In 1908, Monsignor Pierre Hevey, Pastor of Sainte-Marie’s parish in Manchester, New Hampshire, organized what was soon to be known as the first credit union. The goal was to help the primarily Franco-American mill workers save and borrow money. On November 24, 1908 we officially opened our doors in Manchester, New Hampshire as “La Caisse Populaire, Ste-Marie” (The People’s Bank) and became the first credit union in the nation. In April 1909, the New Hampshire Senate and House of Representatives approved a Charter to incorporate under the name of St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association. Transactions were conducted at the home of Joseph Boivin, the credit union’s first president, on Notre Dame Avenue. An all-volunteer staff assisted with daily activities. The safe was a used metal box purchased from Manchester’s French daily newspaper, L’Avenir National. Operating conditions were basic, but it was the mission that mattered.
View a video of the Reenactment of the Credit Union Founding and First Transactions.
St. Mary’s Bank made it possible for Manchester’s immigrants to achieve the better quality of life they had envisioned. For just $5, the price of one share of capital stock, anyone in the community could become a member. Savings were accepted from workers, families, and children. The accumulated savings were, in turn, lent to members to purchase and build homes, establish neighborhood businesses, and meet the personal financial needs of the community.
St. Mary’s Bank prospered. The credit union moved into its own offices in 1913 and hired its first paid, full-time manager in 1916. In 1917, the state legislature approved a bill changing the name from “St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association” to “La Caisse Populaire, Ste-Marie”. And, by 1923, the credit union’s assets exceeded $1 million. In 1925, an amended charter allowed the institution to be called either “La Caisse Populaire, Ste-Marie,” or “St. Mary’s Bank.”
In 1930, St. Mary’s Bank moved into “The Marble Building,” a landmark in the center of what was then the commercial heart of Manchester’s West Side. As the credit union expanded, so did its menu of traditional products and services. Checking accounts, Christmas Club accounts, safe deposit boxes and a wider variety of loans became available. By the mid 1950’s, St. Mary’s was serving several thousand members and had $6 million in assets. In 1970, St. Mary’s Bank built and moved into its present main office at McGregor Street in Manchester.
Over the years, St. Mary’s Bank has helped members through difficult times, including the Great Depression and the bankruptcy of Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in 1935. When thousand of banks failed during the Great Depression, St. Mary’s Bank remained open, even during the “Bank Holiday” of 1933, when President Roosevelt closed all banks nationwide. St. Mary’s Bank also survived the economic disruptions of the early 1990’s, which saw the failure of many familiar Manchester banks.
The building where Attorney Boivin first managed the business of the credit union became America’s Credit Union Museum in 2002. The building serves as a historical and educational site for the credit union movement. You can visit the original office and imagine you are there when the first deposits were made. The building was generously donated by owners Armand and Joanne Lemire to a non-profit foundation in 1994. Mr. Lemire served on the Board of Directors at St. Mary’s Bank from 1994 until his death in 2003. America’s Credit Union Museum is located at 418-420 Notre Dame Avenue, Manchester, New Hampshire.