Post Office Buildings in the United States

01
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Who Can Save the US Post Offices?

Brick Depression-Era Post Office in Geneva, Illinois
This Geneva, Illinois Post Office was named to the 2012 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, National Treasures. Photo ©Matthew Gilson / National Trust for Historic Preservation (cropped)

Not dead yet. They may end Saturday delivery, but the US Postal Service (USPS) still delivers. The institution is older than America itself—the Continental Congress established the post office on July 26, 1775. The Act of February 20, 1792 permanently established it. Our photo gallery of Post Office Buildings in the US showcases many of these federal facilities. Celebrate their architecture, before they close completely.

The Endangered Geneva, Illinois Post Office:

This post office in Geneva, Illinois, and iconic post office buildings across the USA, are endangered, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The post office building in America often reflects a region's architecture, whether it be colonial designs in New England, Spanish influences in the southwest, or the "frontier architecture" of rural Alaska. Throughout the US, post office buildings reveal the country's history and a community's culture. But today many post offices are closing, and preservationists worry about the fate of the fascinating and iconic PO architecture.

Why Are Post Offices Difficult to Save?

The US Postal Service is generally not in the real estate business. Historically this agency has had a difficult time deciding the fate of buildings they've outgrown or have no use for. Their process is often unclear.

In 2011, when the USPS cut operating expenses by closing thousands of post offices, an outcry from the American public stalled the closures. Developers and the National Trust became frustrated with the lack of a clear vision for preservation of architectural heritage. However, most post office buildings are not even owned by the USPS, although the building is often a centerpiece of a community. Preservation of any building often falls to the locality, who has a special interest in saving a piece of local history.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named America's Historic U.S. Post Office Buildings to its list of endangered buildings in 2012. Let's journey across the US to explore this endangered piece of Americana—including the largest and smallest of them all.

02
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Springfield, Ohio Post Office

Photo of the Art Deco masonry post office in Springfield, Ohio shows huge eagles near the roof.
The Art Deco post office in Springfield, Ohio began construction in 1934. Enormous eagles top the corners of the facade. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Cindy Funk, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

Building Springfield, Ohio:

The post office building has been an important part of America's colonization and expansion. The early history of the city of Springfield, Ohio goes something like this:

  • 1799, first settler (first cabin)
  • 1801, first tavern
  • 1804, first post office

The Post Office During the Great Depression:

The building shown here was not the first post office, but its history is significant to American history. Built in 1934, the building reflects the classic Art Deco architecture popular in the early twentieth century. Built of stone and concrete, the building's interior is decorated with murals by Herman Henry Wessel—no doubt commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was one of the top ten New Deal programs that helped the US recover from the Great Depression. Post office buildings were often the beneficiaries of the WPA's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), which is why unusual art and architecture is often part of these government buildings. For example, this Ohio post office's facade displays two 18-foot eagles sculpted near the roof line, one on each side of the entrance.

Preservation:

As energy prices rose in the 1970s, public buldings were remodeled for conservation. The historic murals and skylight in this building were covered during this time. Preservation efforts in 2009 reversed the cover-up and restored the historic 1934 design.

Sources: History at www.ci.springfield.oh.us/Res/history.htm, Official Site of City of Springfield, Ohio; Ohio Historical Society INFO [accessed June 13, 2012]

03
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Honolulu, Hawaii Post Office

Photo of Spanish-like arches, columns, Corinthian capitals, red clay roof, Palladian windows.
United States Post Office, Custom House and Court House, 1922, Capitol District, Honolulu, Hawaii, in January 2012. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Michael Coghlan, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

New York architects York and Sawyer designed this 1922 multi-use federal building in a style reminiscent of the Spanish influences common to southern California. The building's thick, white plaster walls with Mediterranean-inspired open archways make this Spanish Mission Colonial Revival design historically significant with Hawaii's growth and development.

Preserved:

The Hawaiian Territory became the 50th state of the US in 1959, and the building was protected in 1975 by being named to the National Register of Historic Places (#75000620). In 2003 the federal government sold the historic building to the state of Hawaii, who renamed it the King Kalakaua Building.

Take a Walking Tour of Historic Honolulu >>

Source: Star Bulletin, July 11, 2004 , online archive [accessed June 30, 2012]

04
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Yuma, Arizona Post Office

Photo of the old post office in Yuma, Texas in August 2009 is company headquarters for Gowan Co.
The 1933 beaux arts, mission, and Spanish architecture of the old post office in Yuma, Arizona. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©David Quigley, poweron, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

Like the post office in Springfield, Ohio, the old Yuma postal facility was built during the Great Depression, in 1933. The building is a fine example of time and place architecture—combining the Beaux Arts style popular at the time with the Spanish Mission Colonial Revival designs of the American Southwest.

