Century Bank of the Ozarks celebrates its 126th year by rebuilding its former home

Century Bank CEO Chris Harlin opens the old vault door in the former Bank of Gainesville building on the west side of the Gainesville square. The Harlin family has bought the old bank building and, where it is possible, plans to restore it to its original 1929 appearance.

Above: In 1929, the Bank of Gainesville moved into a new building, to the right of Ford’s Market in this photo, That was built near the center of the west side of the square. The stylish building boasted a marble-topped teller counter, as well as a soaring, pressed-tin ceiling.

In this photo, circa 1919-1920, superintendent of schools James B. Huffman and his son stand in front of the small, wood-frame building that housed the original Bank of Gainesville when it first opened on the northwest corner of the square in 1894. The photo is from the collection of Century Bank chairman of the board John Harlin. In 1929, the bank built a new stone-fronted building next door.

The late H. T. Harlin, former president of the Bank of Gainesville, works at one of the teller cages in the old bank in 1954. The Harlin family is launching a project to restore the bank to its original glory.

The Harlin family is taking on a new restoration project in Gainesville. After recently buying the old Bank of Gainesville building on the west side of the square, Chris and Missy Harlin, and Chris’ parents, John and Linda Harlin, plan to bring the building back to the stylish appearance of its glory days. It might be considered as the bank’s birthday gift to itself this week as it marks its 126th year in business. 

The goal is to recreate the Bank of Gainesville in 1929, the year the bank moved next door from its original location where the bank opened in a small, wood-frame building on July 24, 1894, with $5,000 in capital. The new location, next to what is now Old Ford’s Market, was built with a rock exterior with solid marble teller cages inside. A pressed-tin ceiling, popular at the time, added to the stately grandeur of the compact building.

When the 1929 building was remodeled in 1958, marble trim was added to the front of the building, and the marble-top tellers counter was redesigned and covered with Formica. The now-cherished pressed-tin ceiling was covered with dropped-ceiling acoustic tiles so that ductwork could be installed. The current brick front was added later.

In February 1969, the Ozark County Times reported that the bank had started construction on a new, much larger building on the northeast corner of the Gainesville square. That facility has been expanded several times since then and now includes a second building connected to the original site with a skywalk. The bank changed its name to Century Bank of the Ozarks in 1996 after purchasing Douglas County National Bank in Ava.

After using the bank as  storage for many years, the old bank was sold in 1995.

This new plan to restore the bank is the Harlin family’s second major renovation project in Gainesville. Its first such undertaking began in 2001 when the family bought and renovated the grand, three-story house on Harlin Drive that was built in 1912 by John Harlin’s grandparents, John C. and Clara Harlin. That rebuilt home, which has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, was used for a while as the Old Harlin House Cafe and now serves as the production site for Missy Harlin’s Splendid Graze board catering service.

With that major and rewardingly successful rebuilding project behind them, the Harlins are looking forward to giving the same attention to detail to renovating the old bank and giving it new life.

“Our goal is to get it back to what it looked like before the 1958 remodel,” said Century Bank of the Ozarks CEO Chris Harlin. “We’re not sure what we’ll do with the building after that, but for now, we want to restore it as best as we can.”

“There’s a lot to do to tear out most of the 1958 remodel and the drop ceiling,” Harlin said. He added that one “bright spot” in the project is that the original pressed-tin ceiling is still there, hidden under the acoustic panels, just waiting to be brought back into the light. 

Another treasure, sure to be of interest to all who visit the restored site, is the original bank vault door from 1929, which opens to reveal another fascinating relic, the original cannonball safe, with a history that was recorded in the July 5, 1894, edition of the Ozark County News, which reported, “The officers of the Bank of Gainesville complimented Joe Farmer Saturday evening on the pulling qualities of his team of horses. They pulled the bank safe from West Plains, which, with the wagon and framing, weighed between 44 and 45 hundred. The compliment was merited, for there are few, if any, other teams in the county that would have drawn the load.”

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423