Wisconsin Historical Society

National or State Registers Record

159 W. James St.

National or State Register of Historic Places
159 W. James St. | National or State Registers Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Historic Name:Farmers and Merchants Union Bank
Reference Number:72000044
Location (Address):159 W. James St.
Farmers and Merchants Union Bank
159 West James Street, Columbus, Columbia County
Architect: Louis Sullivan
Date of construction: 1919

This small bank was one of the last commissions of the noted Chicago architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). Sullivan's goal was to produce a new architecture, devoid of historical reference, drawing its ornamentation from nature. After designing a number of noted skyscrapers in the 1880s and 1890s, Sullivan ended his career with several small bank commissions throughout the Midwest, which were referred to as "jewel boxes." These final buildings are noted for the contrast between their blank wall surfaces and areas containing a profusion of Sullivan's signature terra cotta ornamentation. In this example, the ornamentation highlights the entrance, side elevation windows, and the building's cornice.

By concentrating visual interest on the entry, Sullivan gave the small building a powerful presence in the streetscape. At the base, the double entry doors are balanced by a large picture window. Spanning these openings is an oversized lintel bearing the bank's name. Decorative plaques to either side give the dates of the bank's founding and this building's construction. Above the lintel is a window recessed within a multiple arch. A large eagle accents the center of the cornice at the front and back elevations, while lions holding heraldic shields define the central entry.

The long, narrow interior is richly ornamented with marble, and Sullivan-designed stained glass and terra cotta. The banking room is lit by the soft light filtered by the row of stained glass windows along the side elevation and by the large semi-circular window of the front elevation. The large plate glass window of the front once provided a view from a waiting room used by farmers' wives while their husbands completed their business in town.

The building retains its decorative features and is open during normal business hours. An exhibit about the building is housed at the bank.

Period of Significance:1900-1924
Area of Significance:Architecture
Applicable Criteria:Architecture/Engineering
Historic Use:Commerce/Trade: Financial Institution
Architectural Style:Late 19th And Early 20th Century American Movements
Resource Type:Building
Historic Status:Listed in the National Register
Historic Status:Listed in the State Register
Historic Status:National Historic Landmark Status Granted
National Historic Landmark Listing Date:Wed Jan 07 00:00:00 UTC 1976
National Register Listing Date:10/18/1972
State Register Listing Date:01/01/1989
Number of Contributing Buildings:1
Number of Contributing Sites:0
Number of Contributing Structures:0
Number of Contributing Objects:0
Number of Non-Contributing Sites:0
Number of Non-Contributing Structures:0
Number of Non-Contributing Objects:0
National Register and State Register of Historic Places, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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