Preserved:

The Yuma building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 (#85003109). Like many buildings from the Depression era, this old building has been adapted for a new use and is the US corporate headquarters of the Gowan Company.

Learn more about Adaptive Reuse >>

Sources: National Register of Historic Places; and Visit Yuma at www.visityuma.com/north_end.html [accessed June 30, 2012]

05
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La Jolla, California Post Office

Photo of post office building in La Jolla, California
Photo of Spanish-inspired post office building in La Jolla, California. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Paul Hamilton, paulhami, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

Like the post office in Geneva, Illinois, the La Jolla building has been specifically identified by the National Trust as endangered in 2012. Volunteer preservationists from the La Jolla Historical Society are working with the US Postal Service to Save Our La Jolla Post Office. Not only is this post office "a beloved fixture of the village's commercial area," but the building also has historic interior artwork. Like the post office in Springfield, Ohio La Jolla participated in the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) during the Great Depression. A focus of preservation is a mural by artist Belle Baranceanu. The architecture reflects Spanish influences found throughout southern California.

Visit the La Jolla Area >>

Sources: National Trust for Historic Preservation at www.preservationnation.org/who-we-are/press-center/press-releases/2012/US-Post-Offices.html; Save Our La Jolla Post Office [accessed June 30, 2012]

06
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Ochopee, Florida, the Smallest Post Office in the US

Photo of small, white building, postal boxes, sign, U.S. flag, and historical marker.
The smallest post office in the United States, Ochopee, Florida, in 2009. The sign used to be on the roof. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Jason Helle, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

Smallest Post Office in the US:

At a mere 61.3 square feet, the Ochopee Main Post Office in Florida is officially the smallest US postal facility. The historic marker nearby reads:

"Considered to be the smallest post office in the United States, this building was formerly an irrigation pipe shed belonging to the J.T. Gaunt Company tomato farm. It was hurriedly pressed into service by postmaster Sidney Brown after a disastrous night fire in 1953 burned Ochopee's general store and post office. The present structure has been in continuous use ever since - as both a post office and ticket station for Trailways bus lines - and still services residents in a three-county area, including deliveries to Seminole and Miccosukee Indians living in the region. Daily business often includes requests from tourists and stamp collectors the world over for the famed Ochopee post mark. The property was acquired by the Wooten Family in 1992."

This photo was taken in May 2009. Photographs previous to this show the sign attached to the top of the roof.

Compare Ochopee with the Michael Graves' post office in Celebration, Florida >>

Source: USPS Facts page [accessed May 11, 2016]

07
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Lexington County, South Carolina Post Office

Photo of a small building, a modified saltbox, deep gold with white trim and very dark shutters.
The historic Post Office at Lexington Woods is preserved by the Lexington County Museum. This photo was taken on September 21, 2011. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©2011 Valerie, Valerie's Genealogy Photos, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

The 1820 post office building at Lexington Woods, Lexington, South Carolina is a modified colonial saltbox, deep gold with white trim and very dark shutters.

Preserved:

This historic structure is preserved at the Lexington County Museum, which allows visitors to experience life in South Carolina before the Civil War. Some say that the song "Give Me That Old Time Religion" was composed in this very building.

Source: Lexington County Museum, Lexington County, South Carolina [accessed June 30, 2012]

08
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Chicken, Alaska Post Office

Photo of a log cabin style post office in Chicken, Alaska, 2009
Log cabin post office in Chicken, Alaska, August 2009. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Arthur D. Chapman and Audrey Bendus, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

One postage stamp allows a piece of mail to move across the street or all the way to rural Chicken, Alaska. This small mining settlement of fewer than 50 inhabitants runs on generated electricity and without plumbing or telephone service. Mail delivery, however, has been continuous since 1906. Every Tuesday and Friday an airplane delivers the US mail.

Frontier Post Office Buildings:

The log cabin, metal-roofed structure is just what you would expect in the Alaskan frontier. But is it fiscally responsible for the federal government to provide mail service to such a remote area? Is this building historic enough to be preserved, or should the US Postal Service just move out?

Why do they call it Chicken? >>

Source: Frequently Asked Questions, Chicken, Alaska [accessed June 30, 2012]

09
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Bailey Island, Maine Post Office

Photo of Cherokee-red sided cape cod building with white trim, shutters, and center cupola.
U.S. Post Office of Bailey Island, Maine, in July 2011. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Lucy Orloski, l.e.o, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

If the log cabin architecture is what you would expect in Chicken, Alaska, this red-shingled, white-shuttered saltbox post office is typical of many Colonial Houses in New England.

