September 23, 2023

This is the story of how a small pioneer bank in rural northwest Missouri grew and prospered under the leadership of five enerations of one family to become the largest independently owned bank in that area.

It begins in 1868. Less than four years had passed since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The dark days that engulfed the nation during and immediately after the Civil War were beginning to clear. Maryville, Missouri, the seat of Nodaway County, had been platted only 23 years earlier. Another year would pass before Maryville gained its first railroad — and its first bank.

On December 4, 1868, the George S. Baker and Company, Bankers, opened its doors for business on the northwest corner of Third and Main Streets. Mr. Baker’s associates were four well-known business men, James B. Prather, E.S. Stephenson, Joseph E. Alexander and W.C. Orear. In 1870, Mr. Orear sold his interest to John O. Martin.

Lobby of Nodaway Valley Bank, c. 1890. For security purposes, bank operations were separated from the public by tall teller counters. In some cases, tellers were locked in steel mesh cages.

In 1873, Messrs. Baker and Martin sold their interests to Theodore L. Robinson and J. C. Waterman. Mr. Prather became president and Theodore L. Robinson, who was a comparatively new man in Nodaway County, became cashier. With Mr. Baker’s withdrawal, the name was changed to the Nodaway Valley Bank. Mr. Prather had other interests and left the management of the bank to Mr. Robinson. In 1874, Mr. Baker founded the Maryville National Bank with other partners.

Theodore L. Robinson was born in Calloway County, Missouri, in 1833. His mother died when he was three years old. He and his two small brothers were placed in the care of their paternal grandparents by his father who moved to Texas and whom he never saw again. His grandparents preempted a farm and moved to Buchanan County when he was eleven. Due to poor health, his grandfather was unable to work the land.

In 1845, at the age of 12, young Theodore went to work at the Mansion House in St. Joseph. There, he attracted the interest and attention of one of the boarders, John Curd, a pioneer merchant who also came from Calloway County. Impressed with young Robinson’s industriousness, Curd offered him a job in his dry goods store on the corner of Main and Levee. Under the five-year contract, Robinson would earn sixty dollars a year plus the opportunity to attend school for three months of each winter for three of the five years. Due to unfavorable circumstances, Robinson was only able to attend school for six months.

Texas, leaving a widow and three little children. His older brother had also died in Texas, while his younger brother had died in 1844.

Robinson intended to return to California, but reentered the store of his old friend and employer, John Curd, where he earned enough to purchase a wagon and a two-horse team in order to travel to Houston, Texas, to bring his father’s widow and children to Missouri and provide for them. For a year, he struggled to support the family on his limited salary. Curd recognized Robinson’s unselfish effort and offered to furnish a stock of goods which might be taken to a country town for sale.

In 1857, Mr. Curd sent Robinson to the newly incorporated town of Maryville to set up and manage a general store. In a short time, he bought the store and formed a partnership with Thaddeus K. Beal, a well-known pioneer merchant and financier. In 1859, Robinson married Rebecca J. Ray, who came with her parents from Kentucky as early pioneers. Only three of their seven children lived to adulthood, James B., born in 1864, Frederick P. “F. P.,” born in 1874 and Jennie I., born in 1880.

In 1873, Theodore L. Robinson sold his store and lumber yard and bought an interest in the Nodaway Valley Bank. After serving as cashier and executive officer for 16 years, Mr. Robinson became president in 1889 and served until his death in 1894. Perhaps because of his difficult experiences early in life, his motto for the bank was “Safety and Dependability,” a philosophy which helped the bank prosper when many other small banks failed.

Mr. Robinson took an interest in community affairs and contributed much to the growth of Maryville and Nodaway County. He was one of the early trustees of the town of Maryville. Deprived of formal education, Robinson was an ardent supporter of public schools and served as a member and treasurer of the Public School Board for 21 years. He speculated in land and was also interested in farming and raising livestock.