|Elbert Hamilton Shirk|
Elbert Hamilton Shirk was the founder of the First National Bank of Peru, the oldest financial institution of Miami County and with an impressive record of
strength, resources and service during the more than half century of its existence. He not only founded the bank but also a family name which has endured in high honor in Northern Indiana and other localities through several generations. Elbert Hamilton Shirk was born in Franklin County, Indiana, February 14, 1818, son of Samuel and Elizabeth (Stout) Shirk. His father came to Indiana from Georgia and his mother from Kentucky. For all the fact that Indiana had nothing in the
way of public education to offer such youth as Elbert H. Shirk, it was a day and age which produced strong men, thoroughly capable of handling big affairs. He spent his boyhood on a farm, attended subscription schools, and after reaching manhood was for two years a student at Miami University at Oxford, Ohio. For two years he taught in the Rush County Seminary. However, he early recognized that his talents were best adapted for business. In 1844 he moved to Peru, and forming a partnership with John Harlan was for some years one of the early merchants of the town. From that time until his death in 1886 his career was one of unbroken prosperity. After a year he engaged in merchandising on his own account. He possessed the judgment, the foresight and the executive ability which are characteristic of great merchants. He was a student of methods and men and of every circumstance which would affect his enterprise. |
He built up a trade which extended throughout Indiana and embarked in numerous enterprises which always rewarded his judgment with good profit. He dealt in depreciated land warrants which had been issued to the veterans of the Mexican war and invested them in lands in the then western states of Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. Many of the settlers who went from this section of Indiana to those trans-Mississippi states were equipped with warrants for land sold them by Mr. Shirk.
This was his first extensive venture in real estate, and he thereafter followed up that line of business very extensively and systematically. It was in considerable part through his real estate operations that his large fortune was accumulated. Some of the best of his investments were made in Chicago when that city was in its most rapid development period.
He had opened a private bank for deposits m 1857, and through his own resources and his high standing in the community he kept that institution unimpaired through the troublous financial times that followed. In 1864, the year following the passage of the National Bank Act, he organized the First National Bank, and held the office of president until his death. The community long refused to call it the First National and instead it was known by the more familiar title of "Shirk's Bank," and it was largely the private resources and good judgment of the founder that gave it its solid character. In banking, merchandising and real estate Elbert H. Shirk was undoubtedly one of the strongest men of his time in Indiana. Had he chosen for the field of his enterprise one of the great cities of the country his name would undoubtedly have been associated with that of the greatest merchant princes in America. While he was pre-eminent as a creator of business resources he was also a constant influence for the conservation and development of everything affecting the welfare of society. For many years he was one of the most active members of the Baptist Church of Peru, contributing half the cost of the church edifice erected during his lifetime. He was a quiet worker in benevolence and philanthropy in his city. He had little to do with partisan politics but was a whig and later a republican voter. He is remembered as a man of apparently slight and frail physique, but possessing a nervous energy and will power which constantly co-operated with his remarkable business judgment, and from such a combination resulted his great success and influence in affairs.
He was devoted to family and friends and his home was a center of the cultured social life of his community. The old Shirk home in the midst of an entire square at the edge of the Peru business district is and has long been one of the landmarks of that city. In June, 1845, Elbert H. Shirk married Mary Wright, who was of English descent and a native of Franklin County, Indiana. She was a woman of rare strength of character, and during her long and happy associations with her husband she exerted many of the influences which gave him power and success. Elbert H. Shirk died April 8, 1886. His widow passed away in August, 1894. They had a family of two sons and one daughter. One of the sons was Milton Shirk, who succeeded his father as president of the First National Bank. The only daughter of Elbert H. Shirk was Alice, now the wife of R. A. Edwards, president of the First National Bank of Peru.
Jacob Piatt Dunn and G. W. H. Kemper, American Historical Society, New York and Chicago, 1919.