It should come as no surprise that there are many things that fascinate me about the United States Postal Service. Everything from minute differences in perforation on stamps to giant, automated machines for sorting mail, to how letter carriers effect their community... just everything is so interesting! Recently, I fell down a little rabbit hole involving Franklin Delano Roosevelt and New Deal workings as they influenced post office design in New York. Dutchess County is known for its stone buildings; so much so that there is an exhaustive website dedicated to them and how they came to be. Among these buildings are five post offices: Poughkeepsie Post Office, Rhinebeck Post Office, Hyde Park Post Office, and Wappingers and Ellenville Post Offices. These Colonial Revival structures were made with local stone and stone from older buildings and walls from around the area that had gone into disrepair. FDR was passionate about this:
"We are seeking to follow the type of architecture which is good in the sense that it does not of necessity follow the whims of the moment but seeks an artistry that ought to be good, as far as we can tell, for all time to come. And we are trying to adapt the design to the historical background of the locality and to use, insofar as possible, the materials which are indigenous to the locality itself. Hence, fieldstone for Dutchess County. Hence, the efforts during the past few years in Federal buildings in the Hudson River Valley to use fieldstone and to copy the early Dutch architecture which was so essentially sound besides being very attractive to the eye."
There are a bunch of cited documents where FDR is actively campaigning for the use of stone in the projects. My favorite is a back and forth between Treasury Secretary Morgenthau and the Supervising Architect of the Rhinebeck P.O. Louis A. Simon.
Morgenthau: The President of the United states is very much disturbed because he hears that the Rhinebeck Post Office—they’re not going to use old stone wall, that they’re planning to open up some stone quarries. And his instructions are that they should use old stone wall.
Simon: Well, Mr. Secretary, here’s what the situation is. We sent Stanley-Brown up there and he found that we could get quite a little stone from the old building that…
Morgenthau: Well, listen, you better write me a memo on it. And the President wants old stone wall.
Simon: Yes, I see how the thing came about. Mr. Shipley (Arthur Suckley) who is the owner of the place, said that he’d rather not use the old French wall off his place, but there are plenty of more old stone walls all over Dutchess County.
Morgenthau: Well, are you going to use old stone wall?
Simon: Sure we are.
Morgenthau: Well, for God’s sake do, please.
Simon: Yes, we certainly are.
Morgenthau: And no new stone.
Morgenthau: Well, the country is saved. O.K.
To someone like me, that exchange is delightful.
The Hyde Park P.O. and the Rhinebeck P.O. also feature murals by local artist Olin Dows. You can see an extensive gallery of the murals from the Rhinebeck P.O. here. I started this research journey at the murals and found out everything else after looking into how they got put there in the first place. I only learned of the murals because of a Tweet I received. I love hearing from our informed and interesting members. Write to us! Send me a Tweet! Leave us a comment!