On August 6, 1821, Falmouth National Bank, the first bank on Cape Cod, opened its doors to the public. Today, two hundred years later, the pillared brick colonial overlooking the Falmouth Village Green is still being used as a banking institution, just with a new name and a newly modernized approach to banking.
Martha’s Vineyard Bank acquired the building at 84 Main Street in October 2020 and opened the office, its third in Falmouth, just eight months later. The grand opening on June 18 consisted of a ribbon-cutting ceremony and gave the community a peek at the renovations that had been done to the main floor of the building over the preceding months.
“It was nice to be in the building again,” said Bruce S. MacKilligan, former president of Falmouth National Bank. “They’ve remodeled it inside, so it was a bit changed from our days, but it was very good that the building was open again as a bank after being closed for about nine months.”
The changes that Mr. MacKilligan was referring to—an open floor plan, removal of the teller booths that once lined the left wall, and a crisp white interior with plenty of office space—are a big difference from when he worked at 84 Main Street in 1973.
“I had been in banking for five years when Falmouth National Bank approached me and asked if I’d like to come to work for them,” said Mr. MacKilligan. “That’s when we opened up the branch in the new Cape Cod Mall [in Hyannis]. Then in 1973, I moved into the main office there on Main Street. I became president of the bank in 1977 and was there until the Bank of Boston bought Falmouth National Bank and the company that Falmouth National Bank was part of, MultiBank Financial Corporation.”
Mr. MacKilligan’s history with the bank goes back even further, though; his father, Donald B. MacKilligan, began working there in 1943 and climbed the corporate ladder quickly, just as his son would do just three decades later.
“He was essentially the chief operating officer of the bank,” Mr. MacKilligan said of his father. “He was vice president and cashier when he had to give up working because of an illness that took his life about six months later. As a matter of fact, my father came home from work one day when I was maybe 15 or 16, something like that, and said that the janitor in that building had left to take another job; would I help out for a couple of weeks? And it turned out to be not two weeks but many months that I was the janitor in that building.”
For Mr. MacKilligan, being back at the Village Green to watch Martha’s Vineyard Bank cut the ribbon and uphold the legacy of Falmouth National Bank was a nostalgic experience with two centuries of history to back it up. And for Christine (CJ) Conrad, vice president of marketing and solution development, that same sense of nostalgia and appreciation for the history of the building is never too far away.
“I honestly love driving up here every day,” she said. “The building’s been here for so long and no one really knew what was going to happen. It gives me a real sense of pride to come to work here. You walk in the door every morning and you’re like, ‘Wow, I am somewhere.’ It just feels really natural, it feels really good and it makes you proud to see our signs out there.”
She said that being in such close proximity to the dozens of businesses that line Falmouth’s Main Street has been great for business and building relationships with local merchants.
“I think it just gives you a real connection to the community,” Ms. Conrad said. “It’s terrific. You feel a real connection to the history of the place and a connection to Falmouth. We spent a lot of time learning about the history and a lot of time with the folks at Museums on the Green, who were terrific and helped us out a ton to make sure we were learning about the history and were sensitive to that in the renovations.”
One piece of history that the bank is taking special care to preserve is the connection between Falmouth’s banking legacy and its history as a whaling port. The bank pays homage to this bond in the form of a model sailing ship located at the end of the new teller line. At first glance, this obscure connection between whaling and banking may not seem all that important, but the historical significance can be traced back to the bank’s very origins.
In the 1800s, Elijah Swift built up the whaling industry in Falmouth and kept various ships of his docked in Woods Hole. One day, a third mate named Silas Jones was on one of these ships, Awashonks, sailing through the southeast Pacific. Upon realizing all of the officers on board had been killed by Native attackers, Jones managed to commandeer control of the ship, scare off the intruders and save who he could. He then sailed the ship back to Falmouth, where he was named the third president of Falmouth National Bank by Mr. Swift, the founder of the bank, likely as a token of gratitude for saving his ship.
“It happened right after the bank was started, so there was this really strong bond between the whaling history of Falmouth and the bank at that exact location,” said Martha’s Vineyard Bank CEO James Anthony. Mr. Anthony said that the history of the connection between whaling and banking in Falmouth as a whole is fascinating, but this story in particular is a favorite of his. “I mean, a guy goes to the South Pacific, fights off invaders, brings the ship back, and becomes president of the bank? And the person who built Falmouth as a whaling port starts a bank, and it’s the first bank on Cape Cod? I have a hard time outdoing that!”
Preserving the history of 84 Main Street was of the utmost concern of the building’s new owners during the renovation process and still is today, along with fostering communal relationships. Martha’s Vineyard Bank is a mutually held community bank, meaning that there are no shareholders; the account holders are the owners. This, Ms. Conrad said, allows any dividends to flow right back to the public through charitable donations and participation in the community.
In addition to preserving history, however, Martha’s Vineyard Bank is doing something else that is equally as important: modernizing.
Aesthetics aside, the renovations to 84 Main Street consisted of significant changes that challenge the traditional idea of what a bank should look or act like. Take the removal of the teller booths, for example. This was done in favor of an open floor plan, something that sounds almost trivial, but it was actually only made possible, thanks to modern technology.
“If we were automating, let’s say, 30 years ago, we’d still have to have a lot of equipment out there,” Ms. Conrad said. “But because technology has come so far in banking, we’ve been able to use cash recyclers. You can go right in behind the tellers [in our banks] because when they put the cash in, that in and of itself is a vault. The reason that whole teller line [in the old bank] was so segregated was that they had cash back there in drawers. This way, you don’t have a drawer. You just put the money in the machine. If you need money out, you just do your thing, it spits it right out and you can give it to the customer. That’s really great. It allows us to open up. It allows the building to be the best the building can be and we can still serve the customer amazingly. The footprint doesn’t have to change and you can keep a lot of the architectural significance, but you can add all of these modern ways of doing business.”