A Story of Scandal in Wellington’s History

Historic photo of the Cusack home, obtained from the History of Wellington, Colorado and The Boxelder Valley 1864-1996 authored by Arlene Ahlbrandt

By Annie Lindgren

A story of scandal in Wellington’s early history connects two of downtown Wellington’s historic buildings. The beautiful Queen Anne style home, that now houses Drohman’s Salon & Day Spa, at 3922 Cleveland Avenue, and the original First National Bank building, which now houses the North Poudre Irrigation company, located at 3729 Cleveland Avenue.

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Christopher Cusack, President of the First National Bank of North Bend, Nebraska, invested in Wellington in 1905, when he purchased the lot at 3729 Cleveland Avenue from North Poudre Irrigation Company. On this lot, the First National Bank of Wellington would be built (a once beautiful brick, but now stuccoed over, building). Christopher founded the bank, and was its primary stakeholder, but he remained in Nebraska, sending his son, John Cusack, to manage the Wellington bank. John, who was in his mid-twenties, was part of the inaugural board of directors for the bank, and served as cashier for six years. Also serving on this board, was C.L. Wellington, the man for whom the town was named. The bank started out with $25,000 in capital stock, and ownership of the property was turned over to the bank, which was open for business in September of 1905.

Historic photo of the original First National Bank building, obtained from the History of Wellington, Colorado and The Boxelder Valley 1864-1996 authored by Arlene Ahlbrandt

John purchased the large lot three blocks east of the bank, at 3922 Cleveland Avenue, and began developing the property in 1906, adding outbuildings and the beautiful victorian home that still stands today. The First National Bank of Wellington was thriving, as was John’s reputation in the community, and within a year of arriving to town, the Wellington Board of Trustees voted to have John serve as Town Treasurer. He married Mary ‘Aldah’ Wilson this same year, and they moved into their new home upon return from the honeymoon. John served as Mayor of Wellington from 1907-1908, and was involved with the local Masons, Odd Fellows, and Elks clubs. Aldah gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 1909. By the end of 1910, the bank reported $169,882 in financial resources.

The tune changes in August of 1911, when Christopher and John sold their controlling stock interest in the bank. Samuel Clammer, a prominent entrepreneur and former Mayor of Fort Collins, purchased the stocks, and also purchased the Cusack home at 3922 Cleveland Avenue. A good portion of Clammer’s payment to the Cusack’s came in the form of a ranch near Saratoga, Wyoming. John continued as bank cashier for four months, until December of 1911, when he left Wellington for good and moved his family to the ranch in Wyoming.

In the May 31st, 1912 edition of Fort Collins’s The Weekly Courier, the first headline reads “Former Cashier Wellington Bank Under Arrest.” John Cusack had recently been arrested by a US Marshal in Wyoming, charged with embezzlement of bank funds from the First National Bank of Wellington, for a crime committed in June of 1911, with two other unnamed individuals. He was accused of issuing loans for a phony irrigation company project in Weld County, and was transported to Denver to await trial. The article reports that when this crime was discovered, Christopher Cusack traveled from Nebraska to Wellington to re-pay his son’s debt, which was between $25,000-$35,000, and then sold the bank in part payment for a Wyoming ranch, that John was removed to.

Another highly regarded member of the Wellington community, Francis Grable, founder of the North Poudre Irrigation company,  prior bank president, and prominent developer and promoter of the area, was charged with assisting in the scheme. A federal grand jury in Pueblo, investigating the charges, issued an indictment against Cusack and Grable in November of 1912. It wasn’t until December of 1915 that the case finally went to trial, held at the US District Court in Denver. Cusack was charged with thirty counts of embezzlement, misapplication of funds, and fraudulent bank entries. During the hearing Cusack claimed innocence, blaming Grable for the fraud. After the hearing the jury returned with a verdict of ‘not guilty’ on all charges. Two weeks later, Grable’s charges were also dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Meanwhile, John’s wife, Aldah, permanently moved to California with their son, in August of 1914. She never remarried and claimed to be ‘widowed,’ even though John was still alive, and was aware of where she and his son moved to. John had gained employment with a livestock company in Colorado, and remarried. Christopher Cusack died in December of 1912, prior to the trial.

The Cusack home would go on to serve as a residence and Inn, and the First National Bank of Wellington would move across the street in 1919, when the present day building of Papa’s Table (which is listed on the National Historic Registry as the ‘First National Bank Building’), was built by a bank that bought out the first. The original bank building, became a hardware store, and then served as the Wellington Post Office for 40 years, before the property would return to the North Poudre Irrigation Company in 1964.

With all of this occurring over 100 years ago, there is no one alive to tell what really happened, and it will remain a mystery in Wellington’s history. What we do have is these beautiful old buildings that help keep history alive, and stories that often leave us with more questions than answers. Something to think about on your next drive through downtown Wellington.

The above information was pulled from historical surveys completed on both of these buildings in 2018, by Tatanka Historical Associates, a project completed through the Wellington Colorado Main Streets Program, using State Historical Grant Funding. They can be found at https://wellingtonmainstreet.org/resources.