of unknown pedigree down to the bank in April 1906 and Charlie gave his customers rides in it. We wonder how the car made its way here since there was still no road worth the name between the two counties. Did Charlie's friend, Mr. Cook, bring it down by barge or train and then follow the aptly named Cook road into town? No matter how wonderful the prospect of such a ride seems, you must remember that there were no paved roads to take the ride on, only corduroy or planked roads or ones covered by gravel or aggregate. Add that to the unfortunate state of tires at the time, when some seemed to go flat just by your looking at them. But maybe just the thought counted since people were so anxious just to see an auto, much less ride in one. Julia personally invested time and money in another great public relations venture when she backed a reading room that was converted into an early public library in 1908 in a building on the present site of the Mission Market building. She also served as president of the Carnegie Library board when that building was erected on the site of the former Hotel Sedro, across from the new high school in 1915. Years later, after Charlie's death, she donated their book collection to the Carnegie.
      Over the next two years, Charlie and Julia invested even more in local land by platting with partners three new developments around the city: the 2d Addition to Sedro or the so-called Kelley Strip between the two former towns; Rosedale Garden tracts, which were north of Moore street and west of Central avenue (now mostly covered by a manufactured home park); and State Street addition, on East State just west of the "wye" formed by the Minkler highway and the Hoehn road. In 1908 Bingham Bank joined with other banks in the county in the Skagit County Clearing House. In those early days of the century, bad memories of paper money in the last century were still fresh in people's minds, leading to doubts in whether the federal government far away would always redeem the bills at par. In the local system, the banks printed their own certificates that were redeemable at member banks and depositors could see the local assets that backed them up. You can see a few of the existing certificates, which resembled modern paper money, at the Sedro-Woolley museum.

Fire strikes again at Bingham bank
(Bank post-1909 fire)
Click on the thumbnail above to see a photo of the Bingham Bank building while it was being rebuilt after the fire of Jan. 14, 1909.

      Fifteen years after the fire that leveled their building in new Sedro and less than four years after they opened their brick building, Bingham and Holland suffered another fire on Jan. 14, 1909. This fire was of unknown origin and burned very hot, leaving only bare walls on both levels. Apparently Charlie bet on the building's invincibility because the report in the newspaper the week after estimated the bank's loss as $17,000, with only $5,000 of insurance. Holland's portion had an $8,000 loss with $5,000 also insured. When the building was remodeled in 2001-02, we tagged along behind the contractor and each time he punched a hole in the wall, we could smell that unmistakable odor as if the fire were yesterday and we crumbled the carbon between our fingers. Luckily, the original woodframe building was still standing across the alley, so the two businesses were conducted there in cramped quarters until the new building could be gutted and totally rebuilt. The fire occurred on a Tuesday and the story about it was in Thursday's weekly Skagit County Times. The paper also announced that A. E. Holland had rushed $5,000 in new drug stock overnight. Albert Holland definitely believed that time was money.
      By the time Bingham and Holland reopened in an even fancier building that summer, Dr. Menzo B. Mattice — one of the upstairs tenants, had bought his spectacular Winton 6 Touring Car for $3,785 and every customer who was brave enough was given a ride around town in it by a professional chauffeur. Once again, style beat substance and many soon forgot the fire but retained the images of that car ride in their minds for decades to come. In a good illustration of the difference in media coverage and litigation between then and now, very few people wondered how the fire could have done such damage when the fire station was ten yards out the back door. One of the greatest losses was suffered by the Knights of Pythias, established in 1891 and the oldest lodge in town. A lax officer left their entire records in the building and everything from their first 18 years was lost. The Lodge brothers were very bitter about the fire and soon constructed their own building just fifty yards south on the same side of the street.
      Customers were also dazzled by the fancy gingerbread adorned the corner entrance to the bank, the stairs leading to doctor and lawyer offices and club rooms upstairs, and on Holland's new drug store. A number of Victorian flourishes were also added to the Metcalf and Woodworth entrances, to replace the rather Spartan original entries (see accompanying photo). The lobby was lined with beautiful marble, the ceiling featured beautiful tin and zinc relief hammered by hand, and two tellers cages were adorned with sturdy wrought iron.

