NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 2, 2013

Remembering when the post office came to town

John Lagoulis
Columnist

---- — Back in the 1920s and 1930s, many people complained about the U.S. Postal Service. Many of their complaints were recorded facts.

The postal system was antiquated and was not serving the public properly. However, it seemed to turn its back on the complaints. The government did nothing about the complaints because it did not have the cost of needed manpower. And so, people continued to be disgruntled and complaints grew worse.

Many of the post offices were in shambles; others were located in distant places, hard to find or reach, all due to political appointments and political power of the times. For example, there were post offices located in the outskirts of town, where few lived, or on the second and third floors of buildings that had no elevators. Many were being operated by people due to their political affiliation.

People began taking notice of the sorrowful situation. Hence, post offices were known to close. They would shut down practically overnight and people would find they’d actually reopened in a new area — depending on how the political wind was blowing that term. They seemed to be involved in the country’s politics, which delayed their growth of developing into bigger and better post offices.

Some letters did not get mailed or weren’t processed through the mail for years. We’ve all heard stories of people receiving mail 10, 20, 30 and more years later. It was a political post office mess.

So when President Franklin D. Roosevelt got elected, he demanded the government do something about the mess in the post office system. Yet, his pleas for financial aid were repeatedly denied and the situation grew worse and worse.

The main point was that the labor to rebuild thousands of post office buildings countrywide during the darkest days of the Depression was unthinkable. It was just too expensive.

As a child, I saw and personally experienced what Roosevelt was talking about. For example, there was a post office on the second and third floors of a building on State Street near the library. I recall walking hand-in-hand with my father to mail a letter. We had to climb flights of stairs to get to a room known as a post office. A few years later, it relocated from State Street to a building on Inn Street, a few doors down from Pleasant Street and close to The Daily News’ office then.

Eventually, they gave Roosevelt “permission” to build new post offices across the country, but provided no funds to do so. The money simply was not available for construction. But Roosevelt had a plan that did not fail.

It was now 1936 and the president called on the Works Progress Administration and the CCC Boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps to do the job. He told them to work with the government and find centrally located property in common areas, near a city building such as a City Hall at near the center of a town, city park or town common.

In Newburyport, a centrally located site was selected at the corner of Green and Pleasant streets, where the post office still stands today. It was a busy corner where people coming and going from City Hall always met. However, John Donahue’s Diner, which was owned and operated by John Donahue and his son, was located on that corner.

The government wanted that corner and bought Donahue out so that the post office could be built there. I was living on Unicorn Street at the time and as a young man I watched the post office being constructed. From what I was told, John Donahue did quite well in receiving a considerable sum for selling that corner — a lot of money in those days! Then, he moved his trade to Inn Street just a few doors down from Pleasant Street.

It was a pleasure to see the newly constructed and centrally located post offices. When completed, new staff people (many of whom were war veterans) were hired to operate each new post office across the country.

So, cheers go to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the CCC youth — the youth of our country — our boys who worked hard for minimum wages — $25 dollars a month, which went directly to each boy’s family.

Dear readers, as you visit your post office, admire its architecture and appreciate its construction, purpose, function and central location. It still retains the beauty of its original construction. It has served the public well ever since 1936. May it continue to do so!

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John Lagoulis is a columnist for The Daily News. He writes about life in Newburyport the way he lived it during the early 1900s. He has authored two volumes titled “Newburyport: As I Lived It! The Trials & Tribulations of a Young Wharf Rat during the Early 1900s in Massachusetts,” which are available in local bookshops and stores. You may reach him by e-mail at wharfrat01@att.net or visit www.NewburyportWharfRat.com or www.JohnLagoulis.com.