Workers discover century-old vault at RI State House

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While updating an old office at the Rhode Island State House, contractors removed some wood paneling and uncovered a vault dating back more than a century.

The vault door has “State Returning Board” written on it, but its contents remain a mystery since no one knows the combination.

Constructed in 1895, the State House is essentially a working museum, according to Legislative Services Director Frank Montanaro.

Montanaro showed Eyewitness News an old vault on the first floor that used to store ammunition, which he said is very similar to the one uncovered by construction crews.

The State Returning Board was created in 1901 and it’s where ballots in state, local, and federal elections would be certified. It eventually outgrew its space while new technology was developed.

“It’s evolved to what is now the Board of Elections,” Montanaro explained.

During demolition, asbestos and other unsafe materials were discovered. Montanaro said the Board of Health now has to make sure the air is safe before anyone can try to crack open the vault.

Montanaro said he would be surprised if it contained any secrets.

“I hope so – because it would add to the story – but I would think if they did their due diligence, they relocated the stuff they needed to store in where they moved to and they left the facility blank,” he said. “Or they used it for some other process, but we’ll find out. I guess that’s the intriguing part of the story.”

Montanaro got in touch with the State House’s former superintendent, a 78-year-old man who he says knows everything about the building. If he’s unable to get the vault open, Montanaro said he’ll reach out to local locksmiths to see if they want to take a crack at it.