Alleigh Richardson had always loved the historic First National Bank building on the northeast corner of First and Bent streets. The 25-year-old loved its eye-catching location in her beloved …
Alleigh Richardson had always loved the historic First National Bank building on the northeast corner of First and Bent streets. The 25-year-old loved its eye-catching location in her beloved community, the stately lines and its prominent place in Powell history. She dreamed of what she could do with it every time she saw it sitting idle. So she bought it.
The owner of Bent Corner Framing immediately moved her production equipment and supplies in on the ground floor from her space at the Polar Plant. She is now moving room to room — with the help of family and friends — to save the historic building.
Every room is in desperate need of renovation after a faulty roof and years of neglect left much of the lath and plaster walls and wood floors damaged by water and the ravages of time. The many windows of the two-story building need to be replaced, but not before the frames are stabilized and repainted. The exterior needs some tuck-pointing, but beyond the work that could take years, the building has “good bones,” she said, and is deserving of being saved.
“I had been eyeing this building for a while. I thought it was perfect,” she said. “I fell in love with it and its history here.”
A 1914 fire had destroyed the entire east side of Bent St. between First and Second streets, said Brandi Wright, director and curator at the Homesteader Museum in Powell.
“The next big building to be built on the block was the bank building in 1917,” she said.
The building broke ground in 1917 and was opened on April 4, 1918. It wasn’t the first prominent structure or the biggest building in Powell, but it was built with care and for many years served the Powell community.
Often remembered for a bank robbery in 1939, not all of the building’s history is pleasant.
Earl Durand was killed while attempting to rob the bank after being arrested for poaching cattle and hunting elk out of season, then subsequently escaping. The 11-day chase through the Beartooth Mountains and Park County communities ended at the main entrance of the bank after Durand had already killed four officers — two at his house, and two who tried to apprehend him during the manhunt in the Beartooth Mountains near Clarks Fork Canyon.
While attempting to rob the bank, Durand took three hostages. As they exited from the main entrance — then on the south side of the building — townspeople began firing. Teller Johnny Gawthrop was killed. Durand, who was wounded, crawled back into the bank and took his own life, according to Park County Archives.
The original entrance was eventually closed and relocated to the west side of the building. Now the site where Durand died is a back room in the building, painted in yellow and filled with photographs abandoned recently by Sunlight Photographics, owned by Brent and Kelly Emery.
Literally thousands of photographs, from weddings and special events to family and senior portraits were left behind, now the property of Richardson.
Erin Borcher-Johnson, Alleigh’s mother, hopes to someday host a show of the art, “a benefit” to return the photos to Powell families, she said.
“If you or someone you know is in the photos, you’d have to take it home,” suggested Borcher.
The photographs aren’t the only relics Richardson and her family discovered in the building. There were still personal bank records left in the basement, Rolodexes full of clients’ names, a wall of audio and video equipment upstairs and even a child’s handmade toy; a Texas Ranger police badge, written in a little boy’s handwriting in pencil and concealed in a leather wallet — like a police shield — signed Clarence B. Nay.
Nay was born in 1905, according to census records. He was born in Virginia and was living in Powell at least by the time he was 35 years old, if not earlier. He was married to Alice M. (Weber), but there is little information available about Clarence or how his prized toy was left in the bank.
Several businesses were located in the building after the bank moved to Clark Street, including an office for stock brokers C.C. Blackman and Mike Jenkins and an accounting agency owned by Harold Robirds.
Not surprisingly, the building still has the bank vault. It now houses important framing equipment.
Richardson’s intention is to both preserve the historic building, extending its life as a community asset, and to build her home, an apartment on the top floor. She would like to eventually rent space to other stores that will serve Powell into the future.
Recently Richardson and her crew started cleaning and clearing the main floor in an effort to find out what needs to be fixed first. The potential of the building was already shining through after just a few days of labor. She gained a ton of experience in renovating distressed buildings while working with her mom and stepfather, rebuilding and remodeling Gestalt Studios at The Polar Plant. Plus, she has a lot of support.
“We've been through this before. The [Polar Plant] was a huge experience-builder,” Borcher said. “Alleigh feels confident that she can take on the bank, because she was a big part of this remodel. She knows the process and how long it takes.”
The two buildings are similar in that they were both well built, Borcher said. “They both have good bones,” she said.
It could take years to fully rehabilitate the old First National Bank, but “it’s worth it,” Richardson said.