A Kaleidoscope of History
A series on the history of Raymond by Rebecca B. Drake,
originally published in the Hinds County Gazette

Restoring The Merchants & Planters Safe

An interesting thing happened in 1903 that has yet to be explained! A beautiful hand-painted bank safe, made by the Mosler Safe Company in Hamilton, Ohio, arrived at the Raymond Railroad Depot. The safe, bearing a personalized inscription Merchants and Planters Bank, had obviously been ordered for the bank in Raymond. However, at that time a bank did not exist! Dick Kilby, bank president, commented... "it's a mystery to us why a safe was ordered three years before the bank was established. Recently when we were in the process of restoring the safe, we called Mosler Safe Company in Ohio and they confirmed that the safe had been made for the Merchants & Planters Bank of Raymond and shipped September 24th, 1903. The safe weighed approximately 2,325 pounds."

The Merchants and Planters Bank first opened its doors January 6th, 1906. Mr. J.L. Gaddis, Sr. of Bolton and his family were influential in the establishment of the bank. The original bank location was not on the corner of Town Square, as we know it today - but - in the middle of the block. After seventeen years - 1923 - the bank re-located to its present corner site and the safe, too heavy to move, was left behind. Raymond Post Office soon occupied the abandoned bank building and the safe became a 'fixture' for those working in the postal service. Kilby commented... "I can remember riding my bike up and down Main Street when I was a child. Often I would park my bike and go into the post office and watch as the postal workers would throw some of the mail back into the bank safe for storage. I was attracted to the safe even then."

In 1962 the post office moved from the old bank building to a new and modern facility on Oak Street. Once again the safe was abandoned except for the various businesses that occupied the building from time to time.

In 1981, when the bank was remodeled and expanded, Mr. Kilby made the decision to knock down a portion of the wall just behind the secluded safe and secure it for display in the new bank building."That was quite an undertaking", Dick commented... "the safe was so heavy we had to have a fork lift to move it! Once we had it placed in the bank the next step was to clean it up. At this point we secured the services of artist, Michael Hataway, to do the restoration work."

In regard to this unique restoration Hataway commented... "my first exposure to the old safe in Merchants & Planters Bank was when a fellow artist mentioned it to me. He had turned Mr. Kilby down on the restoration saying it was 'too technical' and 'too confining'. Several days later Mr. Kilby called me to see if I was interested in the restoration job or if I knew anybody qualified to do it. I've never met a 'safe restorer' in my life, so I went to the bank to see whether or not I thought I could do the job. On inspection it was easy to see that the safe was in deplorable condition. Mr. Kilby explained that it had been in one fire and also someone tried, unsuccessfully, to break into the safe. I agreed to do the work if the bank would give me all the time that would be needed."

Michael faced several problems as he began to work. First of all he was instructed not to sand or chip away any loose paint. "Mr. Kilby did not want anything removed from the safe, only added to." The next problem facing the artist was finding the time to work at the bank. Most of the work was done after school and on weekends. "I would leave the college and work until I was too tired to lift a brush. Several weekends Mr. Kilby would lock me inside the bank for long periods of time. It was almost too quiet in those days!" Another problem in the restoration was finding the appropriate media that would match the master's work. The fire had burned away the finish on the safe and dulled all the colors. What I produced could be called a product of mixed media."

Another problem was Michael's large 6'5", 210 pound frame. This made it difficult to position himself to reach all available surfaces. Michael commented... "I am convinced that a lot of the artistic work that was on this safe was completed before the safe was finally assembled." Probably the most challenging part of the work was trying to match the technique and style of the original artist. The artists of the time were truly masters at their job."

The restoration took almost four months to complete. Contemplating on the work Michael commented... "I accepted the job as a challenge. I knew a lot of artists that backed away from it and that made me want to do it even more. The folks at the bank were my greatest fans. They would walk by and encourage me. The last day I worked I felt like I was giving up my child to the world. I am proud that I helped save something of beauty from our past history. As an artist I have always enjoyed old buildings, trees, barns etc. as subject matter for my paintings. The 84 year old safe is part of that history and our past. Would I ever tackle another project like this? Well, part of me says 'yes' but another part says a Strong 'no'. I suppose I could add the job title SAFE RESTORER to my resume. But, nobody would really understand."

At one time it seemed in vogue for Americans to discard the old and make room for the new. This trend had little effect when it came to Raymond! There were many towns that lost the railroad depot as trains ceased to run - not Raymond! Many banks and businesses discarded their old safes in order to make room for the more modern ones - not Raymond! Raymond is deeply rooted to its past. The restored safe adds yet another dimension toward preserving its history.

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