(Bingham-Holland building 1909)
Click on thumbnail above to see full-size photo. Another view of the Bingham-Holland building with a very early automobile, sometime right after the fire in January 1909

      Less than two years later, another fire came way too close for comfort when flames broke out in an oil barrel across the street behind Fritsch Hardware on the evening of July 24, 1911, and a few hours later, half of the downtown business district lay in ruins. Luckily for Bingham, the wind was blowing from the southwest and it fanned the flames away from the bank building. The rest of the town was not so lucky. Once again, the fire department was right across the street but an untrained volunteer department laid the fire hose too close to the burning Fritsch building and soon discovered that cinders had burned through the fabric in several places. This time the bank made a profit, dealing with contractors, suppliers and merchants who quickly rebuilt the downtown in brick. Three months after the fire, the banker and druggist worked together to help the reconstruction process. In November they announced plans for the Swastika block that would be built of brick on the site of the old woodframe Donnelly building at the southeast corner of Ferry and Metcalf streets. They planned a one-story building that would contain four rooms from Ferry to the alley, which would conform to each other and give a spicy look featuring the Indian Swastika good luck sign around the exterior on two sides.
      A year later, the private Bingham family bank incorporated with a new capitalization of $50,000. Two years later, on Nov. 12, 1914, C.E. Bingham and Co. became a state bank. In that some month, observers could see that the First State Bank of Clear Lake in trouble eight months after it opened. B.R. Lewis, president of the Clear Lake Lumber Co., was at loggerheads with the other two bank partners, so he and one of the partners sold their interest to Charlie, who became the bank president. Charlie transferred Herman Guernsey from the Sedro-Woolley bank to Clear Lake as cashier. After the mill failed in 1925 and the town went on the skids as the Depression worsened, Bingham quietly absorbed the Clear Lake bank.

Charlie and the Indian twins, Ingham and Bingham
      Back in 1911, one of the funniest stories in the history of the town occurred on the Fourth of July and Charlie was the butt of the joke. The joke resulted from a newspaper story, and in typical fashion the story was so patronizing towards Indians that one has to take it with a grain of salt. Mrs. Maggie Joe was arrested for public intoxication after the grand parade as she caused a minor furor on the corner by the Bingham and Holland building. When left to sleep it off in her cell, she called out to the guard for water and when he came, she handed him a bundle and muttered: "got baby." Sure enough, she did, and the guard was befuddled, wondering how she had smuggled in the infant. Later, he returned to the cell, and she held out another bundle, saying: "got 'nother baby." The tale quickly passed via the local grapevine and party line and in different versions, the Indian twins were called either Ingham and Bingham after our hero and Marshal Chan Ingham, or Bingham and Holland, whose sign was the last thing she saw before being hauled a half block away to the jail. We can imagine how amused Julia was.
      A year later, Charlie received much more positive headlines when he presented the deed for a three-acre parcel at the northwest corner of the Cook road and Borseth street (now Hwy. 20) to the city with the proviso that it be dedicated as a public park. At that time, the road continued through there and the second service station in town opened on the opposite corner in 1920. His generosity inspired F.J. Pingry, the president of the prestigious local Rosarian society to contribute financially to turn the park into a beautiful rest stop for travelers. The whole town pitched in and soon a contract for its design was awarded to the Olmstead brothers, who were then completing the landscaping for Fairhaven Park in Bellingham and the Northern State Hospital campus. They were the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park in New York City. In her 1935 Bingham profile, Catherine McClintock, recalled: "We remember the breath-taking slides we took there on the big chute." Charlie had remained active with David Batey in the Pioneers Association and hoped that the annual meetings would be held there in the park, but that did not come to pass.

