Stately landmark ... in a federal sense

The United State Post Office at 131-133 W. High St. has been a hub of activity since it opened in 1934, moving across the street from another beautiful building constructed 45 years earlier.

The limestone building itself was designed by the same architect who designed the third Capitol, which is evident in the similar columns and stately presence. Architects Klipstein and Rathmann with Egerton Swartout designed the neo-classic-style building, according to the Missouri State Capitol Historic District National Register of Historic Places nomination.

The building was constructed at a cost of $249,000 on a site costing $136,000, according to the 1934 dedication address by J. Austin Latimer, special assistant to the postmaster general.

“We must realize, however, that it takes more than beautiful, well-equipped buildings to give good mail service,” Latimer’s speech concluded. “It requires trained men and women, loyal to the service and to their country, who are willing to study and who realize they are the servants of the people.”

It is the activity within the building that makes this a city Landmark, a pillar of daily life and business in the Capital City.

The services have changed through the years, but at the end of the day it has been about delivering the mail. The downtown location has been a hub of service and social interaction.

Even today, the corner of Washington and High streets is a popular spot for demonstrators. And many state departments and large businesses have employees who daily collect their mail from the historic location.

Herb Chapman, retired distribution clerk, remembers trucks running frequently back and forth to the rail station. Today the distribution center is at the Capitol View office on Jefferson Street, opened in 1989.

“There was no such thing as a zip code back then,” Chapman said of when he joined the postal service in 1959. That meant to get into the service, a person had to know every town and its location in Missouri, he said. So when the zip codes came into use, “we had to learn a lot of new things,” he said. The numbering system started with the zeros on the east coast and ended up with the nines in California. That’s why Jefferson City has sixes. Today, Jefferson City has 11 zip codes, including several solely for state business. The manner of sorting also has changed. Years ago, mail was hand sorted into heavy canvas sacks and labeled for their destination, Chapman said. Today, a computer scans the address and sorts automatically, said Postmaster Don Knoth. No longer do little towns like Elston rely on the rail and “catcher pouches” hung out for someone on the train to nab on their way through. A couple services that haven’t changed are window services and post office boxes. The latter actually was one of the first services offered by the postal service. City delivery service began Jan. 1, 1890. “It was really a service that we were giving the people,” Chapman said. “Most people there took pride in what they were doing.” The passport window looks similar to what the service windows probably looked like when the building first opened, Knoth said. And the light fixtures and woodwork are the same. When the federal courthouse moves out, Knoth hopes to restore the lobby. “This building is in good shape,” Knoth said. “It’d be kind of fun to see it back the way it was supposed to look. “We need to preserve places like this.” As etched in the front of the two-story building, it originally was built for both the courts and the post office. Knoth said they hope the General Services Administration will find tenets to lease the second floor. Knoth is the 30th postmaster in Jefferson City and only the eighth to serve in this building. The first postmaster was appointed in August 1823, when James Monroe was president and the city had “four mail routes by stage coach and sulky running.” Bettie Lackey was appointed as the first woman postmaster in 1867. And the current post office was dedicated during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. “The magnificent building we dedicate today will long stand as a monument and milestone of the social and business progress of Jefferson City,” Latimer said. “The postal service is a true barometer of business and progress. “Beautiful architecture also show the culture of a civilization.”

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