WHEN COAL WAS KING: Black Diamond loses its only bank when Columbia Bank closes the branch it opened in 1998

Yet another chapter turns on August 2ndas Black Diamond loses its only bank when Columbia Bank closes the branch it opened in 1998. The miner’s home, seen above in this 1950 King County Assessor photo, once occupied the site of the soon to be vacated branch. The house was moved from the coal mining town of Durham to Black Diamond around 1950. It was owned by Ed Morris, a co-founder of Palmer Coking Coal, who lived there until his death in 1959. Occupied as a rental until 1980, the deteriorating building was burned to the ground by the fire department as a training drill that year. The property was next used for storage and sale of firewood until Mt. Rainier completed their new branch in January 1998. 

The history of banking in Black Diamond dates to 1914 when the State Bank of Black Diamond was organized, by a former coal miner, Charles McKinnon. His partners included Otto K. Strizek and David D. James with P.L. Bingay as cashier. Within a year the bank, with McKinnon as President, boasted over $47,000 in deposits. McKinnon was also Black Diamond’s postmaster from 1911 until 1915. The firm almost collapsed from a bad investment, but McKinnon threw his own money into the business and every depositor was paid in full.  However, by 1920 a new bank president, Thomas Fournier had assumed control. He gained the community’s trust by attending both churches every Sunday. He was extremely well-educated, and able to speak, read, and write five languages, helping him build rapport with the large immigrant population, many speaking broken English. 

One weekend in May 1921, Fourier boarded a bus headed for Seattle, after first enlisting a depositor, Ben Mercer to help him load what he claimed were blankets he was taking to the dry cleaners. The boxes contained most of the bank’s cash and securities. A few days later, the bank teller discovered the theft and a warrant was issued for Fournier’s arrest. Due to his French roots it was believed he escaped to Canada, perhaps Quebec. Fournier was never seen again. None of the depositors’ money was recovered and the bank quickly closed. The old bank vault still remains in what became the Confectionary building and lately housed Black Diamond Pizza & Deli. 

For the next 40 years, Black Diamond was without a bank. During that period coal miners would give their money to Antonia Minaglia for safekeeping. Mrs. Minaglia was the wife of Giovani (John) Minaglia who helped finance passage for fellow Italians to emigrate and later invested in mortgages. She put each miner’s money in a different can, burying them in their cellar, and yet never made a mistake as to the ownership of each can. In 1963, the First National Bank of Enumclaw opened a new branch in the building now occupied by the Community Center.  That branch closed in 1990.  By next week, Black Diamond will again be without a bank.