Whately safe restoration to go out to bid

  • Whately residents voted at Annual Town Meeting to pay to restore the town’s 1891 safe, which sits in Town Hall. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

  • Whately residents voted at Annual Town Meeting to pay to restore the town’s 1891 safe, which sits in Town Hall. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2019 6:34:43 PM

WHATELY — Voters at the 1891 Annual Town Meeting authorized the town’s Selectboard to spend up to $275 for a fire-proof safe.

Fast forward 128 years and residents opt to appropriate $10,300 to professionally restore this 19th-century investment that now sits in near west entrance of the refurbished Town Hall at 194 Chestnut Plain Road. Townspeople voted April 30 to transfer money from the Community Preservation Fund Unreserved Fund Balance for the restoration.

Donna Wiley, chairwoman of the Whately Historical Commission, said the town will solicit bids in July from experienced restorers and will schedule the work for the fall. Wiley said the restoration will take two people about two weeks to complete.

She said the safe — 66 inches high, 51 inches wide, 35 inches deep — was made by MacNeale & Urban in Hamilton, Ohio, and weighs about a ton. It held money and files from 1891 until 2015, when town offices were moved to the building at 4 Sandy Lane while Town Hall was being rehabilitated.

“We don’t want to move it again,” Wiley quipped.

The historical commission chairwoman said the safe is extensively hand-painted, with 23-carat gold leaf paint for some of the decoration.

“From a cultural point of view, it is an enormously beautiful safe,” she said. “The scenes are not scenes of the Connecticut River Valley, but they are river valley themes, which supports our theory that it was made for Whately.

“It’s a piece of evidence of what the taste of the time was,” she continued.

The safe and its combination lock are still operable, but the exterior and interior painting has been damaged considerably over the years due to the wear and tear of continual use and plenty of tobacco smoking in its vicinity.

“And the conservator that looked at it for us said, ‘And somebody probably used Pledge on it,’” Wiley recalled.

She said the $275 authorized by the town in 1891 was 4 percent of Whately’s town expenditures in 1891. That, she said, is the equivalent of at least $210,000 of the 2020 budget.

“It was a really significant purchase that the town decided to make,” Wiley said. “The image of a small town is of very frugal decision-making.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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