If These Walls Could Talk: Currently Great Plains Bank Part 1

Grenz, Anderson & Straub. "If These Walls Could Talk: Currently Great Plains Bank Part 1." Northwest Blade, 1 Septemeber 2011.

Anchoring Eureka’s business district for over a century, the building on the corner of Main and Market Streets (G Ave. & 7th St.) has housed a bank the entirety of its existence. 
Befitting its purpose, it is a stately 2-story brick structure with a distinctive corner entrance.  But while it has always housed a bank, it has had many names and occupants. 

Charles Pfeffer established the Bank of Eureka in 1887 on this site. The earliest photograph shows Charles Pfeffer standing in front of the Bank of Eureka, a wooden building at the time.  His brother-in-law, William Bramaier, served as managing officer for a considerable time.  Bramaier and Pfeffer had originally established a machine and farm implement business in 1884, located in St. Petersburg, moving it in 1887 to the newly established Eureka.  When Bramaier died in 1894, Mrs. Pfeffer inherited his estate, rumor having it that this was the start of the Pfeffer’s fortunes.  Pfeffer also established other businesses in town and at one time was said to have owned about 200 quarters of land.

Pfeffer was an important leader in the development of the community, serving as the first townsite agent, and as Mayor in 1892 and 1898.  He was known as “Der Russlander Vater,” a term earned by his willingness to help those who needed help, especially during lean times.  Edmund Opp remembers his father, John D. Opp, speaking highly of Pfeffer, in that he had a sympathetic heart for struggling farmers, making loans to immigrants for farm machinery.  His dad said you could trust him and that he was very understanding about the hardships the farmers were going through in the early years.  Some couldn’t pay taxes for at least 3 years, or make payments on their loans, and many banks took advantage of that, paying the overdue taxes and claiming the properties.  But the Eureka farmers who banked with Pfeffer did not have to worry, as he just gave them more time, helped them, and never foreclosed on them. 

 “Charley” Pfeffer was energetic and gregarious, forceful and shrewd, and was both beloved and disliked, but above all was known for his stocky figure, with massive head, necessitating special order hats, and his girth, with special order size 20 shirts.  He moved to the West Coast shortly after the turn of the century, selling most of his assets but leaving behind thriving businesses and an enduring reputation.

The Bank of Eureka next became known as The German Bank.  The name is confusingly similar to another bank on the corner directly east across the street called the German State Bank.  The plat map of Eureka (dated in the late 1890’s or early 1900’s) in the 1937 Jubilee Book lists the two banks across the street from each other as “Bank of Eureka” (west side) and “German Bank, Fred Boettcher” (east side).  Boettcher was the sole owner of the east-side bank until April 19, 1897, when it was re-organized under the name of the German Bank of Eureka.  In 1899, a certain C. Vorlander purchased an interest in the bank and became cashier. 

An Insurance Yearbook of 1900 lists the “German Bank, Eureka, Charles Pfeffer and F.H. Hooper.”  It appears that Pfeffer and Hooper may have bought out the east-side bank, and moved its assets, employess, and the name across the street to their bank.  By 1911, a Eureka plat map shows the west location to be “The German Bank” while the east corner holds a market (the Dierenfeldt Market, built in 1909).  A 1911 advertisement for The German Bank states “Established 1888, Incorporated 1901, C. [Christian] Vorlander, President; S. Wenzlaff, Vice-Pres.; Edgar L. Wenzlaff, Cashier; Edward Magg [Maag], Asst. Cashier.”  In 1916, the officers were Christian Vorlander, Pres.; G.J. Keim, Cashier.   Christian Vorlander served as president of the German Bank of Eureka for many years, and when the name of that institution was changed to the First National Bank, on November 19, 1919, he continued to serve as president. 

In 1907, the current brick building was constructed by the old German Bank of which Christian Vorlander was president.  The building itself was called the Farmers Investment Building, with the bank occupying space on the first floor.  Bank minutes dated 1932 still mention rent being paid in the Farmers Investment Building. 

Over the years, the Farmers Investment Building housed many other offices and businesses besides the bank: 

The Dakota Central Telephone Company was located upstairs in one room in 1908, where operators worked with plug-in type switchboards until moving to a new building in 1942.  (Some of the original equipment still remains upstairs in the bank.)

An upstairs window boasted “J. M. Brown, lawyer” in 1910.    