1st National Bank robbery brings changes; Bingham and Odlin boys go to World War I
      Banking in Sedro-Woolley changed at 9 p.m., Oct. 17, 1914, when robbers in women's clothes robbed the First National Bank, just a block away from the Bingham bank. They got away with $11,000 and shot the son of a tavern owner who just happened to be in the line of fire. A. Bingham recalled that his father decided then and there to quit staying open Saturday evenings to accommodate the saloons.
      All three boys were old enough to work in the bank, but they had spent much of their high school years away from town, attending a private school in Tacoma because Sedro-Woolley's curriculum was not yet universally accredited by the best colleges. A. spent his last two years there. He had never been farther away than Wenatchee and when he had a chance to attend Princeton in New Jersey, he leaped at the chance. After working the summer on a survey crew upriver, he started classes at Princeton in 1914 and had barely finished his junior year when World War I erupted. He and his oldest brother Q. enlisted in the army. Q. never went overseas and was stationed at Camp Lewis from June 1918 through April 1919, advancing from private to sergeant. He was determined to enlist but had to visit several recruiting stations before a doctor would ignore his very flat fleet. Spike Odlin recalls that doctors also resisted A.'s attempts to enlist because he was "stone deaf" in one ear. But A. entered a whole different world during his service. After entering service on Sept. 14, 1917, he completed basic training at Camp Murray and was soon shipped to New York, where he boarded a ship to France. Already a sergeant, he was assigned to the intelligence department with units of the 161st Infantry regiment in Germany and then in France during battles at Chateau-Thierry, Soissons, St. Mihiel, Champagne and Meuse Argonne.
      Although he was always modest about it and often seemed embarrassed when a reporter mentioned it, his actions in the latter theatre earned him the highest accolade of the French government, the Croix de Guerre. He was lauded for having volunteered to take ammunition to French troops who were under very heavy fire from the German lines and were short of supplies. He blushed when we inquired and just muttered that it was not a pleasant experience. Spike Odlin recalls that "The specific incident seems to have involved his being the object of personal attention from a German pilot. He was cited for coolness under fire but explained 'I was too scared to run.'" When he mustered out in June 1919, after 20 months overseas, he took the option of enrolling at the University of London for the equivalent of a quarter, studying economics, at the expense of the U.S. government. When he returned to Sedro-Woolley that August, instead of being feted, he was razzed in the usual local humorous style, much like a charivari after a wedding. His friends who had missed him for two years composed this poem for his welcome-home roast. Let us call it "Moon over France:"

There was a tin soldier named 'A'
Who bragged of his bravery all day
Of his great Croix de guerre,
He turned loose much hot air,
And claims to have ended the fray.

But the chronicles say
On one dark rainy day,
He discarded his pants,
In the middle of France
Which exposes the "tale of A."

'20s and '30s were a roller coaster

(Interior of Bingham Bank circa 1920)
      This photo is of the interior of Bingham Bank circa 1920. Note the beautiful marble, the wrought iron and the hammered tin ceiling. We are sad that all of this disappeared in one of the remodels between 1935 and 1950. Does any reader know what happened to those materials? Photo courtesy of Judy Bingham Jones.

      While the rest of the country reveled in bathtub gin and celebrated the flapper age, the 1920s were truly a roller coaster for the Bingham bank. The three Bingham boys were given different responsibilities as they became active members in management. Q. proved to be a natural administrator and was the inside man. C. loved ranches and horses and pursued new business along those lines with local farmers and ranchers in Skagit and Whatcom counties. A. was always known for not putting on airs and he wound up dealing with the "common man," often tromping out into fields among the cow pies to assess a piece of property and size up the ground and the owner for a loan. With his educational background in economics, he also specialized in national and regional money markets and stock exchanges and developed a real flair for marketing insurance lines. He was also a stalwart in community affairs, becoming a charter member of the Rotary in 1922 and serving one term as representative to the state legislature in 1932-33 before the Democratic landslides.
      In May 1923, Charlie's long-time friend and business associate Albert E. Holland died. His estate was a bit of a mess since he had married his housekeeper while on his deathbed and she wanted to retain ownership of the drug store and keep his share of the Bingham-Holland building. We suspect that Charlie asked his wife to intervene, because the Ladies Club soon paid a visit to the grieving widow Holland and gently suggested that she should pass the business on to Holland's manager, Walter Cottingham. A deal was eventually struck.
      All three sons got married. Son Q. married Anne Joiner, daughter of the judge from Mount Vernon. They had two children, Quinby and Judy, the wife of retired veterinarian George "Bud" Jones. She and Spike are the only surviving family members of their generation. C. married Elsie Gurney of Eugene, OR, and they had one son, Charles Edward II. A married Lena Abel of Montesano, and they had two sons, both of whom died tragically at age ten.
      A. told a fascinating story in his 1978 interview about his father's relationship to the upriver damns project in that period, which has never been published:

