Saturday, August 4, 2018

Postal Tour: Duluth, Minnesota

Map of part of the Ticket to Ride board. Because this blog is awesome.

Duluth is so much more than an important city in Ticket to Ride. (Note: the board places Duluth where Minneapolis actually is. Let's have a look at a real map.)

Duluth hugs the shoreline of the very western edge of Lake Superior, which makes for wonderful dawn vistas because the city is largely built up the slope of a hill facing east. To wit: here's a 3-D rendering via Google Earth, and a photo from my stay's bedroom window.

The Minnesota Historical Society wrote in 1955 of the early establishment of the Duluth (and neighboring) post offices. Duluth's has been in operation since July 6, 1857. "Between May 13, 1856, and December 31, 1943, sixteen towns adjacent to Duluth maintained their own post-office establishments before they were discontinued and made either branches or stations of the Duluth post office." This is modest compared to the "hundred and sixty-five post offices have existed at one time or another in St. Louis County since it was established on March 3, 1855 ..."

That article presents the following as Duluth's first post office:

The GSA writes about the need for a permanent federal building: "Duluth's sawmills thrived by the end of the nineteenth century, and the city became the nation's fifth busiest seaport. In 1892, the city's first federal building—a post office, courthouse, and custom house—was constructed."

It was located at W 5th Ave. and 1st St. The building has since been destroyed, but here's an image from around the time of its completion:

"As the city continued to expand, officials decided to create a civic center and in 1907 invited prominent architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham to develop a plan that would include a new county courthouse, city hall, custom house, federal office building, and plaza. A pioneer in city planning, Burnham was responsible for the layout of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as city plans for Chicago and San Francisco. His plans emphasized the relationship between buildings and their sites. Burnham's design for Duluth, which the city commissioners unanimously endorsed in 1908, incorporated components of the City Beautiful movement, which espoused the use of formal arrangements, axial streets, and monumental, classical public buildings in city planning.

The county courthouse and city hall were constructed first. In 1916, the federal government purchased a site within the civic center for the construction of the new federal building. The U.S. Post Office, Courthouse and Custom House was designed in 1928 by James A. Wetmore, acting supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, after Congress approved a $1.2 million appropriation. Construction commenced the following year and was completed in 1930."
This image from the National Archives shows the Civic Center post office ca. 1930.

Most postal operations have moved to a new facility south of downtown, though a modest retail operation can be found on the first floor. You have to pass through security to visit it. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside, but here's the Federal Building, and its cornerstone, as of last autumn.

The cornerstone is located around the side of the building [northeast corner]. Since the building is built on a slope, you have to look up to spot it. Its text reads: "A W MELLON / SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY // JAMES A WETMORE / ACTING SUPERVISING ARCHITECT // 1929".

Primary post office operations relocated from the Civic Center to a location about two miles south, in 1970. You can see the post office from I-35; it's just about right off the S 27th St. exit. The 133,000-square-foot facility was built to house retail, mail processing, and vehicle maintenance operations.

Duluth had been the processing hub for mail from metropolitan area, the Iron Range (north interior Minnesota), and the North Shore (along Lake Superior). However, mail processing operations were moved 160 miles down I-35 to St. Paul in 2015. In addition to slowing down local mail (which would have happened anyway, at least in part, due to a nationwide change in service standards), it caused mail collection times to get bumped up in the region. As Duluth News Tribune reported, "The last mailbox collection time in Duluth will be 3:15 p.m. ... Previously, the last collection time at that box — the latest in the area — was 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 7:45 p.m. on Saturdays." Community and other elected officials (including then-Senator Al Franken) were opposed to the change.

The following photo was taken by the author at a distance of one mile(!) along a hill road called Skyline Drive, which overlooks the city. The Duluth main post office is the red building in the exact center with vertical white stripes. I-35 can be seen behind it, and in the background are massive ship/rail transfer facilities, including two 2,500-foot-long rail piers.

Duluth, MN main post office

In addition to the Civic Center Station, the Duluth post office oversees operations at several other post offices: Lakeside Station; Miller Hill Station; Mount Royal Station (a USPS-owned facility); West Duluth Station (located about four miles inland); and the Proctor Branch in the next city over. USPS also leases a modest amount of space (<100-square-foot) for P.O. Boxes at the Pine Lake Superamerica gas station, which also houses a Contract Postal Unit (CPU). Such an arrangement would not be allowed at new CPUs; this location is grandfathered in.

Photos of all the locations can, of course, be found at the PMCC's Online Post Office Photo Collection, which now features 29,000 photographs. I personally find Lakeside Station photogenic:

Lakeside Station post office, Duluth, MN

'Til next time,

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Old Post Office: Indianapolis

Ah, Indianapolis. Hoosier Central. There's a former building in Indianapolis that definitely deserves to be highlighted on this blog, and it is the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse smack-dab downtown. Inside I was only able to see the entrance (this building is not generally accessible to the public), but just the very corner of the building was remarkable. The building, as presently stands, was built in stages—the primary structure being built between 1902 and 1905, and the northern 'annex' being completed in 1938. Indianapolis's Main Post Office operations resided here for some time, but no postal operations remain here.

