With the renovations complete on the Kingsbury County Courthouse, you may find yourself strolling through the building. One thing that may catch your eye is the many vaults. The county has a total of eight vaults.
Based on the patent dates on each of the vaults, its clear the county installed them after the construction of the courthouse.
Their purpose was to protect the documents, records and deeds from theft and fire.
Four of the courthouse vaults were manufactured by a company called E. T. Barnum Iron and Wire Works out of Detroit, Mich.
The E. T. Barnum vaults are scattered from the equalization office to the basement in the courthouse.
When researching the history of the E. T. Barnum company, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a recent exhibit and website highlighting catalogues and correspondences and items this manufacturer made.
E. T. Barnum was highlighted as an Antique and Vintage Hall of Fame manufacturer on the glassion.org web site. This site covers the history, staff, items manufactured and product catalogues.
The other four vaults in the courthouse were manufactured by Detroit Safe Company. This company was famous for its safes, but also built vaults too. You can find the Detroit vaults mostly on the first floor in the courthouse and the clerk of courts office.
E. T. Barnum had a mammoth factory. Their building was a four-story brick factory that contained about 330,000 square feet of floor surface.
They manufactured many metal items from wrought iron fences, to bank and office railings, streetlights, brass beds, jail cells, fire escapes and even brass firepoles. Their full catalogue was 226 pages. Most of their items are still in use and recognizable today, such as wrought iron fences around small cemeteries.
They also employed 700 “hands,” which E. T. Barnum said were mostly skilled mechanics.
When a vault was ordered, E. T. Barnum would send out a plain vault door. They would either hire a crew locally or bring their own. They would reinforce and construct the vault with bricks. Some vaults had steel lining the walls and welded into place to increase the security.
Once the door of the vault was installed and working properly, they would letter the doors and do the gold leafing by hand, according to E. T. Barnum’s catalogue. All of the Kingsbury vault doors have the gold leafing, but only four have “Kingsbury County” lettered on the top of the doors.
The vault doors had one thing that makes them unique. The person doing the gold leafing usually hand-painted a scene on the front of each vault. The hand-painted scenes ranged from river to mountain, to lake and ocean views.
Two of the artistic scenes on the Barnum vaults are peeling and in poor condition. The damage is probably caused by being exposed to sunlight.
It appears that the Detroit vaults were painted with higher quality paint as most of those scenes are still in excellent shape.
When a vault was built, the surrounding structure was usually reinforced to support the additional weight.
All six sides would be lined with fire-brick. Once the vault was lined with bricks, they would then add the door. Most vault doors have inside doors and a heavier outside door.
If a fire did rage on the outside of the vault the fire-brick and doors would protect the items inside from being burned up. The only way items could perish is if the building or floors collapsed.
Interestingly, there is evidence that the courthouse had a fire on the first floor in the southeast office, which is now used by the auditor. Currently, research has not uncovered any information about this fire.
Posted on 12-04-2018
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