Wappingers Falls Post Office, Wappingers Falls Village, Dutchess County, Wappingers Falls NY 12590

Wappingers Falls Post Office

Wappingers Falls Village, Dutchess County, NY

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The Wappingers Falls Post Office (2 South Avenue) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

The Wappingers Falls Post Office is located on the east side of South Avenue at the corner of East Main Street near the commercial area of the village of Wappingers Falls, Dutchess County, New York. It is within the Wappingers Falls Historic District (N.R. listed 29 September 1984). Adjacent to the south is the Odd Fellows Hall (1877) and to the east is the United Methodist Church (1869). Across East Main Street to the north is Mesier Park and the eighteenth-century Brewer-Mesier house. Zion Park is located across South Avenue to the west. The post office is situated on a large irregularly shaped lot with the main facade parallel with and facing South Avenue. A lawn surrounds the building, which is landscaped with deciduous trees and coniferous shrubs. A driveway from Reserve Place to the south leads into a rear parking lot. At the northeast corner of the property is a flagpole and hanging wooden sign which identifies the building.

The Wappingers Falls Post Office was constructed in 1939-40 in the Colonial Revival style, loosely modeled after the Brewer-Mesier house across the street, but using stone and brick rather than frame construction. It is one-and-one-half stories in height, irregular in plan and has a high-pitched gable roof clad with asbestos shingles. The facades are constructed of irregularly shaped fieldstone with red brick in the gable ends in the local eighteenth-century vernacular tradition. There are two large inside end brick chimneys. The principal facade is five bays wide with an off-center entrance. Bluestone steps with iron railings lead to the entrance porch. The small open wood porch, which is a modern addition, has a gable roof with denticulated cornice and is supported by Tuscan style columns. The original shouldered wood molding and a deep paneled reveal surround the entrance door. The door is paneled, with a glazed upper section and a five-light transom above. Colonial Revival style bracketed lamps flank the entrance. The first floor windows have plain wood surrounds, paneled shutters and sixteen-over-sixteen double-hung wood sash. The north and south facades are two bays wide and have second floor windows with twelve-over-twelve sash. The roofline of the north facade is asymmetrical, creating a saltbox-like profile. There is a large one-and-one-half-story rear wing with a gable roof and the same fenestration as the main section. A small enclosed mailing platform, extends from the rear of the wing.

A large public lobby extends across most of the front of the building. It is mostly intact, with a gabled plaster ceiling having hand-hewn exposed beams and wood floors. Vertical wood paneling covers the walls and the windows have deep paneled reveals. The original teller screen is intact. An interior glazed wood vestibule encloses the entrance. Murals, which depict Wappingers Falls in 1780 and 1880, are located on the north and south gable ends of the lobby. They were executed by Henry Billings under a commission from the Section of Fine Arts of the Treasury Department and completed in 1940 at a cost of $1,400. The workroom and postmaster's office are located adjacent to the lobby, while offices, a storage room and a swing room are located in the basement.

The building has suffered few alterations. In recent years, the entry porch was added, but it is in keeping with the style of the building. In the mid-1970's, the southern third of the lobby was blocked off and converted to a work area; however, this space was recently restored to its original dimensions. Also, the lobby lighting has been replaced with modern fixtures.

The Wappingers Falls Post Office is an architecturally and historically significant public building, deriving exceptional significance from the role that President Franklin D. Roosevelt played in its design and construction. It was among five post offices in New York State built in the regional vernacular style whose design and construction were monitored by Roosevelt. Constructed in 1939-40 in the Colonial Revival style, the post office was modeled loosely after the nearby eighteenth-century Brewer-Mesier house. Although the house was frame, Roosevelt chose fieldstone and brick as the building materials for the replica. In addition, the fenestration was also modified to accommodate the small size of the site, which is across the street from the park which contains the Mesier house. R. Stanley-Brown was selected as consulting architect, under the direction of the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. He had already won acclaim for his Rhinebeck Post Office design in 1938. The final appearance of the Wappingers Falls Post Office is that of a modest eighteenth-century stone dwelling of the type still extant in the Hudson River Valley. The high-pitched, gable roof is set off by large brick chimneys and brick gable ends. The grounds are well landscaped, giving the building the appearance of being in a country setting. The two parks across the street from the property also contribute to this feeling. The use of reproduction detailing, such as multi-light wood sash and paneled shutters, conveys an eighteenth-century appearance. The lobby, as in the Rhinebeck Post Office, was not meant to be a copy of an eighteenth-century room, but was meant to convey the general image of that period with paneled walls and deep window reveals. Murals of local historical subjects painted by Henry Billings in 1940 under the auspices of the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts are located on the end walls. The Wappingers Falls Post Office retains a high, degree of integrity as a unique and well-designed Colonial Revival style public building, an exception in an era when standardization of public buildings was the rule. Additionally, it is significant as an example of twentieth-century interpretation of American Colonial period architecture and for the direct involvement of President Roosevelt in every phase of its construction.

The first post office in the present village of Wappingers Falls was reportedly established in 1840 in Channingville, and the first post office in Wappingers Falls was opened in 1849. After the villages were incorporated under the name of Wappingers Falls, the post office operated out of a number of leased spaces until the present federal building was constructed. The present post office building was authorized by Congress during the height of the public buildings programs that had been instituted in the early 1930's in order to alleviate unemployment caused by the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a native of nearby Hyde Park, probably influenced the Treasury Department to allow this relatively small community to receive a federal building. In 1938, while the Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck Post Offices were under construction, Roosevelt became closely involved with the project. The site chosen for the building, although not the one F. D. R. originally approved, was purchased in April, 1939 for $12,900. The site was occupied by the Carroll building, which at that time housed a small auto agency and garage.

