The Old Bank Building: Little Falls Historical Society Museum
Written and narrated by Deirdre Brett, Cooperstown Museum Studies Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta, Researched in 2023.
Little Falls, New York, once the cheese capital of the world, is now a town filled with rich history on every street.
In the nineteenth century, with the introduction of the Erie Canal, the railroad, and the telegraph, the village of Little Falls had become widely known for its quality cheese. People from all over the world sought to buy cheese from Little Falls, “Little Falls was shipping millions of pounds of cheese yearly,” earning the name of “The Cheese Capital of the World.” Little Falls had almost everything, they had merchant stores, mechanical stores, and various commercial operations. What was missing? A bank. In 1833, Little Falls opened the first bank in Herkimer County. With the wealth that poured into Little Falls from the cheese production, a bank was necessary. The bank was constructed with native stone and limestone pillars, inspired by the first bank of the United States in Philadelphia.
At different points in time this building has been home to the local Red Cross, D.J. Dineen’s Mortuary Parlor, the Railway Express Office, Lovenheim’s Dry Goods Store and now it is the Little Falls Historical Society Museum. This bank building has been owned by different parties during its history. It is now known as The Old Bank Building Museum. So, what makes this building so special? Its rich history and personal connections have carved its way into every Little Falls citizens’ heart, so much so that during the era of Urban Renewal in 1964, a group of local historic preservationists stood in the way of the wrecking ball that threatened to tear down the building to create fourteen new parking spaces for the new bank nearby.
The brave citizens who fought to save the Old Bank Building were Edward Cooney, Mary Louise Cooney, Harold Sperbeck, Lyda Loucks, Mary Grace, Robert McEvoy, Fred Sabin, John Gallagher, and John Geroge. With their perseverance and triumph, the Old Bank Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, the first building in Little Falls to have this recognition. A 1966 NYS Historic Trust newspaper article stated that “the old Herkimer County Bank Building, dating from 1833, is a work of the Greek Revival style, characteristic of the period. To discover a 130-year-old bank is itself important, moreover, while much of the architecture of this period is constructed of wood, here we find a stone building with cut stone used in a monumental manner.”
Little Falls history continues to echo throughout the community through the Little Falls Historical Society’s members.
Now as the museum, the Old Bank Building not only holds treasures of the community’s past, but the walls of the museum itself hold history. Few small-town museums can claim the building as their own collection item. One of the most popular collection items, the Frog Fountain, sits right outside of the museum. In 1888 Little Falls added a drinking fountain for everyone to have accessible water. Everyone including citizens of Little Falls, travelers, dogs, and cats. The Frog Fountain gave the town beauty and met the public’s basic needs.
Now that I have caught your attention, take a moment, and observe your surroundings. Think about the museum building throughout time since 1833. Think about the museum as an express office, a local Red Cross, a mortuary parlor, and a dry goods store. Now step inside the museum to immerse yourself in a wide variety of stories and experiences. You will not forget your time in Little Falls, New York.