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Chelsea Savings Bank

Grace Shackman

It was Frank Glazier's memorial to his father

"It would be a notable building in many a city of much larger size," wrote Samuel Beakes in 1906 of the Chelsea Savings Bank building. Constructed in 1901 by Frank Glazier, the building on the corner of Main and South streets is now the District 14-A Courthouse.

Glazier built the impressive fieldstone temple as a memorial to his father, George, from whom he inherited the bank. Frank Glazier left a wonderful architectural heritage in Chelsea, including the bank, the red-brick stove factory with its clock tower, the employee welfare building next door (until recently home of the Chelsea Standard), and the First United Methodist Church.

His enterprises collapsed abruptly during the depression of 1907. The Farmers and Mechanics Bank was organized the next year to fill the void, and in 1927, the new bank moved into Glazier's building, which in the interval had housed the local offices of the Portland Cement Company.

During the Great Depression, the Farmers and Mechanics Bank merged with the Kempf Bank to form Chelsea State Bank, which remained in the Glazier building. Renovations covered up many of the original elegant details, and the ceiling was lowered to cut heating expenses.

The bank used only the building's first floor. There were storerooms upstairs, where township treasurers sometimes set up temporary collection offices at tax time. The basement was completely unfinished—just a dirt floor covered with planks.

"There was an opening in front of the bank for night deposits," recalls long-time bank employee Margaret O'Dell. The money went down to the basement. In the morning, the men would go down to get it. It was too creepy in the basement for us."

In 1968, the Chelsea State Bank moved to a modern facility at Main and Orchard, which had more room and a drive-up window. The bank donated its old building to the county to use as a courthouse.

At first, the court, too, used just the first floor. But by the late 1980s, the building was overcrowded, and the county needed to make a change. Chelsea residents wanted the court to slay in the historic bank, and although county officials agreed, they said they could afford only to modernize the building, not restore it.

Chelsea's citizens made up the difference. The Historic Courthouse Group raised money from lawyers, judges, court employees, governmental units, and interested citizens. For a year, while the restoration was in progress, the court met nearby at the Sylvan Township Hall. "Everybody put themselves out," recalls Diana Newman, who was active in the endeavor.

The restoration work revealed the original interior: marble walls and floors, carved burr oak woodwork, leaded glass, and ornate plaster work. Taking down the ceiling tiles, restorers discovered a dome that poured light into the middle room.

"We had to push up and down, we had to make all three floors useable," says Tom Freeman, director of facilities for the county. Workers dug out the basement to provide more headroom and poured cement floors. Offices replaced the former storerooms upstairs.

Meanwhile, the Chelsea State Bank continues to flourish. In an age when most small banks are swallowed up by larger ones, Chelsea is lucky to still have a locally based financial institution. "We have been a successful bank and see no reason to sell," explains bank president John Mann. "Our board of directors [is] committed to remaining an independent community bank."

The bank's headquarters are now on the corner of Old US-12 and M-52; the in-town bank building serves as a branch. Keeping its history in mind, the bank has converted the branch building into a modern version of the courthouse—complete with pillars and a red tile roof.

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: The Chelsea Savings Bank failed abruptly in 1907.

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Grace Shackman