Although the design of the building was Roosevelt's in conception, it was actually carried out by consulting architect Rudolph Stanley-Brown. Stanley-Brown (1890-1944) was born in Mendon, Ohio and raised in New York State. He was educated at Yale and Columbia Universities and in Paris. He began his architectural practice in Cleveland under his uncle Abram Garfield, a son of the late President, James A. Garfield. In 1954, R. Stanley-Brown was one of the twenty-one architects hired by the temporary staff of the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury to design post offices during the greatly expanded public buildings programs. It is not known what he designed while on the staff, but after his return to private practice, he received the Wappingers Falls commission. This commission was probably won as a result of his successful work on the design of the Rhinebeck Post Office the year before in 1937. After Wappingers Falls, he designed the remaining two post offices that Roosevelt was involved with — Ellenville and Hyde Park.

Consulting architects normally worked in conjunction with the Office of the Supervising Architect, which at that time was under the direction of Louis A. Simon. But in this case, as with the Rhinebeck Post Office, Stanley-Brown had to follow the wishes of President Roosevelt in addition to the design policies of the Office of the Supervising Architect. Roosevelt decided to model the post office after the eighteenth-century Brewer-Mesier house, across the street from the new post office site. He had been interested for years in Colonial American architecture, particularly in the stone vernacular buildings of the Hudson Valley. The Brewer-Mesier house was an appropriate choice, being the most important early house in the area.

The Wappingers Falls Post Office is an outstanding Colonial Revival style building in New York State. Most of the post offices constructed in New York during the 1930s are in the Colonial Revival style, but the majority are simplified versions of that style in keeping with the policies of standardization and cost-effectiveness adopted by the Treasury Department after 1915. The Wappingers Falls building is exceptional as an attempt to replicate an extant period building.

As in the other post offices that Roosevelt was involved with, he insisted on fieldstone as the construction material even though the Brewer-Mesier house is frame. Also, the fenestration of the post office was modified, apparently in order to fit the site better. The asymmetrical design is dominated by the gable roof with inside brick chimneys. In the upper part of the gable ends, brick was also used in the tradition of Hudson Valley stone houses. Multi-paned wood sash, paneled shutters, a paneled front door with transom and wrought-iron hardware are also evocative of eighteenth-century vernacular architecture. Although the overall appearance of the post office is reminiscent of an eighteenth-century house, the building was designed to function as a normal small post office. As with most federally constructed post offices, the public lobby is located across the front of the building and the workroom and mailing vestibule behind it and in the rear wing. The public lobby was not designed to resemble an eighteenth-century interior, but to give a general impression of a period space. The walls and floors are finished in wood, and the deep window wells are paneled. The gabled plaster ceiling has hand-hewn exposed beams.

The lobby is particularly noteworthy for the two murals located in the triangular space on the upper part of the end walls. They were executed by Henry Billings in 1940 and depict historical scenes in the village of Wappingers Falls. The one entitled "1780" depicts the first mill on the falls, and the second, entitled "1880," depicts the textile mills on the falls. Billings received his commission from the Section of Fine Arts of the Treasury Department, which sponsored eighty mural and sculpture projects in New York State between 1935 and 1942, the commissions usually being won through competitions. The Wappingers Falls murals are among the hundreds commissioned by the federal government during the Depression, that show views of local history. Henry Billings was also responsible for the murals in the Lake Placid Post Office.

The Wappingers Falls Post Office was the third in a group of five post offices built in New York State whose design, construction and choice of murals were monitored by Roosevelt. All of these post offices were built in the regional vernacular style of the Hudson Valley. The first, the Poughkeepsie Post Office (1937-9), was modeled after the Dutchess County Courthouse of 1809. In Rhinebeck (1938-9), Roosevelt chose the Kip-Heermance-Beekman house of c. 1700 to copy and in Hyde Park (1940-1), the James Bard House was chosen to be replicated. The Wappingers Falls Post Office was the only one of these four that was modeled after a still existing building. In Ellenville (1940), across the Hudson River in Ulster County, the post office is derivative of typical Ulster County eighteenth-century domestic architecture. As a group, these five post offices represent a significant departure from the standardized post offices designs of the 1930's and are a testament to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's interest in Hudson Valley architecture and local tradition.

Major Bibliographical References

Kay, John L. and Smith, Chester M., Jr. New York Postal History: The Post Offices and First Postmasters from 1775 to 1980. State College PA: American Philatelic Society, 1982.

New York State Historical Association. New York: A Guide to the Empire State. New York: Oxford University Press, 1940.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Field Services Bureau. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form: Wappingers Falls Multiple Resource Area." Albany NY: 1984.

Park, Marlene and Markowitz, Gerald E. New Deal for Art. Hamilton NY: The Gallery Association of New York State, 1977.

Reynolds, Helen W. Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776. New York: Payson and Clark, 1929; reprint ed., New York: Dover Publications, 1965.

Rhoads, William B. "Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dutch Colonial Architecture." New York History (October 1978).

Sanborn Map Company. Wappingers Falls: 1927.

Smith, James. History of Dutchess County, New York. Syracuse: D. Mason and Company, 1882.

  1. Gobrect, Larry E., Wappingers Falls Post Office, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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Street Names
South Avenue

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