The Age of Main Street Banking

The Age of Main Street Banking

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, nearly all Nebraska communities had at least one bank. It was a necessity in an era much less mobile than our own. In order to convince the public of their stability and trustworthiness, these financial institutions turned to architecture to convey this notion. The result: substantial, well-built, ornate structures. While the Depression and rural demographic shifts brought an end to many of these banks, the buildings themselves often remain a downtown fixture; a reminder of the age of main street banking.

Battle Creek, Nebraska
Unidentified Bank


St. Peter Catholic Church, Clarks, NE

Saint Peter Catholic Church in Clarks, NE was constructed in 1926. The exterior of the church is an example of a late Romanesque Revival design; much more restrained than in earlier decades.

At some point, it appears that the church’s bronze bell was removed from the tower. The inscription on the bell reads: “Dei Gloria in Excelsis. This Bell is the Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth E. Sweet to St. Peter’s Catholic Church of Clarks, Neb. A.D. 1898.” Obviously this bell dates from a previous church building.

The interior is very restrained as is common in churches of this time period. This was stylistic trend that was later simplified even further with the onset of the Great Depression. While the current arrangement is tastefully executed, I am curious how the interior appeared prior to this renovation.

From the balcony, one can clearly discern the various converging architectural influences in this church. Romanesque Revival in the shape of the windows and furnishings; Art Deco in the sanctuary arch; and perhaps more of a Functionalism in the angular ceiling.

The sanctuary arch beautifully illustrates the influence of the Art Deco movement, which was just beginning to emerge when this church was constructed. The renovated sanctuary echos the simple nature of this particular church.

View from the altar toward the loft and rose window.

The brilliant windows, primarily executed in shades of blue, depict various scenes from Scripture. This particular window is of Jesus walking on the water.

During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once (Jesus) spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:25-27

The great rose window certainly portrays the magnificence of the scene in the center: The Transfiguration.


Bethany Lutheran Church (ELCA), Rural Axtell, NE

(Photo Source)

Just south of Highway 44 near Axtell, Nebraska stands Bethany Lutheran Church. Swedish immigrants began to call Kearney County home as early as 1873 and in 1876, Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church became the first church in Kearney County. A sod church was built in 1878 and the current building dates from 1885.

The church’s exterior has changed very little since its construction.

Note the ornate pressed tin shingles and pinnacles which grace the steeple.

The rather humble exterior gives way to a soaring interior that is nothing short of impressive!

Dominating the sanctuary is the altar painting, He Dwelt Among Us, painted in 1900 by famed Swedish painter Olof Grafström.

The interior is further enhanced by a large “U” shaped balcony.

Notice how the walls gracefully curve and flow into the ceiling.

Lots of light, shadows, and lines!

Bethany also features a very large pipe organ in the gallery.

For more information on this particular instrument, click here.

The length of the pillars more clearly shows the height of the interior.

The nave windows feature a slightly more ornate design, though they are largely obscured by the balcony.

The facade windows are a bit more simple, and perhaps older.

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