The Valley Bank Story
The origin of Valley Bank dates back to 1911 in the community of Somers, Montana, home of the once thriving Great Northern Sawmill and Flathead Lake’s chief shipping center during the days of the famed steamboat. A Somers attorney named W.N. Noffsinger was the bank’s first president and majority owner. Noffsinger is also well known for leading efforts to found the Glacier Park Saddle Horse Company, which became the primary mode of transportation in Glacier Park and the largest saddle horse company in the world.
Downtown Somers in 1905. All of the buildings in picture remain today. The State Bank of Somers was located in the building that is 2nd from the right. (photo courtesy of Bruce Ruby and the Montana Historical Society)
Five employees served the bank from a small brick building in downtown Somers. The Historic Somers Bay Café now inhabits the 100-plus year-old building and proudly displays the original charter established by the bank on June 30, 1911. J.L. Hensley began his tenure with the bank in 1958 and recalls working in the original structure in Somers. He still chuckles when recalling that the bank’s vault door was only a quarter of an inch thick and was safeguarded by a combination dial that provided bank employees with about a half inch “margin of error” when spinning in the combination each morning.
Believe it or not, it’s the same building, different era. On the left is the State Bank of Somers, which operated next to the Post Office (unknown date, estimated 1925). Today, The Historic Somers Bay Café is a local favorite for its food and historic Somers memorabilia on display in the cafe.
Hensley was granted the position of president in 1961 at which time he told the Daily Inter Lake “The bank has a nationwide reputation of being one of the earliest opening banks in the United States”. In the article Mr. Hensley stated that no major operating changes were planned and the bank would continue to open its doors each morning at 7:30 a.m. and close them at 2:00 p.m.
On January 11, 1964, the little bank in Somers appointed a Columbia Falls Banker named A.J. King as Cashier and Vice President. King and Hensley had become friends through their independent successes in the Flathead and a natural partnership was formed. They had already established co-ownership of the bank two years earlier.
On February 24, 1964, the bank charter was moved to it’s current Kalispell location and the name changed from State Bank of Somers to Valley Bank of Kalispell under the direction of J.L. Hensley and A.J. King. Two years of deliberation and careful consideration had concluded when the pair purchased a new building that had been the former home to a Safeway grocery store. The decision was obviously a good one because the bank still thrives today from that exact location.
Prior to Valley Bank's relocation in 1963, the photo on the left shows the former Safeway building during its renovation. The photo on the right shows Valley Bank today, 51 years after the renovation.
During the relocation, bank President Hensley and Chairman of the Board King moved the bank’s equipment, records and money with their own two hands. The partners would share a secretary but individually possess the “luxuries” of their own desk with a telephone, a nameplate, and an ashtray. The Daily Inter Lake, devoted the front page of the weekly paper to the unveiling of the new state-of-the-art building. The newspaper photographed all six Valley Bank employees, the bank vault that was faced with Montana stone taken from a Great Falls rock quarry, and the infamous collection of Winchester rifles (owned by the Eslick’s of Bigfork) which still adorn the walls today.
Inside Valley Bank just prior to the grand opening in June of 1964.
Eslick’s collection of rifles was and is one of the finest and largest in the world. The arrival of the rifles to Valley Bank was a gracious blessing for both parties. The move to Kalispell had stretched the bank’s finances to a point that the partners could not afford anything to decorate the inside of the new building. Their customer’s Joe and Merle Eslick, had an incredible collection of rifles that needed a place to be displayed. The coincidence of need resulted in the bank furnishing the displays and the Eslick’s providing the guns. Mr. King explained that “Every time the bank remodeled and expanded, the Eslick’s showed up with more guns.” Today, the magnificent collection displays 50 antique Winchester’s which include 2 Henry’s (infamous for holding the original patents for the “lever action repeating rifle”), and one model 1873 that is commonly known as “the gun that won the west”.
A sample of the Eslick’s Winchester Rifle Collection
that has been on display inside Valley Bank since 1964.
The motivated young bankers demonstrated hard work, honesty and innovation to turn the bank into an influential force in the Kalispell community. By 1967 Valley Bank had grown from the smallest commercial bank in Flathead County to the largest independent bank in Northwest Montana. Valley Bank gained national notoriety when its President, A.J. King, served as president of the Independent Bankers Association of America (now the ICBA) in 1984 and 1985. The bank also built a reputation for efficiency and safety and was even nationally recognized in 1988 and 1989 by Money Magazine for ranking in the top 100 of “The Safest Banks in America”.
Since the move in 1964, the bank has stayed true to it’s downtown location and remains a prominent figure on the corner of Third Street and First Avenue west. King and Hensley have built an institution that remains loyal to the same values they established more than 40 years ago. Valley Bank is a stand-alone community service staple that is still 100% owned and operated by Flathead County residents and it promises to continue to be a significant contributor to it’s customers and its community.