Bank Block

Inspiring Stories For Generations

My grandmother loved to tell stories about the “beautiful Heber Valley.” Many of her tales, however, centered around one landmark, the Bank Block building.

Located on the corner of Center Street and Main Street, the Bank Block was built in 1904 by a successful local merchant, Abram Hatch, to house the first bank in the Heber Valley. The building’s signature sandstone was cut from the Lake Creek Quarry in the foothills east of Heber. The stone inscription on the north side of the building simply reads “Bank Block,” and, 114 years later, that’s what locals call the building today.

In 1906, a group of investors formed the Heber Mercantile Company and constructed a wood-framed building that connected to the south wall of the bank. The Consolidated Wagon and Machine Company originally occupied the south end of the new building, and over the years these buildings have housed the local high school, a library, county public welfare offices, a drug store, professional offices and so much more. With so many occupants over the course of a century, the buildings have many stories to tell.

My grandmother delighted us with such stories. She worked the soda fountain at the drug store and sometimes did Abram Hatch’s books. She was dared to ride her pony through the front door of the Mercantile and out the back, which she did — twice! She tutored Hatch’s daughter and “matched pennies with the boys” just back from World War I.

She was even working as a telephone operator the night the Heber Bank was robbed. My grandmother said a car cruised the block at midnight and the girls thought it could be a bootlegger, so they checked the door locks and made sure the blinds were drawn tight. They remembered hearing a clanking sound but thought it was Mr. Hatch’s son knocking out the coal clinkers while he was stoking the furnace. Other than that, it was a quiet night — until the Sheriff banged on the door.

At the time, a red light was mounted to the front of the building. Its purpose was to alert the Sheriff of an emergency, and the telephone girls were in charge of turning it on — the equivalent of our modern day 911. The light never turned on and people were complaining, “Why didn’t the telephone girls connect their calls?” The answer was simple: the bank robbers had cut the telephone lines, broken into the bank vault and pried open the safe deposit boxes!

The Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s brought financial hardships to our valley and the Heber Bank failed after its doors closed for 90 days. Property values plummeted by 60 percent and unemployment sent many people back to the farms.

In January 1937, an explosion in the building’s furnace caused a fire that destroyed the Mercantile and damaged the Bank Block. The Mercantile board voted to rebuild a smaller building that served the community for years. In February 1972, a second fire ravaged the wood-framed building that housed the local Safeway. Once again, the people of the Heber Valley stood around and watched the buildings burn. The sandstone Bank Block building survived but the rest of the block was a scarred, empty lot until a renovation in 2000.

The new owner and architect wanted to honor the history of the old buildings. The sandstone masonry needed extensive renovations including replacing or cleaning the stones, and repointing the masonry joints. The renovations included preserving the original vault and reproducing early 20th century architectural elements. A new addition was designed to retain the look of the old Mercantile.

The basement window wells and the  stairway along the north wall were restored, and the builders discovered several bank records within the walls, along with the old stone table that was used to make candy at the drug store. The new owner also wanted to restore the Bank Block building’s original purpose and the building again became the home of the Heber Valley Bank.

The Bank Block has inspired many tales in its long history — of stores visited, dentist appointments kept and missed, books borrowed, and fires that blazed — tales that are forever burned into our community’s memories. As it stands today, the Bank Block continues to inspire stories of our “beautiful Heber Valley.”

If you’ve ever driven around the northwestern end of Heber, you may have noticed several sandstone markers displayed at the corners of 100 West 500 North, 100 West 100 North, 300 West 500 North, and 300 West 100 North, that mark the location of Fort Heber. Perhaps in your hustle to Smith’s Marketplace, you’ve wondered at the monument in front of the store. Whether you’re a long time resident or a newcomer, you’ve probably read the brief summaries of Heber’s history. As usual, there is always more to the story once you look deeper.

In 1858 a group of men came from Provo, surveyed the land in twenty-acre plots, and selected the townsite of Heber. The following winter, twenty families stayed there. As protection from the Northern Ute Indian tribe, they built a fort one block south and one block west from the site. The family homes were constructed using cottonwood logs and were joined together to form the outside wall of the fort. Inside the protective fort, a 20’ X 40’ building was erected; it had two fireplaces
and a stage and served as a schoolhouse, a church, and a gathering place for social events. In 1860 the fort was enlarged to house 44 families.

The Black Hawk War

In 1865, though there was no single act that started the war, a sub-chief named Antonga Black Hawk lead an uprising against the congressional act that forced the Ute tribes of Sanpete and Sevier Counties to reservations. Black Hawk retaliated against the settlers for broken promises, mistreatment, personal humiliation, and other acts that injured or killed Utes in the constant interactions between early settlers and natives since 1849. The Black Hawk War or Black Hawk’s War was a three-part war involving members of 16 Timpanogos Ute, Southern Paiute, Apache, and Navajo tribes, which lasted from 1865 to 1872.

The Friendship

Brigham Young ordered families throughout the valley to “fort up” in the central settlements of Heber, Midway, and Wallsburg. Like Brigham Young, Joseph Stacy Murdock, the presiding Bishop in Heber, believed it was better to feed the natives than to fight them. On August 20, 1867, Murdock invited Ute chief Tabby-To-Kwanah, a well educated, wise leader that served the interest of his people, to talk peace at his home. Chief Tabby, only wanting to speak with ‘Old Murdock’, rode down to Heber, taking with him all the sub-chiefs under his control, several hundred braves, women, and children, and camped out in Murdock’s yard and pasture. A feast was held the next day with enough meat, baked bread, corn, and whatever else the townsfolk had to offer to feed everyone. The two spoke all day. Later, Murdock and Chief Tabby exchanged simple gifts. A peace pipe was smoked, and a treaty of friendship was signed, ending the war between the settlers at Heber Valley and the Utes. With their signatures, the war was over, but only in Heber Valley and the surrounding towns and settlements. Chief Tabby acknowledged that he could not control Black Hawk’s actions across the rest of the territory. Even so, the meeting between Chief Tabby and Joseph Stacy Murdock lead the way for other treaties. Within a year, most of the fighting throughout the territory came to an end.

Peace In Heber Valley

Joseph and Tabby served their people well. They honored their vows to maintain peace and remained friends for life, leaders demonstrating their commitment to seeking and understanding the best of both worlds rather than fight.

Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine the wars and countless sacrifices that took place in our quiet valley not too long ago. Wars were fought, allies were made, and dynasties were altered, forging our valley into what it is today. Our valley still draws people in for the same reasons it was fought over — a beautiful, peaceful stretch of land worth fighting to keep.

The Burial Of Tom Tabby

One day in 1867, just two years after the signing of the Indian Peace Treaty, Chief Tabby rode into the valley. Astride his horse he carried the body of his son who had been killed in a hunting accident. Joseph Stacey Murdock recognized his friend and went to greet him. Knowing Murdock to be a religious leader among his people, Chief Tabby asked Joseph if he would bury his son in the custom of the ‘Mormons’. Feelings of great sorrow surged within Murdock as he conducted a Christian funeral service for his friend’s son. Tom Tabby was buried under a beautiful pine tree that had been planted several years before in the Heber cemetery by John H. Murdock.

After the final prayer Chief Tabby said, “My son has been buried in the white man’s custom, now he will be honored in the Indian fashion.” A rick of cedar logs was then laid upon the new grave and Tom Tabby’s favorite pony was led to it. The pony’s throat was cut and the animal was laid upon the pyre where the logs were set afire. Chief Tabby watched the fire until the embers slowly died, then mounting his horse, he rode off into the mountains east of Heber with his braves.