In the 19th century, small-town banks were frequent targets of burglars, due to their being in isolated villages ... some of which did not have a police department and sometimes not even a night watchman patrolling the town. In addition, the banks were in the business district with few if any houses around. Thus, there were few ears to hear an explosion as the burglars blasted their way into the safe.
In 1882 the First National Bank in Monroeville was located on the west side of South Main Street in the Perkins Block. On the night of July 12, 1882, five men showed up in town with wedges, fuses, drills and other needed equipment. Their first action was to steal two horses and buggies for their eventual escape with the bank’s money.
Breaking through the front door was ridiculously easy. They next encountered iron doors which protected the locks and the vault mechanism. After blowing open these doors they encountered Hall’s burglar chest, a warranted device made by the Hall Safe and Lock Company of Cincinnati. Each door of this ‘chest’ was made of nine plates of iron and steel alternating. They applied heavy artillery to these doors, with that blast knocking off the dial and handle, disarranging the combination and slightly starting the bolts.
Just as they were ready to light the fuse to a heavier charge, their watchman gave the signal that it was time to leave town. What had happened was that the first blast awakened a merchant who lived about a block away. He came downtown and tried each door until he found the bank’s door ajar. The merchant went across the street and awoke Mr. Emerson, keeper of the Commercial House Hotel and they proceeded to wake some other residents. By the time they reached the bank the perpetrators were gone.
The would-be robbers headed north to Sandusky, where they abandoned the stolen horses and buggies and got on the 4:45 a.m. eastbound train. There was very little evidence to work with in trying to solve the crime, and I could not find any report of their ever being apprehended.
Meanwhile back at the bank, it was found that the time lock was still functioning. A Hall Company technician was summoned from Cincinnati. After 2 1/2 days of work he managed to open the burglar chest and of course found the bank funds intact. It was decided that no how much dynamite or nitroglycerine the thieves used, they could not have blown open the safe in one night. The Hall Co. considered this a wonderful endorsement of their product.
The Monroeville Spectator newspaper commented on the door being replaced and warned any future bank robbers to give First National a wide range, “for a second visit will be made particularly torrid for them.”
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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.