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MERCHANTS NATIONAL BANK

The Merchants National Bank building is the heart of Grinnell’s visual identity. The city of Grinnell’s official logo and motto, “Jewel of the Prairie” refer to the building’s stained glass rose window.

Named a “jewel box” by its architect, Louis Sullivan, Merchants National Bank is one of eight small bank buildings Sullivan designed across the Midwest during the end of his career.

Continue reading to learn about the history and architecture of Merchants National Bank.

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Architecture

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Timeline of Merchants National Bank

View the timeline in full screen here

Resources

Archives Materials

The Chamber of Commerce made a large donation to the Drake Community Library Archives in 2023, including photographs, Brenton Bank materials, brochures, and an original copy of the 1916 Western Architect featuring Merchants National Bank.

You can make an appointment with the archivist here and see the Merchants National Bank collection.

Suggested Reading

  • You can read a digitized copy of the 1916 Western Architect, which contains photographs and architectural descriptions of the newly constructed Merchants National Bank building.
  • The Grinnell Herald reported on the opening of Merchants National Bank in 1915 in great detail.
  • Max Smith, a former president of the Grinnell Brenton Bank, gave a 1989 talk on how Louis Sullivan was selected as architect for the Merchants National Bank building. You can read the script for Smith’s talk, titled “Why in the World is there a Louis Sullivan Building in Grinnell?” as a PDF document.

 

For further reading, Louis Sullivan’s Merchants National Bank by Bill Menner is an informative history of the Sullivan building accompanied with great photographs of the building’s architectural details and interiors. There is a circulating copy of Menner’s book available, as well as one copy in the archives.