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Local History

The Bank of Billings

“The year was 1889. Benjamin Harrison was serving as the 23rd U.S. president, Civil War battles were still fresh memories and the Bank of Billings opened for business.

“In the 100 years since its founding, the bank has been a steadying force in this farming and railroad community of 1,000 in the Christian County panhandle. As a testament to its tenacity, the bank kept its doors open during the federally declared bank holiday in 1933 while the only other bank in town failed.

“‘The bank means quite a lot to Billings because it’s one of the oldest institutions in town,’ said Billings Mayor Raymond Andrus. ‘Anytime a bank has been in existence for 100 years, it says something.’

“To mark the survival of the 100-year-old institution, a celebration is planned for Friday and Saturday. Part of the bank’s festivities will include people dressed in 1889 costume at the bank and a Chickasaw Indian Chief wearing formal tribal regalia. Chief Russell Sage Carter will be a reminder of the Indian settlement near Billings in the early 1800s, said John K. Hulston, owner and president of the bank.

“The history of both Billings and the Christian County panhandle is not new to Hulston, a Springfield attorney and area history buff.

“Hulston has written ‘Panhandle Profiles,’ a book on the history of the area. In the 400-page, 100-picture book, Hulston documents more than 100 years of history and how the Christian county panhandle contributed to the nation’s development.

“‘I was surprised to find out just how much history of national interest there is in that area,’ Hulston said. ‘There are just two townships and yet it ties into the Trail of Tears, Wilson’s Creek Battlefield and the Butterfield Overland Mail and Stage Route.

“‘Then there’s the historical U.S. Highway 60, the Frisco Railroad and Burlington Northern,’ he added. ‘My aim has always been to know what happened in southwest Missouri, especially in this area.’

“Hulston purchased the bank in 1987 from Andrew Howard, son of the bank’s founder, A.J. ‘Jack’ Howard. The elder Howard served as the bank’s chief executive for 61 years until his son took over in 1950. Currently, David Bryan serves as executive vice president and manager. Hulston previously had bought the Bank of Ash Grove and the Greenfield Bank.

“Hulston has more than doubled the original size of the bank with the conversion of two buildings north of the bank, making the total size about 10,000 square feet. The additions include a drive-in facility and additional meeting rooms.

“‘We’ve maintained the original oak fixtures and added two new teller stations with the same kind of design,’ Hulston said. ‘The original building is made of Carthage marble and the addition we made is imitation Carthage marble.’

“A local economy as firm as the bank’s marble is a major reason behind the institution’s longevity, Hulston said.

“‘It started when the railroad came in 1871, in fact the town was named for one of Frisco’s bigwigs, Frederick Billings,’ he said. ‘Also, the depression didn’t wipe out the farmers here like it did in other areas and the economy has been very stable.’”

News-Leader, September 4, 1989

The bank building is now occupied by Billings City Hall and the police department.

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