10
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Bald Head Island, North Carolina Post Office

Photo of a Katrina-style cottage post office with two rocking chairs on the front porch.
Post Office at Bald Head Island, North Carolina, December 2006. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Bruce Tuten, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

The post office in Bald Head Island is clearly part of that community, as evidenced by the rocking chairs on the porch. But, like other very small facilities, does mail delivery cost too much to service too few? Are places such as Bailey Island, Maine, Chicken, Alaska, and Ochopee, Florida in danger of being closed? Should they be preserved?

11
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Russell, Kansas Post Office

Photo of brick post office, 4-over-4 symetrical windows, weathervane, center cupola
Post Office in Russell, Kansas, in August 2009. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo © Colin Grey, C.G.P. Grey, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

The modest brick post office in Russell, Kansas is a typical federal building design issued in mid-twentieth century America. Found throughout the US, this architecture is the stock Colonial revival style design developed by the Treasury Department.

The practical architecture was dignified but simple—expected for both the Kansas prairie community and for the function of the building. The elevated steps, hipped roof, 4-over-4 symetrical windows, weathervane, center cupola, and eagle over the door are standard design features.

One way to date a building is by its symbols. Note that the eagle's outstretched wings is a design typically used after World War II to differentiate the American icon from the upturned wings of the Nazi Party's eagle. Compare the Russell, Kansas eagle with the eagles on the Springfield, Ohio post office.

Does the commonness of its architecture, however, make this building any less historic—or less endangered?

Compare this Kansas post office design with the PO in Vermont >>

Source: "The Post Office — A Community Icon," Preserving Post Office Architecture in Pennsylvania at pa.gov (PDF) [accessed October 13, 2013]

12
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Middlebury, Vermont Post Office

Photograph of ordinary brick postal building, 12-over-12 windows, small classical portico.
The Middlebury, Vermont Post Office strives to be classical. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Jared Benedict, redjar.org, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com

"Mundane" Architecture?

"I take photos of the mundane" says this photographer of the Middlebury, Vermont Post Office. The "mundane" architecture is typical of small, local, government buildings built in mid-twentieth century America. Why do we see so many of these buildings? The US Treasury Department issued stock architectural plans. Although the designs could be modified, the plans were simple, symmetrical brick buldings characterized as colonial revival or "classical moderne."

Compare this Vermont postal building with the one in Russell, Kansas. Although the structure is similarly modest, Vermont's addition of columns demands that this small post office also be compared with those in Mineral Wells, Texas and even New York City.

Source: "The Post Office — A Community Icon," Preserving Post Office Architecture in Pennsylvania at pa.gov (PDF) [accessed October 13, 2013]

13
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Mineral Wells, Texas Post Office

Photograph of classical columns at the old Mineral Wells Post Office in Texas.
The classical Mineral Wells, Texas post office was decommissioned in 1959. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©QuesterMark, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com.

Like the old Cañon City Post Office in Colorado, the Old Mineral Wells Post Office has been preserved and repurposed for the community. The nearby historical marker describes the history of this majestic building in the middle of Texas:

"A surge of growth in this city after 1900 created a need for a larger post office. This structure was the third facility built here after postal service began in 1882. It was constructed between 1911 and 1913 of reinforced concrete and clad with stuccoed brick. Classical details standard to post offices of the era were highlighted with limestone trim. Interior lighting was originally both gas and electric. The design is credited to U.S. Treasury architect James Knox Taylor. The postal facility was closed in 1959 and the building was deeded that year to the city for community use."

Learn more about Adaptive Reuse >>

14
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Miles City, Montana Post Office

Photograph of brick building, with four symetric Palladian windows on the first floor
This brick building has been the Miles City, Montana post office since 1915. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©2006 David Schott, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com.

Four symmetric Palladian windows on the first floor facade are each topped with a symmetric pair of double hung windows. The eye's vision rises further to what appears to be dentil molding beneath a roof balustrade.

Made in America, 1916:

This modest Renaissance Revival was designed by US Treasury architect Oscar Wenderoth and built in 1916 by Hiram Lloyd Co. The Miles City Main Post Office was placed on the National Register of Historic Places listings (#86000686) in Custer County, Montana in 1986.

Source: "History of the Miles City Post Office" at milescity.com/history/stories/fte/historyofpostoffice.asp; and National Register of Historic Places [accessed June 30, 2012]

15
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Hinsdale, New Hampshire Post Office

Photo of two story tan building, dark brown trim, front porches on both floors, 1816 on front gable.
The post office building in Hinsdale, New Hampire. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo © 2012 Shannon (Shan213), Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com.

Post Office Since 1816:

The McAlesters' A Field Guide to American Houses describes this design as a Gable Front Family Folk house common on the East Coast of the US before the Civil War. The pediment and columns suggest a Greek Revival influence, which is often found in American Antebellum Architecture.

