Ness County Bank….Skyscraper of the Plains
Completed in 1890 the Ness County Bank Building is a large four story, 18,700 square foot building located on Main Street in Ness County, Kansas. At the time of its completion it was said to be the tallest building between Topeka and Denver and was nicknamed the “Skyscraper of the Plains”.
Made of native limestone the large, ornate building was designated as one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Architecture by the Kansas Sampler Organization in 2008. Construction on the building began in 1988 when Ness County Banker, N.C. Merrill and the bank’s board of directors chose plans designed by the architectural firm of Holland & Hopkins from Topeka, Kansas from among nine different building plans.
The building contract was awarded to William Ruff of Ness City for the amount of $34,000. The limestone used for the bank was quarried in Ness and Chase Counties and was dressed by D.J. Rogers of Newton, Kansas. The details on the stone arches was done by P.A. Narey of Bazine, Kansas.
Once completed the impressive building became home to the Ness County Bank with N.C. Merrill as president and J.G. Arnold as vice-president. The building was also home to the Merrill Trust Company, the Ness County Real Estate Company and housed a printing press that Mr. Merrill used to print a monthly real estate journal.
While the initial construction costs were estimated at $34,000 some sources indicate that the ultimate cost of the bank building was close to $75,000. The bank has 30 rooms including four large walk in vaults complete with burglar alarms. The vault door in the Great Room is decorated with an oil painting finished in 22 karat gold. The inside of the bank is very ornate with brass fixtures that have a sunflower motif, beautiful woodwork as well as 13 foot press-tin ceilings. It even has an elevator shaft which was very rare at the time it was built.
Equally if not more impressive as the inside is the outside of the bank. It features 110 high arched windows and elaborate stone work. Building the bank was a massive undertaking. It was constructed using block and tackle methods with a single stone weighing as much as 6,820 pounds. Crushed limestone was used in the mortar to ensure it matched the color of the stone and the mortared joints are a rare extruded type. The roof is a pyramid type roof flanked by four stone spires.
In 1893 the Ness County Bank closed and the bank building was sold for taxes. At that time the name was changed to the Ness County State Bank which operated in the building until 1898, when it was taken over by the First State Bank of Ness City and renamed the Citizens State Bank. The Citizens State Bank occupied the building until 1922 and then after that it housed the First National Bank until the 1930’s. Then in 1938 that bank building was again sold for taxes and this time was purchased by R.B. Christy a banker-farmer from Scott City, Kansas. Mr. Christy had repairs done to the building and it was used for offices for an oil company and then served as the town’s post office for about 20 years.
From 1903 to 1917 the Bank also housed the Ness County Courthouse so it has seen a variety of tenants and uses during its long history. The Ness County Bank building was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1972. Then in 1984 the building was purchased by the Ness County Bank Building Foundation for $45,000. Since then it has had numerous repairs to help preserve this historic landmark.
Currently the main floor of the bank building houses the Ness City Chamber of Commerce. The Great Room is now used as a common hall and exhibit area as well as for community meetings and events.
In 1991 a modern kitchen was installed on the main floor and in 1994, the Prairie Mercantile store opened in the lower level of the bank. This “Kansas” store sells all kinds of “Kansas” made products. It is staffed by volunteers and all the proceeds go towards the remodeling and maintenance of the building.
Hours of Operation:
Prairie Mercantile is open in the basement Monday-Friday 1-5 p.m.
Ness County Chamber of Commerce is open on the main floor Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday 8-11 a.m.