Downtown Webster Once Bustled with Banking  
Thursday, March 19, 2009

So I’ve Heard

Ed Patenaude



A couple of invitations “to see and celebrate the transformed and inspiring renovation” of the Webster Five Cents Savings Bank’s Dudley office arrived in our letter box recently. One was addressed to Edward Patenaude, my given name; and the other to Edwin Patenaude, an unsolicited, corporate-assigned identity.

The “banking changed” message was for Thursday, March 5, to Saturday, March 7, “during business hours.”

It’s not likely that we’ll do much business at 208 West Main St. in Dudley, simply because we live just one traffic signal from the Five’s Thompson Road headquarters in Webster, but I went anyway. Nickel Bank surely has some nice digs in Dudley. The teller stations seemed busy around 10 a.m. on the 5th, and the personable young lady in charge of cupcakes and prize registrations kept a happy pace.


It may not have been intended as such, but the open house tied somewhat to the closing Feb. 27 of the Five’s downtown Webster location. With its headquarters on Thompson Road in Webster and its expanded money shop in Dudley, the Main Street, Webster, branch took on a redundancy of sorts. Besides, Main Street isn’t the business draw it used to be. I presume bank marketing department surveys said as much.

Still, it seems historically important to note that the Webster Five Cents Savings Bank has had a downtown presence since the institution was founded March 16, 1868. That’s 141 years. Now, to switch gears a bit, and report on an upcoming Webster-Dudley Historical Society program in which technology will examine history, reports John Mrazik, the retired educator, athletics director, coach, author and society president. The society’s meeting on April 2 will be in the Chester C. Corbin Public Library. “I think it is going to be an exceptionally good program — a tour of Webster in the 1890s,” Mr. Mrazik said.

To explain, photographer-historian Alan Dabrowski has cleared background to an 1892 map of Webster. Replicas are in a stairwell at the Webster library, and at different businesses in the area. Using a specially designed projection system, Mr. Dabrowski can pull an enlargement of any building on the classic map. The tour is still being chartered, but travel arrangements and the first visit have been scheduled. “We’ll hop on the trolley on School Street at the Little Red Schoolhouse (the society museum),” Mr. Mrazik said. “Our first visit will be the Unitarian Church on lower School Street — later St. Anthony’s Slovak Catholic Church. Being a Slovak boy, I couldn’t resist stopping.”

Retired Bartlett High School history department leader Stanley J. Kabala will team with Mr. Mrazik in writing and presenting text for the special tour.

This is to suggest that the historical trolley rails run by the Bank Block on Main Street, demolished probably 35 years ago, visit a longtime Webster Five Cents Savings Bank office and its next-door neighbor, the old First National Bank of Webster. They could add a glimpse of the Dr. Leslie R. Bragg property, torn down for the Five’s first stand-alone office in downtown Webster, or the building just vacated. Mr. Kabala’s talents could turn the bank views into a graph on the town’s demographic changes.

Now, to get back to the opening of this segment, and my corporate rechristening, Edward to Edwin. It came with the September 2008-2009 Verizon telephone book. Jeanne called the mistake to Verizon’s attention, and someone promised to correct the error — next September. Edwin has since shown up on blanket mailings, such as the Webster Five’s invitation, and in Charter Communications’ new Yellowbook. I’m beginning to suspect Verizon sells its customer address lists.



Webster selectmen, during a recent biweekly meeting of the board, talked about a ban on financial requests at the upcoming annual town meeting. This seems like a reasonable suggestion, given national economic problems, but it can’t be much more than this. Ironically, their current pronouncements might be summed up in a 77-year-old report of another Webster Board of Selectmen.

The Great Depression had its grips on everything when the 1933 town report featured this advisory by selectmen: “We recommend that the citizens refrain from placing in the warrant at the annual town meeting any article that will call for the raising of money unless absolutely necessary. The time has come that we must bring down the cost of government to the new scale of economic values.”

Bringing down the cost of government is a concept that ought to be followed now.



Webster adopted regulations governing the speed of motor vehicles at a town meeting April 5, 1909, or just about 100 years ago.

The meeting was held in Music Hall on High Street. “Voted: To limit the speed within the town limits to 10 miles per hour for autos, and on the outskirts of the town to 20 miles per hour.” There’s nothing in the measure to define the outskirts.

Music Hall burned down in 1922 and the lot, taken by the town in lieu of taxes some decades later, became a town parking lot. It has two levels, and is seemingly being used once more for private parking. Rehabilitation of the two-story block on Main at High Streets has apparently spurred use of a part of the facility. Unless the town has entered into some kind of agreement, a modest parking return ought to accrue to the municipal purse.



A decade here or there might not seem like much when an old fire story is being retold, but it’s what I was guilty of in my Jan. 8 column, turning 40 years into 50.

People commented, mainly because they remembered the blaze that destroyed the North Village Mills, but a couple of “figure fellows” — John F. White, a bank officer (New Alliance Bank), and Donald A. Raymond, a tax and business accountant (Love, Jarominski & Raymond) — came to the defense of time. Mr. White blew the whistle within days of my lost decade, and Mr. Raymond chewed it off earlier this month. Most people read and count, but professionals like Mr. White and Mr. Raymond count and read. Whatever, I resolve to use twin values in proofing copy: Reading segments for accuracy while checking time elements.
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