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Former Whiteville Post Office Building Played Role in Town’s Recovery from Great Depression
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Post office imageWhiteville’s City hall, also known as the Whitley Building, was one of dozens of similar post offices built to boost the economy in the Depression.

Janice Young of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society said the City Hall wasn’t unique in its Colonial style architecture.

"The design followed a standardized plan developed under the direction of the U.S. Office of the Treasury Public Buildings Project through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the Works Progress Administration,” she said.

In addition to housing the main post office for the city, the 1938 building also held a number of other government offices through the years.

Tenants in the downstairs area – the suite most affected by the mold that closed the building last year – ranged from the Selective Service board to several agriculture programs.

While some specialized craftsmen and WPA officials worked on the project, local workers and local vendors were used as much as possible.

Since Columbus County had a 50 percent non-agricultural unemployment rate in 1937, according to WPA histories, the jobs were welcome and needed here.

"Public buildings and projects all over the United States were designed and contracted as part of the New Deal,” Young said.

"The Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, Louis A. Simon and Supervising Engineer Neal A. Melick, were responsible for the design of the Whiteville Post Office.”

Identical blueprints were used for Post Offices across the United States from Maine to Oklahoma, and can be found in Beaufort and elsewhere in the state. Most of these facilities remain operational, Young said.

Post office image2For years, the city hall was also home to the largest oil painting in the county, and one of the largest in the state.

The painting, titled "Harvesting Tobacco,” was commissioned through a separate New Deal Arts Program and painted by artist Roy Schatt between 1940 and 1941.

The project was designed to boost the morale of the local citizens following the Depression by featuring the local culture in a local art setting, Young said.

The mural is now installed as the primary feature in the lobby of the Southeastern Community College Auditorium on loan from the U.S. Postal Service and under presentation responsibility of the National Collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Whitley Building served as Whiteville’s Post Office until the new facility was built and opened in 1978. The next year, Young said, the City of Whiteville purchased the property from the federal government and it became Whiteville City Hall.

The building style of the building is no longer used, Young said.

"It’s just a classic,” she said.

The 1997 Ruth Little Architectural Survey, considered one of the anchor documents in state historic preservation, describes the Beaufort Post Office, completed in 1937, as follows: "A Colonial Revival building has brick veneer in Flemish bond, sash with concrete sill and lintels and a cupola with Doric pilasters and arched louvers. The handsome front entrance has a double-leaf door with transom and segmentally arched hood on which is mounted a golden eagle statuette. The entrance is flanked by fluted Doric pilasters.”

The building now houses the Beaufort Town Hall and Seashore Museum.

The Beaufort building almost went to the chopping block in 2008, when the Postal Service began selling or demolishing unused properties, including a number of facilities similar to the Whiteville building.

"Of course the Whiteville Post Office had already changed hands in 2008 when the public expressed so much concern about the surge in proposed disposal of historic postal properties across the United States that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Council (ACHP) was called in to work with the U.S. Postal Service on Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act,” Young explained.

"A law was enacted to address the issue and recommendations were made. Although the Act did not mandate preservation, it was designed to work for ‘better historic preservation for communities’”.

The 80-year-old post Office is no Antebellum mansion or Colonial tavern, Young said, but the building’s historic significance is no less important to the community.

"By historic standards, the building is not so old,” she said. "However, it may be the oldest public building in Whiteville outside of the 100-year-old Columbus County Courthouse.

"This building played an important role in our local history, but we are reminded too of its national significance,” Young said. "Its origin was part of the same program that gave us such treasures as the Blue Ridge Parkway.

"We should strive to show the pride we have in our community by preserving this historic building for generations to come.”

The building is a match for Madison Street corridor, Young said, and adds to the appeal of the city and community.

"Few if any other Whiteville buildings offer the identity and historic charm to the lure of Madison Street as Whiteville City Hall,” she said. "The building is beautiful, and with the central location of the fire and police departments, it’s convenient to the citizens. We hope it can be preserved.”

By Jefferson Weaver

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published April 21, 2016 in The News Reporter www.Whiteville.com

 
The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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