Blackhawk Bank & Trust branch marries past to present, future

Blackhawk Bank & Trust President Jim Huiskamp cuts the ribbon on the Milan-based bank's new Port Byron branch. CREDIT QUAD CITIES CHAMBER

PORT BYRON, Illinois – Blackhawk Bank & Trust has breathed new life into the historic location of Illinois’ second oldest bank by opening a new branch atop a hill just above the village’s downtown business district and Mississippi riverfront.

On Wednesday, May 24, Jim Huiskamp, president of Blackhawk Bank & Trust, joined staff, residents and dignitaries including Port Byron Mayor Barb Cray and the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce ambassadors to cut the ribbon for the new brick-clad location. The branch, which already was in operation, is nestled into the neighborhood at 105 North High Street in Port Byron.

High Street is an appropriate name for the village’s main drag. And the small lot wedged into the hillside near where the old Port Byron State Bank once stood proved to be a challenging location for construction of Blackhawk’s new, two-level building. (Blackhawk Bank & Trust acquired the old Port Byron bank in 2015.)

Black Hawk Bank & Trust Port Byron
This Blackhawk Bank & Trust branch serves customers in Port Byron at 105 North High Street. CREDIT BLACKHAWK BANK & TRUST

“This was a difficult, difficult site,” Mr. Huiskamp told the crowd.

“We, as a board, struggled with where should this building be located. How are we going to do it? Should we redo that building down there, the original building?” he said of the bank’s branch below at 124 N. Main Street. “We went back and forth for I’d say the better part of three years and I can’t even remember how many iterations we had of the size and the plan. With the slope we were dealing with it was just a major struggle.”

He also thanked the tradespeople whose work made the plan come to life. They included: Hodge Construction, Streamline Architects, Rock River Electric, Miller Trucking & Excavating, Centennial Contractors, B&B Masonry and Restoration, East Moline Glass, J.L. Brady Company, Economy Roofing, Allied Construction Services, Builders Sales & Service Company, Lange Sign, Per Mar Security Services and Convergint.

The current branch’s location also mattered for more than just historical reasons, Mr. Huiskamp said because it is located right off busy Illinois Route 84 and boasts drive-through Interactive Teller Machines to connect customers directly with bank staff. 

The mayor and local residents are clearly thrilled with the results. “We are so happy that Blackhawk Bank, first of all, is here and continuing to be here, and that they have built this beautiful new bank, which is awesome,” Ms. Cray said. 

“I’ve had so many people comment to me how beautiful this bank is and how proud they are to see this building on our main highway going through town,” she added. “It is lovely. It is. A lot of people are very grateful and very happy that we are continuing to have Blackhawk Bank in our community and very proud of that fact.”

Blackhawk also stressed that while the building is new, the bank’s presence in Port Byron is not. The Port Byron State Bank was established on Sept, 1, 1863, in the middle of the Civil War. 

This vault door from the old Port Byron State Bank , the second oldest bank in Illinois, is featured at Blackhawk Bank & Trust new High Street branch. CREDIT KENDA BURROWS

“Banking started on this site, so we are so proud to still be continuing the State of Illinois’ second oldest bank period. It’s an amazing thought,” said Mr. Huiskamp, a history buff who, like his father, Gerard “Gerry” Huiskamp, was also a former history teacher.

To preserve that history, the new branch retained some of the original bank’s features including the vault door which dates back to 1863 and the desk the bank’s original founder “used to do his business,” Mr. Huiskamp said. Both are featured prominently on the branch’s downstairs level.

Those also are not the only familiar features in the new location. The same team that has been serving Port Byron customers continues to do so, led by Branch Manager Julie Hager, the bank said. In addition to familiar faces and historical items, Mr. Huiskamp said, Blackhawk Bank & Trust also added “some of the newest features that banking offers,” including the two ITMs or Interactive Teller Machines. 

“We’ve had people come in and say, ‘I’m not going to talk to a robot,’’ Mr. Huiskamp said. “Well, no, they’re actually people, our employees, they’re wearing headsets and you can see their faces as you go through and you can do essentially anything that you can do through this teller line and if you ever used the drive-thru of the old building, you will know that this is a vast improvement over that.” 

At that old location, for example, customers couldn’t see the faces of those who were helping them. Teller Cash Recyclers also have been installed to improve efficiency and security, Mr. Huiskamp said. Those machines scan, authentic and sort incoming bills so they will be ready for use.

Get the free QCBJ email newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the people, companies and issues that impact business in the  Quad Cities area.