State Politics

That talk about moving the State Treasurer’s Office got us wondering: What’s in the vault?

What’s in the state treasurer’s vault?

State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth gives a tour through the Capitol's historic — and massive — vault.
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State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth gives a tour through the Capitol's historic — and massive — vault.

When Idaho legislators talked in the session that ended last week about moving the State Treasurer’s Office out of the Capitol, a question came up: What would happen to the treasurer’s vault?

The vault and an inner safe are among the oldest items in the Capitol, which was built in 1912. The outside walls of the Capitol were completed after the cannonball safe — so named because of its round shape — was put into place on the first floor.

“They built the Capitol around it,” state Treasurer Julie Ellsworth said.

The manganese steel safe and the larger vault that holds it contain money and sensitive documents. The vault might be able to hold about eight adults before they get claustrophobic. Several rows of drawers line the wall on the right, a plain-painted wall is on the left, and the cannonball safe is in the rear. The white-tile floor sports an intricate brown pattern.

Ellsworth, who succeeded Ron Crane after he left office in January after 20 years, wouldn’t say exactly what was in the vault, citing security concerns.

Leaders of the Idaho House wanted to move the Treasurer’s Office out of the Capitol to free space that could be used for private offices for House members. While state senators have private offices, most House members work in cubicles.

The vault and safe would have stayed put, along with Ellsworth’s ceremonial office. But the treasurer’s staff would have moved to another office, possibly the old Home Federal Bank office kitty-corner from the Capitol at 8th and State streets.

However, a series of bills that would have authorized the state to buy the bank building (which it had acquired once before but sold in 2016) and provided money to renovate the Treasurer’s Office into legislative offices never cleared the Senate.

Ellsworth, who is from Carey and previously served for a dozen years in the House, opposed the move. In an interview with the Statesman, she declined to weigh in on the issue.

“That’s between the Legislature and the taxpayers,” she said.

Rows of cabinets that formerly held state financial records flank state Treasurer Julie Ellsworth inside the vault inside her office. Current records are stored below the counter and the door to the vault safe is to the left of her. Katherine Jones

Cannonball safes were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They weigh about 3,000 pounds. They were valued because of the protection they offered against cutting tools and explosives. The Capitol safe, which has a time lock, was manufactured by the Manganese Steel Safe Co., which operated until 1909 in New York.

The outer vault door is more than seven feet tall and weighs several hundred pounds. It was manufactured by The Macneale & Urban Co. of Hamilton, Ohio. The inside vault door has a glass panel that allows visitors to view the inner works.

The vault is more than 15 feet deep and 6 feet wide. Ellsworth said she was warned not to try to close the vault door by herself. It’s hard to close, and once it starts moving, it’s easy to get a hand caught inside, she said.

“It doesn’t pull you, but it reaches a point where it can pull my whole weight,” said Ellsworth.

The clock on the vault inside the safe uses a classic key to set the time. One of the safety features is that once the timer is set, it cannot be changed. Katherine Jones

Over the summer, Ellsworth plans to start a program for children whose parents enroll them in the tax-free Idaho College Savings Plan. The children will receive time capsules to store program documents. They’ll be able to put the capsules into drawers in the vault that once held financial records. After they graduate from high school, the students can return to see how their accounts grew.

“It’s to encourage families and help create enthusiasm for the program,” Ellsworth said.

Since she entered office, Ellsworth said she has given hundreds of students tours of the vault and has encouraged them to think about spending wisely as they grow older.

The biggest question she fields from those tours? How much money is in the safe?

“We can’t talk about that,” she said.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.