A piece of downtown Denison’s history has been returned to its place at City Hall.
Denison recently added a vintage safe from the original State National Bank to its growing art collection and is putting the piece on permanent display at the entrance to City Hall.
Following the closure and demolition of the original bank building, the safe was relocated and stored within the Denison Chamber of Commerce, city officials said. It was only recently that the safe was returned to the city and moved back to its home on Main Street.
“When we were talking about Art in the Hall, we mentioned that it was still there (at the chamber),” Denison Director of Community Engagement Sunny Mackey said. “From there, we started asking the right questions to get it back here.”
The safe, which sits upon wheels and is estimated to weigh 3,000 pounds, was originally sold by the W.D. Collins Safe Company, which maintained its main offices in Denison in the late 19th century. Gold lettering on the front of the safe bears the mark of the Manganese Steel Safe Co. of New York, alongside a mark for W.D. Collins.
Collins was known in Denison as a safe dealer and also a self-taught architect who designed the interiors of many Texoma banks, including the Denison Bank and Trust Company and the State National Bank, which once stood at the current site of Denison City Hall.
The safe is of a variety commonly known as “cannonball safes” due to their design and reputation for durability against explosives and cutting tools. It is one of only two safes from W.D. Collins that are known to exist today. The other is currently located at the First United Bank in Colbert, Oklahoma.
Local historian Brian Hander said the safe likely originated in New York but was sold, painted and customized locally by W.D. Collins for State National. Hander said he was uncertain when the safe was originally purchased, but estimated it to be around 1906.
The safe, which measures about three feet in depth, was taken out of service following remodels of the bank building and subsequent growth over the years. With this growth, the bank found itself in need of a larger storage space than what the small safe could offer.
These upgrades included the installation of a new vault, featuring ornate decorative doors made by the Mosler Safe Company. When the building was torn down in the early 1970s to make way for the new Bank of America building, the vaults were left in place and the building was constructed around them. Those doors remain as a part of Denison City Hall to this day.
Since being decommissioned, the safe was mainly used for storage a few blocks away at the Denison Chamber of Commerce. Mackey said the Chamber agreed to return the vault to City Hall, but the issue then became how to move it.
Due to its weight, Mackey said the city hired a moving company to relocate the safe. While the company was able to drive the safe to City Hall, it took a city forklift to move it into the building.
Given the difficulty that modern technology had moving the heavy safe, this led some to wonder how it was moved in the first place.
Mackey said it is a coincidence that the safe was put on display ahead of this year’s Doc Holliday festival. However, the safe, and the bank both bear a connection to that era, and fit as a lead up to the annual event, she said.
“I don’t know if a horse pulled it all the way down Main Street and then into the bank,” Hander said of one possibility.