      My father and another fellow owned the site where the dam [probably Gorge] was built. The city of Seattle sued him to make him give up the land. A fellow by the name of Gus Doan had lived there and he wanted to get out of there or something. This other fellow that lived up at Marblemount was a friend of his and he got Dad to go in with him to buy it. That was before they had electrical power or anything up there. . . . As I remember it, they had the trial and the jury settled on a price of $15,000, but the judge thought that was too much. He said if they would accept $7,500, that he would authorize another trial. They [Charlie and his friend] figured it would cost to have another attorney so they took the $7,500.
      When the stock market crashed in October 1929, the family had to cinch up their belts and prepare to ride out this Depression just as Charlie had to back in the 1890s. The bank gained quite a reputation for being the only family bank in the state to survive both Depressions without a failure or a run, but they had a close call. On Feb. 3, 1932, the state bank examiner, C.E. Morgan, strolled into the First National Bank down the street, the last day that bank would be open. Panic set in for the depositors there, who had conducted a 30-day "run," withdrawing $70,000, a substantial block of the assets. Eventually the town learned that under management of cashier John Guddall, the bank had invested in $133,700 in South American bonds that could not be liquidated. Charlie must have smiled wryly, content to remember his warning about stability 27 years before when the competitor opened. One of the biggest losers was bank stockholder F.A. Hegg, a decent man who died three years later; many people say that after the run, his life went downhill. Guddall did not suffer retribution, however, because he went on to be active in the country club and served as school board chairman.
      The Binghams were also severely challenged during those hard banking times. Months later, when the First National's receiver announced that the bank would not reopen, a rush on the Bingham bank was precipitated and Charlie huddled with the boys and the senior staff members. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's new administration stepped in during early March 1933 and declared a "banking holiday," during which banks could close and reorganize, without being pressured for their fragile assets. On Sunday, March 12, he began his ritual fireside chats to calm the national mood of apprehension and the next day, banks started reopening. As A. recalled in 1978, the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which had been set up the year before, loaned $2 billion to the surviving banks and financial institutions, which reorganized. According to John Higgins, the Bingham managers personally appealed to their depositors and obtained 350 waivers from those who were willing to wait for a certain period to withdraw all their deposits. By the beginning of 1934, the Binghams were able to breathe easier, as the threat of a run passed and nationwide, about 75 percent of the banks managed to weather the storm. C. garnered good press clippings in 1932 when he joined with cousin Porter LaPlant Sr. to revive the old-time rodeos. In the early days at the grand rodeo at Pendleton, Oregon, he furnished and handled the horses for Tillie Baldwin, the first great Northwest woman rider. She returned the favor by helping kick off the revived rodeo here.

Click on these thumbnail photos to see the full-sized photos
(Parlor of the Bingham mansion)
(Granny Bingham in the parlor)
Far left. Parlor of the Bingham mansion, ca 1930s
Center: Granny Bingham in the parlor. Photos courtesy of Judy Bingham Jones

