Helping build futures
for the men who built the railroads

Helping build futures
for the men who built the railroads

 

On paydays at the Indianapolis Union Railway Co. in the 1880s, railroad men would queue up outside an office on Union Station’s second floor to receive pay envelopes from paymaster William Taylor Cannon. Often, some of the money inside those sleeves would be returned immediately to him.

In an era when local banks were more interested in lending to businesses than to railroads and local loan sharks were only too happy to fill the void, Cannon felt he owed his employees an alternative: he would safeguard any money they wanted to save, meticulously log each deposit in a ledger and ensure the money was there when needed, to be put toward a new home or major expense.

Cannon had no vault, so he used his desk drawer.1As he accumulated dollar bills, silver coins and even the occasional gold piece, it occurred to Cannon all that money could be going to work.

He researched a thrift structure called the “Dayton plan,” first used a few years before by an Ohio building and loan in which each depositor became a shareholder.With that blueprint, the support of 14 other Indianapolis railway executives and a capitalization of about $5,000, the Railroadmen’s Building & Savings Association was chartered in Indiana in August 1887.3

A month later, the association made its first home loan. By 1903, having opened the association beyond railroad workers to the general public, Railroadmen’s had amassed assets of more than $1 million.

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Union Station in Indianapolis. Photo Credit: Indiana Historical society

Cannon served as the association’s executive secretary until 1913, when he became its president. In 1917, he retired from the railway to work solely for the building and loan. That same year, the association moved into a new building of its own on Virginia Avenue, one designed by an architect from the Lake Erie & Western Railway’s engineering department. He was Fermor Cannon, the son of the association’s founder.

By 1926, the Railroadmen’s Association was the world’s largest building and loan association. And in 1928, Fermor Cannon left his railroad job to join his father as a vice president.

In May 1930, with the Great Depression deepening, talk spread that the Railroadmen’s Building & Loan was about to fail. William Cannon boldly offered a “$1,000 reward for arrest and conviction of person or persons circulating malicious rumors about the financial condition” of the association.4

Railroadmen’s met all of its obligations to depositors, and the city’s bankers hailed Cannon for the way he confronted the rumor-fueled hysteria.5 In the months that followed, however, Cannon, suffering from heart disease, confided in his son. He was concerned about the association’s future and convinced that its best shot at survival would be with Fermor as its president.

The younger Cannon assured the Railroadmen’s board of his commitment to the association. And shortly after his father’s death in January 1931, Fermor S. Cannon was named association president.

In 1937, under a second generation of Cannon leadership, the association was nationally chartered as Railroadmen’s Federal Savings & Loan Association. In the 1940s, Cannon and the association led the area’s war bond effort and the financing of homes for returning veterans.

When Fermor Cannon retired as Railroadmen’s president in 1954, the association’s assets exceeded $57 million and the group estimated it had helped build more than 100,000 Indianapolis area homes.6

Railroadmen’s continued to grow through the 1960s and ’70s, and evolved through mergers and acquisitions in the 1980s and early ’90s.

In 1993, six years after its 100th birthday, with customers seeking bigger loans and lenders with greater resources, the institution that began in William Taylor Cannon’s desk drawer became Huntington National Bank of Indiana.

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William Cannon, founder of Railroadmen’s Building & Savings Association, later part of Huntington Bank. Photo Credit: Indiana Historical Society

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Fermor Cannon replaced his father as head of Railroadmen’s Building & Savings Association after his death in 1931 and helped it grow. Photo Credit: Indiana Historical Society