Rising through the ranks

Robert S. Davis started as a bookkeeper, became president of one of city’s finest banks

Robert S. Davis rose from cashier to president or First National Bank of Stillwater and was active in several civic groups and the Presbyterian Church of Stillwater before his death in April 1925. (Photo courtesy of Washington County Historical Society)

Robert S. Davis rose from cashier to president or First National Bank of Stillwater and was active in several civic groups and the Presbyterian Church of Stillwater before his death in April 1925. (Photo courtesy of Washington County Historical Society)

In most communities, banking is a vital force present in most aspects of life. From starting businesses to home mortgages to car loans, banks provide an important service for a community’s survival and growth.

Stillwater’s first bank dates to before Minnesota became a state. From there, banks have come and gone and many have merged. Today, only one bank is in downtown Stillwater while many dot the landscape on Minnesota 36.

The early days it was important to have a strong administration at the bank. From the board of directors to the cashier, all had an equal hand in the quality and strength of the bank. Robert S. Davis was a person who started as a bookkeeper and rose to the presidency of one of Stillwater’s finest banking institutions.

Davis was born May 5, 1855, in Augusta, Maine, the son of James S. and Emily Davis. Later that year, James Davis moved to Stillwater and the following year he was joined by his family. Robert Davis was educated in the local schools and after finishing school, first worked in the office as the bookkeeper for the Hersey, Staples & Doe mercantile establishment. A few years later, at age 21, he became a bookkeeper for the Lumbermen’s National Bank.

After working eight years at the bank, Davis was promoted to bank manager. In 1897, he left the Lumbermen’s National Bank and was hired as the cashier at the First National Bank of Stillwater.

On October 19, 1878, he married Mira Edith Brown, a daughter of Edward S. Brown, one of the pioneers of Stillwater and Minneapolis. Together, the couple had two children, Emily and Jed H. In 1888, Davis had built for his family a beautiful home at 1305 South Third St. at a cost of $4,000.

Upon the death of R.H. Bronson in 1913, Davis became the president of the First National Bank, a position he held the rest of his life.

Besides banking, Davis was also a director and treasurer of the Twin City Forge and Foundry Co.; a director of the Minnesota Mercantile Co., and the secretary of the Stillwater Gas & Electric Light Co.

The list of his civic activities is also impressive. He was a charter member of Company K, Minnesota National Guard where he served from 1883 to 1889 rising to the rank of first lieutenant.  When the U.S. entered World War I in Europe, Davis again helped the citizens of this area, but not as a soldier. He was in charge of the Liberty and Victory Loans assessed to the county and made them a success. He was also on the executive committee for the Washington County Patriotic League and the chairman of the county’s fuel administration with directed the fuel use in such a way as to relieve the shortages caused by war demands.

Robert S. Davis was also a member of the Masons, the Stillwater Lodge No. 179 B.P.O. Elks and served as president for several years. He was a member of the board of education and also a Stillwater Water Board member as well as an elder at the Presbyterian Church of Stillwater.

Davis’ busy life slowed down as he got older, but he maintained his office at the First National Bank. After being ill for about 10 days in April 1925, Robert S. Davis, one of Stillwater’s banking leaders, died April 26, 1925, at his South Third Street home.

In a biography about Mr. Davis, published a year before his death, the author writes that, “Mr. Davis occupies a central place on the stage of action in Stillwater and enjoys the confidence and goodwill of the public, being esteemed for the success he has achieved and for those qualities of manhood which have made possible his rise.”

Peterson

Peterson

Brent Peterson is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.

 

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