Bingham Bank is robbed, town watchman Strom killed in 1933
      Within a month after the banking holiday, the Bingham Bank was robbed for the first time in its 43 years. Sedro-Woolley night marshal Strom was killed in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 15, 1933, after discovering a gang of robbers who were attempting to drill open the safe of the Bingham bank in downtown Sedro-Woolley. He was fatally shot and left in a storage shed across Woodworth street. Strom effectively worked for the downtown merchants, checking locks and making sure that buildings were secure. His murder was so vicious that the townspeople were seized by fear and rumors soon started, including accusations of an inside "job," along with mis- and malfeasance. The robbers were never apprehended and old timers still argue about the details of the robbery. [You can read the full Strom story at this Journal website. This story will soon be changed to this address. If neither file connects, please email us. ]
      As part of the recovery from the Depression, the federal government also decreed that insurance and real estate functions of banks must be split from the main business, so in 1934, Bingham Investments split off and functioned semi-independently for decades in the Livermore Apartments building, a block south at the corner of State street. A. was especially active in that part of the business. Bingham Investment was named that year as the oldest Travelers insurance agent in the state. As a symbol of their confidence, the Bingham brothers remodeled the bank for the first time since the 1909 fire. Modern glass front cages replaced the old wrought iron, the interior was modernized, the desks for Q. and C. were moved back and partitioned from rest, and Charlie's desk stayed in the old place near the front window. All that said, "we keep up with the times but Dad is still here to connect with the values of the old days."
      William T. Odlin served that same function for his son, Reno, later in his life. Reno became the most accomplished banker in the family. Two years younger than his cousin A. Bingham, he attended the same schools, DeKoven Hall in Tacoma and then Princeton. He also enlisted in time for World War I — earlier than his cousins, entering as a private in 1916. Initially he served on the Mexican border region where he said he "unsuccessfully searched for Pancho Villa" and was then shipped to France where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and fought in Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Argonne, before being wounded at Thiacourt. After the Armistice, he climbed the Matterhorn and briefly attended the University of Toulouse. Spike Odlin recalls that his father apparently used his banking knowledge to master the barracks game of Red Dog, which provided him with mad money during the war. He returned and briefly attended the University of Washington before marrying Mrs. Edith (Murphy) Heston in Anacortes in 1922. He worked briefly at his father's Citizens Bank and dreamed of launching a steamboat excursion touring company in the San Juans but the partners' hopes were dashed early on when their boat sunk in the Guemes Channel. He and his wife soon moved back to Seattle where he worked with a bank that was absorbed by Seattle First National. In 1934 he attempted a run for the U.S. Senate but was crushed in the FDR landslide. That may have been a blessing in disguise because two years later he left Seattle First National and became President of Puget Sound National Bank in Tacoma, a bank that was on the ropes in the Depression. He built it into a major player, with 52 branches and capital of $49 million. His father, William T. Odlin, performed a public relations function for the bank, as a symbol of old time banking stability and values. Reno was Honorary Chairman at the time of his death in 1979. Along the way, he garnered honors as president of the Washington Bankers Association in 1942, the American Bankers Association in 1964 and the Washington State Historical Society from 1955-1973.
      William T. Odlin showed considerable promise as a banker in the small frontier towns and he and his son had a bonding experience as victims of a bank robbery of their own. Will was not as educated as his wife but Sedro-Woolley historian Ray Jordan knew him when he was a boy and wrote that Odlin was a scholar and "had one of the best commands of the English language I ever heard. He was also bi-lingual as he and Charlie Bingham learned early on that a basic knowledge of the Chinook Jargon Indian trading language gave them an advantage in upriver business. Spike Odlin recalls that his grandfather could occasionally be seen in his big leather rocking chair looking over his pocket copy of the little Lowman & Hanford Dictionary of the Jargon: "A family legend suggests that on one occasion in Seattle Charlie [and William T. Odlin] defeated the plans of possible eavesdroppers on a trolley or in the hotel by discussing their business in the Chinook Jargon. There may even be some truth in it, who can say." Will moved to Washington territory from his native Ohio via California in 1887 and before working for Bingham in 1893, he earned his spurs by working as Mortimer Clerk's clerk at the mill store at Sterling and then as bookkeeper for the Davison and Millett mill in Woolley. He homesteaded or bought a 40-acre parcel in the Sterling district that he sold to George Hammer in the 1930s. It was long known as the only such parcel that had only two owners since pioneer days. Will sold his interest in Citizens Bank to Dr. Menzo B. Mattice of Sedro-Woolley in 1912 and then worked for a shingle business in Seattle before returning to the Bingham bank in 1914. By 1921, Mattice was in over his head at Citizens and Will was lured back as president. Three years later, in April 1924, both father and son Odlin were on duty at the bank when robbers held them up at gunpoint. Will was pistol-whipped and another robber led to Reno to the safe with a pistol in the small of his back in a scene that would be repeated in many Western movies. Will and Jessie closed up the big old drafty house and joined Reno in Tacoma in 1939, Will dying there in 1945 and Jessie in 1960. Reno's brother, Richard Odlin, was born in 1901, shortly after his parents moved there, and he pursued a completely different career in the arts, which we will profile later.

