Pictured above: Merchants Bank's Winona flagship location. Photo on the left as building appeared in the 1950s. Photo on the right showcases the terra cotta work and eagle on the building exterior.
In the late 1800s, Winona, Minnesota was a booming town on the Mississippi River and home to hundreds of migrant workers from Poland, Germany and France. Most of them worked for the lumber mills and other businesses that supported the growing town.
Our founders recognized the need to serve Winona’s working class population and established Merchants National Bank in 1875. Merchants Bank opened for business on July 12, 1875 with $100,000 in assets and Mark Willson serving as President.
Merchants Banks’ commitment to being the workingman’s bank was something our founders didn’t take lightly. All tellers were expected to speak and write in English, German and Polish. Even the design of our flagship location in Winona reflected our small business mentality, from wood accents to pay homage to Winona’s lumber industry to a stained glass pattern in honor of local farmers’ cornfields.
Our First Board of Directors
The group of men who started Merchants Bank truly tells the story of our commitment to the working class. Our original Board of Directors included:
- Mark Willson, Merchants Bank President (previously a Merchandise Salesman)
- Charles Berry, Attorney
- G.W. Bennett, Owner of Taylor & Bennett Co.
- Conrad Booth, Manufacturer and Lumber Dealer
- Charles Beck, Entrepreneur, Brewer, Politician and Farmer
- H.D. Perkins, Merchants Bank Vice President (previously a Grocer)
- N.F. Hilbert, Merchants Bank Cashier (previously an Accountant)
The Story of Our Winona Location
“A cube encased in brick and glass” is how the original architects described the unique design of the Merchants Bank building on 102 East Third Street. While many other banks built around the turn of the century featured gothic architecture, the Bank hired the Minneapolis firm of Purcell, Feick and Elmslie to bring a different vision to life when constructing our third bank location in the early 1900s.
The firm was a leader in “The Prairie School of Architecture” style and architects Purcell and Elmslie were close associates of Louis Sullivan (all three were contemporaries of Frank Lloyd Wright). The Merchants Bank building is the largest and most famous example of their unique, progressive contribution to early 20th century architecture. While the building was updated and renovated several times since it opened in 1912, eventually it was restored to match the original architectural drawings during a large building renovation and expansion that took place in the early 1970s. In 1974, our building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Our flagship location has some unique features that can still be seen today:
- Stained glass windows – Produced by Mosaics Art Shops of Minneapolis, the large windows were inspired by earlier works of Louis C. Tiffany.
- Mural – While the building originally had two murals painted by Albert Fleury, only one remains today on the Bank’s north wall. It depicts the West Burns Valley area lying behind Winona’s bluff-top landmark called Sugar Loaf.
- Original bank vault – Prominently displayed in our lobby is our original cash vault, which was used until the renovation in 1972. While it may appear portable, the ball-shaped unit weighs approximately 15 tons.
- Terra cotta details - The building's exterior features extensive and unique terra cotta work, including a bald eagle above the front door entrance (pictured above).
How Merchants Bank Grew
Since our founding in 1875, we’ve been fortunate to add several communities to the Merchants Bank footprint.
- 1979 – Opened branch in Goodview, MN.
- 1988 – Opened Merchants Bank Equipment Financing in Edina, MN.
- 1989 – Acquired the First National Bank in St. Charles, MN.
- 1990 – Acquired La Crescent State Bank in La Crescent, MN.
- 1993 – Acquired Sprague National Bank in Caledonia, MN.
- 1999 – Opened Lakeside branch in Winona, MN.
- 1999 – Acquired TCF locations in Rochester, MN.
- 2000 – Acquired Hampton Bank in Hampton, Apple Valley, Cottage Grove and Hastings, MN.
- 2003 – Opened branch in Onalaska, WI.
- 2005 – Opened branch in Lakeville, MN.
- 2007 – Acquired First National Bank in Cannon Falls and Red Wing, MN.
- 2009 – Acquired Mainstreet Bank in Cottage Grove, MN.
- 2010 – Acquired Central Bank location in Spring Grove, MN.
- 2011 – Acquired Central Bank location in Rosemount, MN.
- 2013 – Acquired Associated Bank locations in Lanesboro and Rushford, MN.
- 2014 – Acquired Alliance Bank location in Eau Claire, WI.
- 2019 – Acquired First National Bank of Northfield in Northfield, MN.
Rooted in Our Past, Looking to Our Future
We’re proud of our rich history in Winona and how we’ve added to that story by becoming a part of communities throughout southern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. As Merchants Bank continues to grow, we remain true to our original mission of being a safe, secure, reliable institution for families to trust with some of their most valuable assets. We’re committed to helping the communities we serve thrive through our support of small businesses and the ag industry, as well as donating our time and monetarily to local nonprofits.