National Notes from Mars

4 Min Read

Recently, I received an email from a reader, Dave Maihle, who suggested I explore his hometown, the quaintly named Mars, Pennsylvania, for an article in Bank Note Reporter. Intrigued by the idea, I delved into the history of Mars and its banking heritage.

Situated in western Pennsylvania, southern Butler County, just north of State Route 228 on the Mars-Evans City Road, Mars is approximately 18 miles north of Pittsburgh and 15 miles south of Butler.

Interestingly, it’s positioned 55 miles southwest of Venus (Pennsylvania), 1,875 miles northeast of Mercury (Nevada), and 925 miles north of Jupiter (Florida).

Despite its celestial connections, Mars is actually about 35 million miles away from the planet Mars at its closest point.

The origins of Mars trace back to Isaac Covert, who acquired 100 acres of land in 1798, where he built a log cabin and eventually expanded his property to 400 acres.

Over time, the area attracted several farmers, and two water-powered grist mills were established by Matthew Parks (1825) and Thomas Kennedy (1828) along Breakneck Creek.

Recognizing the area’s potential, Frank Johnson erected a general store in 1862, drawing more businesses to the vicinity, including a livery stable and additional stores.

The town of Mars was officially founded when Samuel Parks, son of Matthew Parks, built a home and a water-powered gristmill, and subsequently, a post office was established in his home with the help of Samuel Marshall.

The choice of the name “Mars” remains uncertain, with theories ranging from an affinity for astronomy to a shortened version of Samuel Marshall’s name.

Mail was delivered weekly by stagecoach to nearby Wexford, where it was collected by Albert Parks, Samuel’s son, on horseback.

In 1877, the Pittsburgh, New Castle, and Lake Erie Railroad planned a route through Butler County, and Samuel Kennedy, whose farm the railroad was to pass through, ensured a stop was included on his land, later named Overbrook.

However, confusion arose when mail destined for Mars was directed to the Overbrook stop, leading to an agreement to adopt the name Mars for clarity.

The borough of Mars was officially incorporated on March 6, 1895.

On October 16, 1900, the Mars National Bank received charter #5599 and commenced operations in the Ziegler building.

Notably, it was the sole national bank in the valley, serving local farmers.

Remarkably, the bank has remained operational to this day under the name Mars Bank, boasting multiple branches in the Pittsburgh area.

The bank’s enduring presence lends a unique appeal to having one’s checks drawn from Mars Bank.

As a national currency issuer, the Mars National Bank circulated a variety of Series of 1882, 1902, and 1929 notes, with a total circulation exceeding $800,000 and $38,800 outstanding in 1935.

While nine large and 22 small notes are currently reported, it’s conceivable that more notes from the bank exist.

The bank later relocated to a new building designed by Pittsburgh architect Richard Irvin, which was dedicated in 1926.

During a sunny visit to Mars, I was captivated by the town’s well-preserved period buildings, including the Mars National Bank building and the historic Zeigler Block across Marshall Way.

Notably, the town is home to the Mars spaceship in Grand Avenue Park, a quirky attraction that draws visitors.

With around 1,700 residents, Mars prides itself as the hometown of the Planets, its high school sports teams.

Share This Article
Leave a comment