C.E. Bingham dies and the bank enters a new era

Click on these thumbnail photos to see the full-sized photos
(Julia Bingham's rose garden)
(A. Bingham's children)
Far left. This photo is taken from A. Bingham's back yard and we are looking due east at the rose garden that Julia Bingham originally planted along Fourth street, west of the Bingham mansion. You can just barely see the mansion through the foliage. A.'s home, now occupied by jeweler Glenn Allen, was built on lots that his father gave as a wedding present.
Center: This photo was also taken in Julia's rose garden. These are A. Bingham's sons who both tragically died at ten from complications of appendicitis. Photo taken in May 1923. Both photos courtesy of Judy Bingham Jones.

      By 1937, the little Bingham & Holbrook Bank from old Sedro with a staff of two had grown to the strongest bank in the county, with a staff of 13. As the town recovered from the Depression, Bingham Bank and Holland Drugs stood alone as the only 1890 businesses that withstood two periods of hard times. A few months later, the receiver for First National, an experienced banker named Winfield McLean, wrapped up the accounts by completing an 87 percent refund of depositor money. When he sent the final records off for storage in the winter of 1938-39, he walked a block south and was hired by Bingham bank. He became one of the most important officers of the bank and also served as an administrator for Skagit Steel before dying in 1996 at age 96.
      That period of the late '30s pretty well marked the end of Charlie's full-time preoccupation with the bank. At age 72, he spent more of his time with civic affairs and traveling with his wife. They hosted one of their last grand soirées on Dec. 23, 1935, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The late Sedro-Woolley policeman, Maurice Davis, was hired while still in high school to act as chauffeur, driving the Binghams to this town and that, visiting their grandchildren and old friends. When Davis was hired by the police department, Wim Raby took over as chauffeur and he shared his memories with us in 1994-96 before he died:

      I worked 2 years after I finished high school until Mr. Bingham needed a full-time nurse. Those who had money were dubbed "the 400" by the Binghams. In 1935 we bought some property from Bingham and his mind was still sharp, but in the summer of 1937, when I went to work for him, his mind was slipping. I took them out for drives in the afternoon. I never talked to them unless they talked to me first, those were the rules. Living in a logging town you knew your place. They did not visit with us. Their brother-in-law, Richard Vaeth from Tacoma, would go out with me on a ride because he loved cars. One time he told me about a skinny young fella from Detroit who came into his jewelry store and tried to talk him into investing in a sure-fired proposition called the automobile. Vaeth shooed him right out of there. Years later Vaeth recognized his picture in the newspaper. The young man was Henry Ford.
      Charlie died in his sleep at home near midnight on Nov. 1, 1939, just five days shy of his 77th birthday, while his nurse and family listened to reports on the radio about Germany's march through Eastern Europe. Regardless whether people loved him or hated him, the whole town seemingly turned out for the funeral at Lemley mortuary. His pall bearers were George Hammer, John Gould, Porter LaPlant Sr., Maurice Davis, Porter LaPlant Sr., W.T. West and Lester McKee. His sons celebrated the bank's 50th anniversary just eight months later and you can read some stories from the Golden Anniversary elsewhere on the website.

