Historic bank vault recalls gilded age of Bradford

by Michelle Arnosky Sherburne
BRADFORD-While a subterranean vault on one side of Main Street has been getting some attention recently, an above-ground vault on the other side of Main Street had its own moment in the sun earlier this month.

On March 7, the bank vault was opened and reincorporated into a contemporary business. Village Eclectics 2 owner Lois Jackson said she is thrilled to have access to something so beautiful and historic.

It wasn’t the first time building owner Luke Birch had opened it. When he bought the building around 2014, he was given the the combination. There were no surprises or leftover bank notes, just an empty vault. The doors were closed but left unlocked while Village Eclectics operated.

“But at some point, someone spun the combination dials, thus sealing the vault,” Birch said.

Earlier this year, Jackson, who bought Village Eclectics last year, requested the vault be opened. Birch was more than happy to oblige, even if it proved to be not as simple a task as it was seven years ago.

“It took me 30 attempts to open it. I knew I could crack the code, so to speak, but it had to be done a specific way for it to unlock,” Birch said.

Jackson was thrilled. The historic craftsmanship revealed once again. The two sets of doors feature ornate designs. An artist herself, Jackson thinks the metalwork was not stenciled but etched freehand.

“It is gorgeous, so beautiful,” she said.

The vault’s combination mechanism is a Yale single automatic bolt-operating device which was patented in the late 1880s. The interior doors were made in Ontario.

Jackson plans to keep those doors open so customers can take a closer look for themselves. She has plenty of ideas of what could go in the vault. Jackson had the walls painted in her favored purple and ceiling in a pale blue.

Birch has spent seven years renovating the building. He said that it has been a challenge and “struggle to maintain something that’s beautiful and also work to see that it prospers.” He purchased the building after a 2011 fire caused by a lightning strike. Much of the reclamation work had been completed before the sale. But Birch still had to fix all the water damage.

The bank vault on the ground floor was spared from the fire that damaged the upper levels. Offices and stores came and went but the vault was safe, no pun intended, and undamaged.

The bank block was built in 1891, designed by architect Lambert Packard whose work consists of a long list of structures in Vermont including St. Johnsbury’s Fairbanks Museum and Bradford Public Library.

For 70 years, most of the first floor was home to a bank. Bradford Savings Bank and Trust Company, the town’s first banking institution, was chartered in 1870 and moved into this building in 1891 upon construction completion.

But it closed just seven years later due to a number of factors.

“Bradford then was without local banking facilities for a little more than six years,” wrote Harold Haskins in “History of Bradford Vermont.”

In 1904, Bradford National Bank was established in the same location and stayed there until 1961, when it moved across the street to the current site of Community National Bank.

The third floor of the building also served as an armory for the Bradford Guard in the early 20th century. Through the years, there have been offices, stores and in recent years, it was the home of Swenson Insurance, McCormick & Company and Goathead Grafx.

“I think we need to learn from the lessons of the past,” Birch said. “Understanding the town’s heritage and come up with a vision to use the history that is all around us. Embrace it and incorporate it into new ventures.”

“I want to share it with people and welcome them to come during business hours to check out the vault,” Jackson said.

Republished with permission from the Journal-Opinion, the outstanding community newspaper based in Bradford and covering much of Orange and Caledonia counties. Email: advertising@jonews.com

Categories: History

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