The building is packed with stunning examples of artwork and masonry, and fortunately the General Services Administration (GSA) and Federal Courts website have published a thorough Visitors' Guide to the building's architectural treasures. I could write all day about it, but seriously, go check it out. If you try to enter the building through the most public entrance you will get a glimpse of one of the Octagonal Rotundas—check one out on page 14.

(Fun fact: when you appreciate the building's architectural wonders, even outside, you will be monitored by federal security personnel! They might subtly observe you out front while looking at a smartphone, or peek out from behind blinds if you're around the side. #modernlife)

Here are some pictures of the Birch Bayh Federal Building from my visit there last summer.

1. Federal Building, from the southeast (front at left)
Birch Bayh Federal Building

2. Front of Federal Building. Note the inscription dating the building to 1903 (MCMIII). Grand, no?
Birch Bayh Federal Building

3. Two of four the statues by John Massey Rhind, flanking the SW front entrance
Birch Bayh Federal Building statues

The four statues are named "Industry," "Agriculture," "Literature," and "Justice."

4/5. Plaque and cornerstone, SE entrance/corner
Birch Bayh Federal Building plaque
Birch Bayh Federal Building cornerstone

6. One example of the building's New Deal artwork: a frieze, by David K. Rubins, above the northeast vehicle entrance.
Birch Bayh Federal Building frieze

This frieze, and its counterpart at the NW corner of the building, were part of the annex added to the building during the late 1930s. They were carved in place by the artist. And that's not even examining the fascinating carvings flanking the sides of the entrances!

More of my images can be found at the Living New Deal's pages for the building. Unfortunately I was not able to visit the murals inside, though they are shown in the Visitors' Guide linked to above.

Postal Tour: Wheeling, West Virginia

Take I-70 from Pennsylvania toward Ohio and you'll pass through West Virginia. Though not for long—you'll be in and out in a mere 14.2 miles, a blink of an Interstate eye. You'll have driven through what's known as the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, a 63-mile spit of land that hugs the western end of Pennsylvania out to the Ohio River. The Northern Panhandle consists of four counties, collectively housing 132,000 people. The largest population center here is the city of Wheeling, which historically straddles the Ohio. There are large hills that bound the city center to the east, though that has't stopped other communities from sprouting in other comparative lowlands to the east.

Let's have a look at some maps! Below, a map showing Wheeling in West Virginia, and a satellite overview of the Wheeling area.

West Virginia map, highlighting Wheeling

Wheeling developed during the 19th century as an important stop in a multimodal transportation hub. In addition to hugging the Ohio River, Wheeling lay on the route of the National Road and the all-important B&O Railroad. As with so many Rust Belt communities, Wheeling has had to undergo economic renewal following the depletion of local manufacturing.

The city has a couple of stunning historic federal buildings and, until recently, was a mail processing hub. Here's the present postal layout, excluding one up-river site that I did not get to photograph last summer.

Wheeling, WV post office map

Wheeling houses an extremely early federal building dating back to the pre-Civil War era. Now West Virginia Independence Hall, this 1859 construction served as a U.S. custom house, courthouse, and post office. It is also the spot from which the western counties of Virginia would secede and form, well, West Virginia in 1863. (An alternative name for the state under consideration was Kanawha.) Upon completion of a new federal building in 1907, this building was sold to private interests and subsequently expanded. Most of the modifications to the original structure were reversed after the State purchased the structure as part of the West Virginia centennial commemoration. Thus, the building better reflects its original mid-19th-century appearance now than it did a century ago.

West Virginia Independence Hall can be found facing Market Street, at the northeast corner of Market St. and 16th St.

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on the west side of Chapline Street, between 12th and 11th Streets, was built before the advent of what we might now call traditional federal building cornerstones. You can, however, see the date of construction (1905: in Roman numerals, MCMV) above the building's front entrance. The building has been expanded multiple times, including during the Great Depression, and most recently in 2002-4. Inside, most postal operations have been relocated, but retail operations and banks of P.O. Boxes are still present on the first floor.

Here are three photos: first, from the southeast, looking at the original construction; second, directly across from the original construction / main entrance (with date carved in stone above the front door); and third, toward the 1937-8 and modern 2002-4 additions.

Wheeling Federal Building
Wheeling Federal Building
Wheeling Federal Building

In 1966 a new postal facility was built south of Wheeling Creek, about 0.9 miles south of the Federal Building. The building housed retail and delivery operations, and for decades mail processing operations as well. Wheeling Processing and Distribution Facility (P&DF) operations were relocated to Pittsburgh in 2010, a 60-mile drive away.

Wheeling main post office

A few miles up the road from the main post office is a station in Elm Grove (which formerly had its own independent post office). Here's a photo; this post office site has been in operation since 1986.

Wheeling: Elm Grove Station post office

(Additionally, there is another station, not mapped, 3.8 miles up the road: Warwood Station, that is under the jurisdiction of the Wheeling postmaster. Hopefully I'll get to visit that the next time I'm in the area.)

Hope you enjoyed the tour! And, for the record, Postlandia's 300th post!