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Out of the attic: The great bank robbery of 1903

Out of the attic: The great bank robbery of 1903

from The Making of a Town: A historical journey through Cedar Springs

The building at 43 N. Main Street once served has quite the history behind it. It was built in 1889 by Frank Fuller. The building started its life as a bank and was used as a bank for many years. Frank was a noted horse breeder here and abroad. However,  in May of 1900, Frank Fuller disappeared and at the same time, the assets of the bank disappeared as well.

The next owner of this bank was Fred Hubbard, who purchased the building and opened the Cedar Springs Exchange Bank.

Then, on February 13, 1903, the unthinkable happened in our small town.

The following article is from the Cedar Springs Clipper, February 13, 1903:

The building at 43 N. Main Street (southwest corner of Main and Elm Streets) was once the site of a bank that was robbed in 1903. Photo from the Cedar Springs Historical Society.


Vault was Opened by Two Charges of Nitro-Glycerine


A view of the inside of the bank. Photo from the Cedar Springs Historical Society.

The Cedar Springs Exchange Bank owned by Fred Hubbard was burglarized at about 1 o’clock, by the time clock, last Friday morning. They gained entrance with a chisel and tools at the front door of the office at the corner of the building. These tools were gotten by breaking into Munsell’s wagon shop. The robbers worked quietly and quickly, using nitro-glycerine in two charges on the outer and inner doors of the big vault. Both doors were torn from their hinges, the outer one being thrown several feet from its fastening, and the inner one torn all to pieces. There was nothing in the way of the heavy pieces, however, and the bank furniture was not damaged.

When the bank robbers left they did so hurriedly, leaving behind them in their haste a cigar box full of dimes which they removed from the vault, but which they dropped in their hurry to get away. Aside from this amount of money, there was very little cash in sight when Assistant Cashier Wright Nelson came to the bank at 7:15 that morning. Several persons, including Mrs. G. Aumond, who lived across the street from the bank, two young ladies in the house of W.H. Jones at the other end of the block, and Mrs. John Pollock who lives a block away, heard the explosion of the blasts. But none of them attempted to discover the cause. Every man in the town apparently slept through it all, even the guests at the Central Hotel, half a block away, being in entire ignorance of the robbery.

They first secured a horse and buggy from the barn of H. Miller and Son of the Cedar Springs Mill. The horse is a rangy fellow and great roadster. Dr. Annis, in driving into town passed this rig with two men at about 2:00 o’clock one mile south of the bank, and before 6 o’clock the horse was found hitched on West Fulton in Grand Rapids shivering in the cold, and taken care of by the police.

Sheriff Chapman was phoned and arrived on the 8:22 train. The sheriff’s force and all the detectives in Grand Rapids have been hard at work but are handicapped seriously by a total absence of any description of the men. That night two men boarded the train at Big Rapids with tickets for Rockford, and quietly stepped off the 9:22 southbound train at opposite side of the station here.

Conductor Long did not miss them until reaching Rockford and was informed by the brakeman.

It is evident that there were three or four on the job. Bankers and safe men pronounce it an extraordinary piece of work. But it is hard to believe that the two men driving the horse into Grand Rapids had the money in their possession. The loss to the bank and safe was covered by insurance in the Casualty Insurance Company three to one. No matter how much they stole, neither Mr. Hubbard, Cashier Herbert W. Wheeler or Assistant Cashier Wright Nelson have given out any figure as it is against the rules of insurance. Banker Hubbard, the owner, keeps simply enough cash on hand to meet daily demands, the balance being deposited in Grand Rapids. 

On the 8:22 train arrived Banker F.W. Johnson of Rockford and on the 8:57 train arrived Banker Bruce N. Kiester of Sparta with thousands of dollars and 9 o’clock the bank opened and was doing business and not a man in the whole village even thought of pulling out a cent, and it was very gratifying to Mr. Hubbard, the owner, that he has the confidence of the people. Fred Hubbard, owner of the bank, has been a private banker in the village for four years and has been a resident for 25 years. All depositors have the utmost confidence in Mr. Hubbard and business is going on as if nothing had happened. The insurance men have been here and will pay every cent lost.

This story is an excerpt from the book by the Cedar Springs Historical Society titled The Making of a town: a journey through Cedar Springs 1857-1970. The book talks about many of the buildings here in town and gives some history. If you’d like to pick up a copy, they are for sale at The Cedar Springs Historical Museum (open Wednesdays 10-5); the Cedar Springs Public Library; and Cedar Springs City Hall.

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Ray Winnie
Kent County Credit Union


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