Antique cannonball safe from 1894 on display in Gainesville bank

GAINESVILLE, Mo. – Visitors at Century Bank of the Ozarks in Gainesville can now view an antique cannonball safe from 1894 within its lobby. 

Cannonball safes were a popular item which many wealthy banks owned from 1860 to the 1920s because they were considered robbery proof. In those time periods, it was not uncommon for someone to kidnap the bank’s president in the middle of the night, take him to his bank and force him to open a conventional bank safe at gun-point. 

The cannonball safes were built more sturdy with thicker walls, round corners, and time lock systems which would prevent anyone from opening them anytime other than daytime hours. The safes get their ‘cannonball’ name from a round shape and heavy load, typically weighing between 3,500 and 5,000lbs. 

Century Bank of the Ozarks CEO Chris Harlin told The Heartlander that his great great uncles and great grandfather founded the Bank of Gainesville, where the safe made its home in 1894. After they ordered the cannonball safe from somewhere in Ohio, it was transported via train to West Plains, Missouri. The biggest piece of the puzzle was trying to figure out how to get it to Gainesville as the crew would have to pass through the North Fork River. 

The July 5, 1894 edition of the Ozark County News reported that a man named Joe Farmer and his team of horses pulled the safe from West Plains on a wagon. Harlin says that during the process, the safe fell into the river but was somehow removed and successfully delivered to the Bank of Gainesville. 

In 1929, the bank built a new location and the cannonball safe has been sitting inside the original vault ever since. In 1969, the bank began construction on another new building on the northeast corner of the square in Gainesville, but they left the cannonball safe behind to stay in its original home. 

The original Bank of Gainesville building was  sold in 1995 but the Harlin family re-purchased the building in 2020, complete with the 1894 cannonball safe. The Bank of Gainesville was also given a name change in 1996 and became Century Bank of the Ozarks. 

“We had a security company say they had the ability to move it and we said, ‘We’ll give it a shot’,” Harlin said. “They had a few struggles because getting out of the old vault and old building was pretty tight. There wasn’t a lot of room to spare. But once they figured out how to get it out, it went more smoothly.” 

Heavy duty jacks were strapped to each side, and they had a wheel system that was jacked up about an inch off of the ground. 

The antique cannonball safe will remain on display in the Century Bank of the Ozarks lobby next to the main vault door in Gainesville.

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