The two west rooms on the second floor of the bank building were rented by Dr. Gerdes for operating rooms in 1911.  His consultation rooms and offices were on the first floor.  An old photograph shows a sign by the north entrance with the German word “Wundärzt” meaning “doctor of surgery.”  Later doctors sharing the space were Drs. E.E. Stephens and Christie.  (There was no hospital in town until 1929.)

In 1912, J.D. Harr began his barbering career in the basement of the building, as an apprentice to W.O. (Bill) Davis.

Dentist P.W. Treick established an office in 1919 in this building.

Slim’s Plumbing (Emil Schulkoski) started his business in the basement in 1924, purchasing it from Henry Pietz.

Fred’s (Grieser’s) Tin Shop was begun in the basement in 1928.

Tom Lohner, wholesale candy distributor, stored his merchandise in the building.

Isaak Optometry, owned by Dr. R.H. ‘Hank’ Isaak, moved into the building in 1936.

Also in 1936, Drs. Olson and Olson opened a dental office on the first floor.

Apartments were located in the upstairs portion of the building at one time. 

A draft office was also located on the second floor at one time.

The American Legion Club was located in the basement from 1950-1954, and the Chamber of Commerce also used the basement for their meetings at one time.

And many remember the youth center that was once in the bank basement.  Known as the “Rexy,” it opened in March of 1955.  Membership for youth 7-12th grades was 25¢.

In August 1920 the bank became insolvent, and Vorlander was appointed receiver by the Comptroller.  He was involved in a court case accusing him of inappropriate use of bank funds “for speculation in stocks which had not proved profitable.”  (Ted Straub Autobiography, p. 78)  He had borrowed from a bank in Aberdeen, which was seeking to regain the funds.  Tragically, Christian Vorlander, a well-liked, respected banker and former city treasurer and mayor, “committed suicide prior to the closing of the Eureka bank” in August 1920.  (20F.2D685 Court Brief, District Court D, SD June 1927)  The judge ruled against the Eureka bank, though recognizing that Vorlander had engaged in a common practice at the time, had had sufficient funds to cover the loans and had no intent to commit fraud.

Sometime that year, the name of the bank was changed to the Guaranty State Bank.  William Boettcher served as president of the Guaranty State Bank from 1926 to 1930.

Banks everywhere across America began to have trouble in the late 1920’s.  The NW Blade records that the banks in Eureka all closed in December of 1930.  It was the end for the other local bank, but on Monday, March 2, 1931 the Eureka State Bank opened for business, with assets and liabilities of $145,044.40 assumed from the former Guaranty State Bank.  Concerned about the need for a bank in the city, “Dr. O.H. Gerdes had decided that he would make it possible to open a new bank in Eureka with money that was available from his life insurance policies.”  (Ted Straub Autobiography, p. 79)  The Guaranty Bank charter was transferred to the new Eureka State Bank. 

Dr. O.H. Gerdes was majority stockholder, together with John Liedle, George G. Neuharth, Julius Bender, Andrew Stoebner, John J. Keim, M.W. Weber, Philip Oster Sr., Eugene Liedle, and Jacob Kiesz.  (A complete history of the events of the nationwide bank failure, 1933 bank holiday, reorganization of the business, and statement of condition can be found on p. 172-173 of the 1937 Eureka Jubilee Book.)

Dr. Gerdes’ daughter, Irene Gerdes Treick, eventually succeeded him as a Director of the bank and was later elected President.  A son-in-law, Fred K. Mehlhaff, married to Lillian Gerdes, came into the bank business in 1946, after selling the family’s business, the Mehlhaff Meat Market.  Mehlhaff was later named President of Eureka State Bank.  The Mehlhaff family continued in banking, with F.K.’s sons Dean O. Mehlhaff & Willis F. Mehlhaff; and Dean’s sons, Peter J. Mehlhaff and Patrick O. Mehlhaff, serving as bank officers and owners at the current time. 

A major change to the business was made in 1997, when the bank bought the Rexall Drug building directly to the south and remodeled the facility, updating and expanding it into the drugstore space.  The bank changed its name to Great Plains Bank August 5, 1997, following a merger with the Eden, SD bank. 

The Rexall Drug building, formerly the Eureka Drug Company, and now a part of the Great Plains Bank, has a storied history of its own, which should be included in this tale.   -- To Be Continued….

Story courtesy of the Northwest Blade, Eureka, SD.
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