The Bingham brothers "modernize" their building and then sell
      In 1941, two years after founder C.E. Bingham died, the entire ground floor of the bank was remodeled again just months before Pearl Harbor. A large modern vault was built into the rear of the building, creating more front space where the old vault was. The corner entrance was blocked and a new entrance was fashioned on Woodworth. The bookkeeping dept moved to the rear of the building with modern banking, bookkeeping & photostatic check registering machines. This was also when a permanent awning was constructed over the first floor and sidewalk on Metcalf Street. Worshipping the great God "progress," the gingerbread and scrollwork eventually disappeared, leaving a fairly sterile exterior, and over the years, the beautiful marble and wrought iron disappeared as well as the hammered tin ceiling. The only remnant that communicates the historic aspect of the building is a mural on an old interior wall that once separated the drug store and the bank. The mural depicts pioneer scenes in Sedro and Woolley and was painted directly on the wall in 1962 by an art class from the high school. Most of the ground floor has been vacant for several years, except for a beauty shop at the west end. After the exterior walls deteriorated so badly that parts dropped off onto the roof of the Skagit Surveyors building, a contractor from Bellingham carefully remodeled the structure inside and outside. Upstairs, where the late Dr. Amano kept his dental offices for decades, attorneys and other tenants are starting to rent quarters once again as attorneys and doctors did originally.
      After Charlie died, Julia lived at the house but her children and grandchildren tried to get her to stay with them as much as possible. She died on During World War II, the mansion was leased to the U.S. military for Navy officer housing. We recall that, during a remodeling job in the late 1990s, we were shown an ugly stain on the floor of the parlor that was the result of a later renter keeping goats inside. Goats are not always tidy.
      When the Bingham brothers celebrated the bank's 60th anniversary in 1950, they noted that the business started with a two-man staff and a few thousand dollars in assets, and had grown to where they employed a staff of 18 in 1950, with assets of almost four million dollars. By that point, the capital stock was $100,000, and loans to individuals and businesses totaled nearly $1.5 million.
      As the Bingham brothers neared 60, they began feeling the growing competitive pressures of new bank chains and a new generation of bankers. Some of the strongest competition came from a bank that was incorporated in 1945 just a block away, something that Charlie would not have tolerated. Back in 1933, Fred Fellows, a Democrat, petitioned the State Banking Commission to move the Lyman State Bank to S-W. Fellows had not paid proper homage to Democrat Clarence D. Martin in his race for governor, so his application was denied. When Republican Arthur Langlie was elected governor, Fellows tried again but the staunch Republican Binghams stymied him. In 1944, Fellows approached Mon C. Wallgren, the Democratic candidate for governor, and offered to back him if he was promised a quid pro quo. Thirty days after Wallgren was inaugurated, the State Banking Department approved the Fellows request. On Feb. 6, 1945, Lyman State Bank changed to Skagit Valley State Bank, and took over the space of an old tavern in the corner of the Gateway Hotel building. John Higgins noted that when he studied the paperwork from Fellows during the 1956 change of name to National Bank of Commerce, Mon Wallgren was one of the minority stockholders.
      On Feb. 26, 1955, the Bingham brothers sold their bank and it became the Sedro-Woolley branch of Seattle-First National Bank, the second branch in the county for that chain and 59th statewide. Q. retired from active banking but remained as advisor until a stroke that year incapacitated him. A. stayed on with the new owner as a vice president of Sea-First and manager of this branch. Other officers who stayed on included W.A. McLean and Lester Mckee as assistant managers, and Eugene "Bud" Meyers as pro manager. Before moving to its next permanent location on Ferry street, SeaFirst remodeled the building for the last time in 1959, mainly cosmetic changes. Now even that logo is gone as SeaFirst was absorbed by Bank of America at the turn of the 21st century.
      The Bingham brothers are all gone now; A. was the last to pass, on Feb. 25, 1992, at age 96. His service was filled with octogenarians and some even older, and was filled with laughter as well as tears, as old timers told story after story of A.'s understanding and kindness and how he helped find some way for those experiencing hard times to save their homes. When the services were over, I went home and pulled out for my mother the original bill of sale that A. filled out when my father bought our old Utopia farm in 1948. My dad always used to laugh about how A. stepped in chicken droppings while filling it out and didn't bother to wipe them off. The "document" was a page from an old Big Chief tablet, less than 20 words, recording the sale price, the down payment and a note to my dad: "Vic, if you will come in sometime over the next month or so, we can fill out the papers and make this all legal."

Return to Part One, the very early days.

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Story posted on April 15, 2003, last updated Oct. 7, 2007, moved to this domain Nov. 7, 2011
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