Celebrating Preservation: The First National Bank
The First National Bank on Division Street has undertaken the most extensive Northfield historic preservation project in the past thirty years. The three-story bank at 329 Division Street, designed by architect J.E. Cooke in 1889 and built by John C. Nutting, initially occupied only the corner building. In 1903 a separate building was added to the back of the bank along Fourth Street for other businesses. The bank owned the adjoining building at 327 Division Street that contained Freeman’s the Hub, a clothing store. The Hub in turn sat next to Northfield Variety (325 & 323 Division Street) in the Second Mergen Building (1883) whose upper two stories had been “modernized” in the 1950s by covering them with a tan metal façade that hid the windows. Storefronts in Northfield were traditionally twenty-two feet wide and the Mergen Building and the Bank each contained two storefronts.
In 1976, the bank expanded into the space occupied by Freeman’s The Hub on Division Street and opened up the interior limestone wall between the two buildings, leaving the wall visible. In 1990, the bank purchased the adjacent Northfield Variety store and hired local architects Sewell Mathre and Steve Edwins to restore the Mergen Building façade, replace the tin cornice at the top of the building to match the original one, and integrate the four store fronts on Division Street into one. Using Federal tax credits that required them to preserve the high ceilings and clerestory windows above the entrance doors, the bank hired Ray Cox’s Northfield Construction Company to rebuild the interior and install built-in cases for displaying artifacts from the historic 1876 Jesse James raid on the original bank (now the Northfield Historical Society). The entire project, which also included connecting to the building at the rear on Fourth Street, took three years to complete.
In a nice touch of authenticity, when the bank hired the Building Restoration Corporation to paint the exterior of the building to protect its soft brick and limestone, it instructed them to repaint a sign on the upper story of the Division Street side of the bank advertising the First National Bank that had existed in the nineteenth century.
The resulting structure anchors a key site on Bridge Square in downtown Northfield and shows what a powerful impact historic preservation can have on maintaining the distinctive identity of our community. It also now provides a home in its upper stories for eight additional businesses.
Cliff Clark is the former Chair of the Northfield Heritage Preservation Commission and a current board member of the Northfield Historical Society