Mr George safe presentation

In my role as Publix historian, I’ve collected many great pieces of Publix memorabilia, but my favorite is an artifact from Georgia that dates back to the late 1800s. You’re probably wondering how something from the 1800s could have anything to do with Publix, since we were founded in 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida. If you’ve read some of our previous articles about  , you might remember that George Jenkins grew up in Harris City, a small town in Georgia. His father, George Jenkins Sr., had opened a small general store in the late 1890s, and he expanded his business with a new building in 1906. It was there that young George Jr. learned the business from his father – and more importantly, he developed a passion for the retail trade that would later lead to the birth of Publix Super Markets.

Publix Safe History

Because small towns of the early 1900s often didn’t have banks nearby, Mr. Jenkins Sr. had a beautiful gray and gold safe that kept his business earnings secure.

In the early 1920s, the boll weevil destroyed the Harris City economy, and Mr. Jenkins Sr. went bankrupt. The family moved from Harris City to Atlanta, and the building, including the safe, was sold to a new owner who operated a small store. Time went on and in the 1970s, the building was vacated. The passing decades took their toll on the building and the old safe.

Harris City Store

 

Fast forward to 2014. That was the year that I happened to see an article about Harris City with a photo of the old general store. Not only was part of the stone building still standing, the safe was also sitting inside the vault room. I could just imagine Mr. George as a boy, putting the daily sales in that safe and how sad he must have felt to watch his father close the business. The safe had deteriorated over the years, but it held so much history and an unknown story that needed to be told.   I became obsessed with the thought of rescuing the old safe, and when I shared the idea with my husband, Anthony, he was just as eager as I was.

Anthony traveled to Harris City and after a tiring day knocking on doors and looking through county records, he finally got a clue. The abandoned building belonged to another Harris City descendent, Charles Brady James II. As surprised as Mr. James was to find Anthony on his doorstep, we were equally surprised to learn that Mr. James’ father grew up with Mr. George. To our delight, Mr. James graciously gave us permission to take the safe back to Lakeland so its story could be told for generations to come.

The Rescue Begins

Anthony got help from a friend to tackle the job of removing the save. Using only chains, plywood, a cable winch, hand tools and some good old-fashioned man power they carefully began moving the safe from its resting place.

Publix Safe Rescue 2 Rescuing Publix SafeYou may be wondering how two men, no heavy machinery and one very heavy metal safe made it into the back of a truck. Using a winch that was connected to one of the building’s metal beams it was hoisted just high enough to drive the truck underneath it.

Once lowered the wheels of the safe made permanent indentions in the truck bed, an obvious sign that it was incredibly heavy. That didn’t stop the two rescuers. They continued to transport the precious cargo home, with no idea how much weight was in the back of that truck.

Publix Safe Rescue 3

 

Eight hours later, this special delivery finally made it to Lakeland. When it was weighed with an industrial scale, the full weight was known: 4,200 pounds. At two tons, it was nothing short of a miracle that these two men were able to move the safe, hoist it up, load it into the old truck and travel 400 miles.

Restoration

More than 100 years had taken a toll on the old safe. The door, which weighed 600 pounds had a broken hinge, the dial was missing, and it was rusted beyond recognition. With the same passion my husband and I had for rescuing the safe, a team of Publix associates put their talents to work dismantling, cleaning and refurbishing it. When they removed decades of paint, the original colors and design were discovered.

Publix Safe Restoration 2

After months of work, the finished product was unveiled on April 7, 2015. Thanks to the dedicated passion for Publix culture, the safe now has a permanent home in the original Publix corporate office in Lakeland, FL. where its story can be told for many years to come.

Anthony Bush, Chuck Davis, Dave Bartos and the Publix Facilities Remanufacture Team.

Anthony Bush, Chuck Davis, Dave Bartos and the Publix Facilities Remanufacture Team.

Jennifer B.

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Jennifer B. has been with Publix since 1980, when she started working part time in high school. She has held positions of Assistant Director of public relations and Director of media relations, but her current role as the Company Historian is the highlight of her career. She loves sharing Publix trivia, telling stories about Mr. George and solving Publix’s history mysteries. In her life outside of Publix, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her husband and catering to the whims of their cat Jackson, who is master of all he surveys.

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