The Bank of Chelsea Savings

Frank Glazier's tribute to his father took shape in the remarkable Chelsea Savings Bank edifice, a structure that Samuel Beakes described in 1906 as possessing the magnitude and grandeur that would befit cities far larger in scale. Situated on the intersection of Main and South streets, this building currently functions as the District 14-A Courthouse.

As an inheritance from his father George, the bank that Frank Glazier inherited became the catalyst for his architectural legacy in Chelsea. This legacy included not only the bank itself but also the red-brick stove factory accompanied by its clock tower, the neighboring employee welfare building that previously housed the Chelsea Standard, and the First United Methodist Church.

Regrettably, the onset of the financial downturn in 1907 resulted in the rapid collapse of Glazier's enterprises. To fill the void left by these failures, the Farmers and Mechanics Bank was established the following year. Ultimately, in 1927, this new bank relocated to the unmistakable building created by Glazier, which had temporarily housed the local offices of the Portland Cement Company.

During the Great Depression, a merger between the Farmers and Mechanics Bank and the Kempf Bank led to the formation of Chelsea State Bank. This newly formed bank found a home in the Glazier building, albeit with significant renovations that obscured several elegant original features and a lowered ceiling to reduce heating expenses.

Interestingly, the bank solely utilized the building's ground floor, while the upper level housed storage areas where temporary tax collection offices were occasionally established by township treasurers. The basement, on the other hand, remained particularly unfinished, merely a dirt-covered space with wooden planks.

Margaret O'Dell, a longstanding employee at the bank, recalls fondly the presence of a designated opening in front of the bank for night deposits, whereby the money would descend into the basement and be retrieved by the staff in the morning. However, due to the eerie atmosphere of the basement, she admits that venturing down there was unsettling for the employees.

In 1968, the Chelsea State Bank relocated to a modern facility at the intersection of Main and Orchard, affording greater space and the convenient addition of a drive-up window. Subsequently, the old bank building was generously donated by the bank to the county, with the expectation that it would be repurposed as a courthouse.

Initially, the courthouse only occupied the ground floor of the building. However, by the late 1980s, overcrowding mandated a change. Eager to preserve the historic bank, locals in Chelsea advocated for the courthouse to remain in the existing structure. County officials, while supportive of this endeavor, could only allocate funds for modernization rather than complete restoration.

Undeterred, the citizens of Chelsea rallied together. The Historic Courthouse Group spearheaded a fundraising campaign that engaged lawyers, judges, court employees, governmental entities, and concerned citizens. Throughout the restoration project, which spanned a year, court proceedings were temporarily relocated to Sylvan Township Hall. Diana Newman, an active contributor to the initiative, fondly recalls the collective effort exerted by the community.

The meticulous restoration efforts unveiled the original interior, adorned with marble walls and floors, intricate burr oak woodwork, leaded glass, and ornate plaster elements. Removal of the ceiling tiles revealed a majestic dome, allowing natural light to cascade into the central room.

Tom Freeman, the county's director of facilities, shares details about the immense efforts that ensued: the need to optimize all three floors, requiring substantial adjustments to the basement to increase headroom, and the introduction of cement floors following excavation. In transforming the former storage spaces on the upper level, new offices were established.

Meanwhile, the Chelsea State Bank continues to flourish. In an era where small banks typically succumb to consolidation with larger institutions, the local community can count themselves fortunate to have this independent financial establishment. Bank president John Mann emphasizes the bank's commitment to autonomy, affirming their resolute stance not to sell amidst their successful operations.

Currently situated at the junction of Old US-12 and M-52, the bank operates its headquarters. Simultaneously, the old in-town bank building has been transformed into a branch that pays homage to its historical roots by adopting a modern interpretation of a courthouse, complete with stately pillars and a vibrant red tile roof.

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: The unforeseen demise of the Chelsea Savings Bank occurred abruptly in 1907.

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