The Hinsdale, New Hampshire post office has been operating in this building since 1816. This is the oldest continuously working US Post Office in the same building. Is this oddity enough to call it "historic?"

Sources: McAlester, Virginia and Lee. Field Guide to American Houses. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1984, pp. 89-91; and USPS Facts page [accessed May 11, 2016]

16
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James A. Farley Building, New York City

Photo of massive masonry building, entire city block, Corinthian columns, steps.
James A. Farley Building, New York City's Post office, in June 2008. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo © Paul Lowry, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com.

Preserved:

Built in the early 20th century, the Beaux Arts style James A. Farley Post Office in New York City was for years the largest post office in the United States—393,000 square feet and two city blocks. In spite of the majesty of its Classical columns, the building is on the US Postal Service's downsize list. New York State has bought the building with plans to preserve and redevelop it for transportation use. Architect David Childs heads the redesign team. See updates on the Friends of Moynihan Station website.

Who was James A. Farley? (PDF) >>

Source: USPS Facts page [accessed May 11, 2016]

17
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Cañon City, Colorado Post Office

Photo of Italian Renaissance Revival style post office.
The 1933 Cañon City Post Office became the Fremont Center for the Arts in 1992. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com.

Preserved:

Like many post office buildings, the Cañon City Post Office & Federal Building was constructed during the Great Depression. Built in 1933, the building is an example of late Italianate Renaissance Revival. The block building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1/22/1986, 5FN.551), has foyer floors made of marble. Since 1992, the historic building has been the Fremont Center for the Arts—a good example of adaptive reuse.

Source: "Our History," Freemone Center for the Arts at www.fremontarts.org/FCA-history.html [accessed June 30, 2012]

18
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St. Louis, Missouri Post Office

Photograph of the old four-story post office in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.
From 1884 until 1970, this Second Empire architectural gem was the U.S. Post Office in St. Louis, Missouri. Select the image to view full size in a new window. Photo ©Teemu008, Creative Commons-licensed on flickr.com.

The old post office in St. Louis is one of the most historic buildings in the United States.

  • Opened: 1884, as part of Civil War Reconstruction
  • Original Function: US Custom House, US District Court, and Post Office
  • Architect: Alfred B. Mullett, who also designed the Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.
  • Architectural Style: Second Empire
  • Innovations: elevators; central heat; fireproof cast iron used throughout; a private railroad tunnel for mail
  • Preservation: The city post office closed in 1970 and the building fell into disrepair. Through a series of partnerships, developers preserved the building for adaptive reuse between 1998 and 2006.

Source: St. Louis' U.S. Custom House & Post Office Building Associates, L.P. [accessed June 30, 2012]

19
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Old Post Office, Washington, D.C.

Photograph of the Old Post Office tower in Washington, District of Columbia, with TRUMP sign in front
Photograph of the Old Post Office tower in Washington, District of Columbia. Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

Washington, D.C.'s Old Post Office skirted the wrecking ball twice, once in 1928 and again in 1964. Through the efforts of preservationists like Nancy Hanks, the building was saved and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In 2013, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) leased the historic building to the Trump Organization, who renovated the property into "a luxury mixed-use development."

  • Architect: Willoughby J. Edbrooke
  • Built: 1892 - 1899
  • Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
  • Construction Materials: granite, steel, iron (the first steel-frame building erected in Washington, D.C.)
  • Walls: five-feet-thick granite masonry walls are self-supporting; the steel girders are used to support the interior floor beams
  • Height: 9 stories, second-tallest structure in the nation's capital, after the Washington Monument
  • Clock Tower: 315 feet
  • Preservation: The 1977 - 1983 renovation plan included a mix of retail commercial spaces on the lower level and federal offices on the upper levels. This adaptive reuse approach received national attention as a viable approach to historic preservation.
"The most remarkable feature inside is the nine-story light court topped by an enormous skylight that floods the interior with natural light. When it was built, the room was the largest, uninterrupted interior space in Washington. The building's renovation uncovered the skylight and added a glass-enclosed elevator on the clock tower's south side to provide visitor access to the observation deck. A lower glass atrium at the east side of the building was added in 1992."—U.S. General Services Administration

Learn More:

Source: Old Post Office, Washington, DC, U.S. General Services Administration [accessed June 30, 2012]

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Craven, Jackie. "Post Office Buildings in the United States." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, thoughtco.com/post-office-buildings-united-states-178502. Craven, Jackie. (2016, August 9). Post Office Buildings in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/post-office-buildings-united-states-178502 Craven, Jackie. "Post Office Buildings in the United States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/post-office-buildings-united-states-178502 (accessed November 18, 2017).