Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
This post is part of an ongoing “road trip” featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” is the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Worker. Those intrepid men and women who deliver our mail every single day (excluding federal holidays and weekends) work in some amazing buildings around the country, many of which may be found on the National Register of Historic Places. There are more than 14,000 entries for the search term “post office” in the National Register files. You can also search the 900 photographs of Post Offices in the National Archives Catalog.
Included on the National Register is the South Carolina SP U.S. Post Office and Courthouse (National Archives Identifier 118997486), pictured above in a photograph taken by Matthew Brady. “Built of Winnsboro, South Carolina, granite, the ‘most perfect and durable building stone to be found in the United States,’ according to an 1896 newspaper, the Post Office borrows elements from various Renaissance Revival styles. Dark and light stone heightens the contrast between the rusticated basement and first floors and quoining, and the smoother wall surfaces of the two upper stories. Fronting Broad Street, the main facade is broken into five advancing and receding planes.”
There is also the Post Office located in Biddeford, Maine (National Archives Identifier 88687879), which “stands as the prototype of quality federal buildings erected during the early part of the Twentieth Century. The building remains a classic example of period architecture and was completed in 1914 at a cost of $90,000. The design and structure served as blueprint for post offices built during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The property was completely designed and erected from plans prepared by the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department.”
Post Offices come in all shapes and sizes to serve large cities and small towns. Many postal facilities provide mail service for the armed services solely as well. The picture seen above notes the “View in HRPE Post Office of soldiers, WACs, and civilians sorting mail for the enlisted personnel of the Newport News Command. In the left foreground is Major Lee R. Scott, Jonesboro, Arkansas, Postal Officer for HRPE. The mail is delivered with considerable speed and the military personnel receive their mail much faster than if they depended on the civilian postal system. Behind Major Scott is the Port mail delivery system.” There are US Post Offices around the world, including the one seen below, which operated within the Panama Canal Zone.
If you’re traveling through West Virginia and need to drop a payment in the mail, you can stop at the Post Office near Coalburg, West Virginia. You could also visit the more august, West Virginia SP U.S. Post Office and Courthouse (National Archives Identifier 86534681), which is a “representative example of the high quality of civic architecture which resulted from the application of the Tarsney Act of 1893. It also exemplifies the care, which was exhibited prior to World War II in designing additions to federal buildings. Two additions quadrupled the size of the original building while maintaining its style, materials, and decorative features. Located near the center of downtown Huntington, the federal building which long housed the United States Post Office, federal court room and federal offices, has been a focus of activity for the people of Huntington and surrounding West Virginia area for approximately 75 years.”
There are a number of post offices around the country that were constructed during the Great Depression – as part of the Federal Works Administration – that contain murals on the walls of the interior of the post offices. There was a nationwide competition in 1939 for artists to submit sketches for Murals to be Placed in Post Offices (National Archives Identifier 532306). This series of records contains materials from the “anonymous, nation-wide competition for the design of murals to be installed in one Post Office in each of the 48 states . . . 972 artists submitted nearly 1500 entries before the deadline of October 2, 1939 . . . For the most part, subjects indigenous to the Post Office’s location were chosen . . .” One of the murals was a “painting depicting the midnight ride of Paul Revere [by] artist A.L. Ripley [and is on display at the] Lexington branch post office [in] Massachusetts.”
“Although less than 50 years old, the Lexington Main Post Office merits inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places as an example of the type of standardized construction and design advocated by the Public Works Administration (PWA) during the 1930’s. Built in 1938, it is located in a transitional area between commercial and residential districts in Lexington Center. Its modest, domestic scale and red brick, white stone trimmed exterior treatments render their building compatible with residential and low-rise commercial buildings in the area.” The mural, seen above, “is a product of the section of Fine Arts of the U.S. Treasury Department. It was painted by Aiden Lassel Ripley of Lexington, [who] is known for his series of 14 paintings which constitutes a cycle depicting the life of Paul Revere – this work was commissioned by the New England Corporation.” This excerpt is from the NRHP file for The Lexington Main Post Office (National Archives Identifier 63795642).
In addition, there is a companion series of Completed Murals and Sculptures in United States Post Offices and other Federal Buildings, 1935 – 1943 (National Archives Identifier 532304), which contains hundreds of images of murals from post offices around the country.
You can also visit the Old Post Office (and Clock Tower) (National Archives Identifier 117692385) here in Washington, D.C., seen above during the inauguration parade for George H.W. Bush. The building is designed in “the tradition of Romanesque Revival architecture of H.H. Richardson, occupies the entire city block bounded by 11th, 12th, C and D Streets at the juncture of Pennsylvania Avenue. A massive, rectangular structure, it measures approximately 200 feet from east to west and 300 feet from north to south. The 9-story building rises 135 feet to the flat portion of the roof. The tower, located in the center of the north facade, rises to a height of 315 feet above grade.” In my personal opinion, the view from the observation deck in the clock tower offers one of the best in the city. You can head there, fill out a few postcards, write a love letter, and then drop them in the mail at your local post office. The documents in the NRHP file for the Old Post Office are from 1973-1979, predating its current incarnation as the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Just don’t head to this “post office” – they aren’t running anymore, but you can still visit the nearly two hundred “Pony Express” sites that are listed on the National Register.
Click on any of the hyperlinked National Archives ID numbers above to open the fully digitized records in the National Archives Catalog. The NRHP files include additional documents, photographs, drawings, and maps.