Built in 1833, the Old State Bank has been witness to multiple historic events including the Trail of Tears, two economic depressions, and the Civil War, but was utilized for other purposes during its existence that create a rich history surrounding the building.
The creation of the banking system was authorized by the Alabama General Assembly during their 1830 session. The Old State Bank was originally intended as the Tennessee Valley branch for the State Bank of Alabama and was part of the effort to establish additional branches of the State Bank of Alabama. The Decatur branch, along with others in Montgomery, Cahaba, and Mobile formed the infrastructure of the banking system for Alabama. The State Bank’s influence over events in the local area can first be seen in its relationship to the TC&D Railroad. James Fennell, Henry Rhoades, and Jesse Garth were at some point on the Board of Directors for both the TC&D and the Decatur branch of the Old State Bank. The intermingled relationship between the two led to a less than ethical financial relationship that enabled the railroad to stay financially solvent.
During the time of the Trail of Tears, the Old State Bank was positioned as it is now, on the Southwest corner of Market and Church street, overlooking the Tennessee River. From the rear of the building, employees would have been able to see the column of Native Americans leave from the Railroad Depot the following day. In spite of initial success, the unethical business practices eventually led the State Bank into financial ruin, and by 1840 the Niles Register estimated the Decatur branch had accumulated an outstanding debt of nearly one million dollars and by 1845 the massive building was vacant.
However, during the Civil War the bank was repurposed as a guardhouse and hospital. The remnants of skirmishes between Union and Confederate soldiers attempting to occupy or retake Decatur can be seen in the massive limestone columns on the front porch that were scared by musket fire and miniball that struck them. The State Bank building survived the war intact, and was again repurposed for the First National Bank in 1881 until FNB completed its new building in 1902. After this, it was utilized as a private residence and office by Dr. J. Y. Cantrell.
Later the building, suffering from deterioration, was deeded to the city of Decatur in 1933 and used as an American Legion Post until the 1970s when the site was added to the National Register of Historical Places. The American Legion Post graciously donated the building to the City of Decatur for restoration. The Bank currently operates as a museum and tourist attraction with free guided tours.
The history of the Old State Bank reveals the importance that it had for the removal process because removal through Decatur would have been impossible without the TC&D Railroad, and the Old State Bank and its financial support was directly responsible for the success of the TC&D. The beginning of the TC&D Railroad, as a means to move supplies around the impassable Tennessee River, required an immense financial investment that required an institution to help support it.