Saturday, May 20, 2017

Celebrating a Century in Merrill, Wisconsin

USPS and the local community teamed up last week to celebrate the Merrill, Wisconsin's historic post office building centennial. The building, located at 430 E. Second Street, opened April 17, 1917 and is still in service.

This photo of the facility was taken by Postlandia friend John Gallagher in 2005:

Merrill, WI post office

To commemorate the occasion the Postal Service and Merrill Historical Society set up displays and exhibits featuring historic artifacts and photos at the post office. A press release [somewhat rearranged by yours truly] describes the following special activities undertaken on Saturday, April 29:
Retired Letter Carrier Ron Behm was outside the post office building with his dog sled team as a reminder that mail didn't always arrive in a motor-powered vehicle. Postmaster Joelle Nelson and [Milwaukee-based] Lakeland District Business Development Specialist Dave Janda were available inside the Post Office to share the many ways the US Postal Service has changed and the services they currently provide. ... Behind-the-scenes tours of the Post Office led by retired postal employees were given to participants in the Merrill Historical Society's 2017 History Hunt. The event also took participants out to the country to visit the current/former locations of 12 rural post offices and learn about some of the area's colorful history.
The Merrill Historical Society uploaded several images from the 2017 History Hunt, of which I snagged a couple. Loving that birthday cake!

The History Hunt took people to society-proclaimed "obscure places" in Lincoln County, all of which housed post offices a long time ago:
  • Champagne (1878—1887)
  • Chat (1884—1911)
  • Corning (1879—1902)
  • Cotter (1903—1910)
  • Doering (1903—1939)
  • Dudley (1880—1881)
  • Dunfield (1904—1909)
  • Finn (1899—1903)
  • Heller (1890—1921)
  • O'Day (1910—1912)
  • Schultz (1901—1911)

Wisconsin's WJFW reported from the event, led by Postmaster Joelle Nelson, who has worked at many Wisconsin post offices over the years: "A trip to the back rooms reveals locked passageways for postal inspectors to secretly observe employees through fake vents. Upstairs, an empty old safe with a huge iron door stands open. Glass cases in the lobby house pictures and items from 1917, 1967, and years in between. Nelson's favorite feature is a giant glass skylight in the main lobby." Tours today can be arranged by contacting the Post Office at 715-539-3287.

The building's cornerstone declares the building's construction start date to be 1915. A handful of additional photos of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), can be found here. The building's NRHP registration form notes: "The postal lobby is unique among the Wisconsin post offices surveyed; it has a cofferred ceiling with an octagonal skylight. The design of the skylight is enriched through the addition of geometric tracery. Modern lighting fixtures have been installed in such a way as to minimize the Impact on the cofferring. The lobby retains other original features, including its original tile floor, marble wainscot, and marble door surrounds. The walls and ceiling are of plaster."

I, for one, have never seen a century-old post office with an octagonal skylight. I also can't recommend the two-minute video story at WJFW highly enough. Please go watch!

The building's National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) form provides more details about Post Office history in the town: "The Merrill Post Office was built in 1915 to the designs of the Office of Supervising Architect. It was the first federally owned post office in Merrill. Prior to its construction, the post office was housed at various locations. The first post office hi Merrill was located in the Jenny Hotel, owned by Cyrus Stowbridge, the first Postmaster. Prior to the construction of the current building, the post office rented space in the Masonic Temple."

You can get a physical souvenir of the Merrill post office building's 100th anniversary: a Postmaster-autographed postal card with limited-edition pictorial cancellation applied on the day of the event. Some copies of the item are available for $10 from the Merrill Historical Society. Here's part of the item in a scanned example:

Merrill Post Office Pictorial Cancellation

The Merrill Historical Society continues to commemorate the occasion, with an exhibit that opened May 13:
A new exhibit featuring an overview of the U.S. Postal Service, including some history on railroad postal cars, opened May 1st at the Merrill History & Culture Center, 100 E. Third Street. According to exhibit chairperson Pat Burg, the exhibit also tells the story of some of Merrill's early Letter Carriers and Post Offices. A small model train layout in the lower level will showcase the interesting way that railroads came to be part of the mail delivery system. The Society plans to create a Merrill postal time capsule to be opened 50 years from now. For further information on the dates and times for the exhibit, or to loan items for this exhibit, please contact Merrill Historical Society at 715-536-5652, or see the website at

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