The First National Bank of Woodstown, the third edifice of this institution chartered in 1864, was completed in 1892 and is a testament to the growing influence of banking in the US economy in the late-nineteenth century. The Romanesque Revival building, detailed with Perth Amboy Pompeiian brick and red sandstone, was designed by Philadelphia architect Albert W. Dilks and dominates the main intersection of Woodstown. The two-and-a-half story building looms large with an open-arched tower rising seventy feet above the entrance. The tower is surmounted by a slate-clad irregular octagonal pyramidal roof capped by a weather vane. At the angled corner entrance, arched windows on the first-floor level are aligned beneath rectangular windows at the second story level, and a series of lunette windows in the attic repeats the Romanesque arch motif. A pedimented parapet conceals the sloped roof.
On the interior, the banking room is highlighted by a Romanesque arched fireplace and an elaborately-decorated vault door. A 1980s campaign restored oak paneling that had been removed in the 1940s, and uncovered mosaic tile flooring in the vestibule. An unanticipated discovery in the basement was signed graffiti by a teen-aged Everett Shinn, who later became an American realist painter and member of the Ashcan School. Everett’s father was the bank’s paying teller, explaining his presence in the basement, probably when it was under construction.
The First National Bank of Woodstown served in that capacity into the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, undergoing an interior “modernization” in the 1940s. It was fully restored by the First National Bank of Toms River in 1987, only to be abandoned again four years later when that bank failed. It then became a branch of Sun National Bank that lasted until about 2007 and was used as law offices for a while after that. In 2013 the vacant building was sold at auction to a group of investors, whom have unsuccessfully been trying to resell it at a profit ever since. In the meantime, the most prominent building in downtown Woodstown sits vacant and deteriorating.
While the building is not immediately threatened, continued vacancy will result in continued deterioration. Roof leaks and other maintenance issues may go undetected, resulting in damage that is expensive to repair, and making sale and reuse less likely. No one opposes preservation of this site; but rather, it is a matter of economics. Change of ownership is the logical solution to the threat, as the current out-of-town investor-owners have made no progress in adaptive reuse.
This property highlights the many nineteenth and early twentieth century bank buildings in New Jersey that have been left vacant because of bank mergers and the move to smaller, more modern facilities by the consolidated banks. The abandoned banks are often the most prominent buildings in their communities; and wen located at a major intersection, the vacancy leaves an unfortunate hole in the fabric of the downtown. There are numerous examples where the high-ceilinged spaces of these prestigious buildings are used for retail, office space, or restaurants; creating a new, vibrant focal point. PNJ hopes that listing this building may catch the eye of a potential buyer; and in a more general way, bring attention to the plight of other vacant local bank landmarks throughout the state.
Warner Real Estate