By Jesse Wood
Oct. 24, 2013. Nearly 75 years after the federal government acquired the property off of King Street for the now-historic Downtown Boone Post Office, community members and town officials will gather on Sunday, Oct. 27, from 3 to 6 p.m. for the grand opening of the post office that the town purchased in 2009 and renovated over the course of the last year and a half.
Speakers for the event include Mayor Loretta Clawson, architect Randy Jones and Planning Director Bill Bailey. Those speeches are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Downtown Boone Development Association, Char Restaurant and Stick Boy Bread Co. will provide refreshments, and tours of the renovated post office, including Q&A, will take place for those interested.
‘Culmination of 200 Years of Postal History in Downtown Boone’
On Nov. 18, 1938, the federal government purchased the post office with Works Progress Administration funds, according to a historical account compiled by Eric Plaag, chair of Boone Historic Preservation Commission, noting that the acquisition of the property and construction of the downtown post office “were in many ways the consequence of good political connections.”
In 1937, Robert L. Doughton was Watauga County’s representative to the U.S. House and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee that pushed the Construction of Public Buildings Act through Congress. That act led to the erection of a number of post offices in the state, including the one located off of King Street.
But before the Great Depression and the WPA, Plaag’s research notes that the postal history of Boone began much earlier in time – decades before the Civil War transpired and decades before Boone received its current namesake.
In 1823, the community was known as Councill’s Store because Jordan Councill operated a general store in the vicinity of what is now downtown Boone and that store including a post office. Plaag found that the post office remained in Councill’s Store even after the community’s name changed to Boone in 1850.
“Eighty-seven years later, when increasing postal volume strained the ability of Boone’s existing post office building to handle the volume, local residents pushed for a continuation of the link between the Councill name and postal operations,” Plaag wrote in the brief historical account. “The building that now stands on West King Street, begun in 1938 and completed in 1940, lies on land acquired from Emma Councill, the widow of J.D. “Crack” Councill, who for many years operated a blacksmith shop on the property fronting on Depot Street.”
The WPA post office was built in the colonial revival style with a dressed ashlar stone façade, according to Plaag, and local residents such as stonemasons Earl and Clarence Lyons and Williard Watson, the first cousin of Doc Watson and maker of wooden toys who was later immortalized by the Smithsonian Institute. After its construction was completed in July 1939, 10 people were employed at the new post office.
April 10, 1940 Dedication
More than 3,000 people assembled downtown to hear Postmaster General James Farley’s dedicatory remarks on April 10, 1940. Plaag notes that this was an “impressive crowd” considering the Town of Boone had a approximate population of 2,500 at the time.
“But it may have been swelled by Farley’s recent announcement of his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President,” Plaag wrote. “Farley’s visit was, in fact, the first time that a presidential candidate had ever visited Boone.”
According to a pamphlet of the ceremony, the Appalachian High School Band performed a concert on the lawn from 10 to 11 a.m. on that Wednesday morning in the spring of 1940. Afterwards, Rev. Paul Townsend, pastor of Boone Methodist Church, performed the invocation, and Mayor W.R. Lovill welcomed those in attendance, which included Rep. Robert Doughton.
In addition to Farley’s remarks, Rev. J.C. Canipe, pastor of Boone Baptist Church, performed the benediction.
40 Years of Downtown Post Office’s Uncertain Fate
The post office located off of Blowing Rock Road in Boone was built in the 1970s, and according to Plaag’s research, “downtown merchants and community leaders feared the closure” of the downtown post office. Not only did it serve a functional purpose to downtown Boone, Plaag noted, but it held a architectural and artistic significance. In 1995, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Fears of a closure reared its head again whenever a notice was taped to the front door of the Downtown Boone Post Office in Jan. 2008, stating: “The US Postal Service is selling the US Post Office, downtown station building at 689 West King Street, Boone, North Carolina,” according to a 2008 article in High Country Press.
At that point, community members, the Boone Historic Preservation Commission and local officials gathered and pondered on how to save the post office. In the end, the Town of Boone submitted a bid to purchase the property from the U.S. Postal Service and acquired it for $1.25 million in 2009, while also establishing a 20-year lease with the U.S. Postal Service to continue postal operations from the downtown site.
While the historic building is in the hands of the town, it doesn’t guarantee that the U.S. Postal Service will operate out of the building in the years to come. In 2011, the U.S. Postal Service announced that 3,700 locations, including the one in downtown Boone could have potentially closed. In May of 2012, the U.S. Postal Service announced that 234 rural post offices, including the downtown Boone location for the “foreseeable future,” would remain open.
Just as that announcement was made, the Town of Boone began renovations on the building. According to Plaag’s account, renovations consisted of an “extensive restoration project that included asbestos, lead paint and mold remediation as well as the preservation of many of the building’s essential architectural components, including its original interior service windows, the original vault, original walls, flooring and window glass where possible and the buildings original stunning exterior stonework and weather vane.“
This was in addition to the rehabilitation of the basement to house the Town of Boone’s Planning & Inspections Department. Greene Construction was awarded the bid to renovate the old post office for roughly $1.2 million.
Speaking earlier this month, Councilman Rennie Brantz called the post office the “crown in the jewel” of Boone, and Randy Jones, architect for the project, said, “It’s really turned out beyond my expectations on what we were able to do.”
The grand opening takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27. See historic photos and documents, including 1940’s dedication pamphlet, and current photos below.
Current photos by Ken Ketchie