Footprints of the Past at the Post Office Museum

By Pat Kenney
Journal Correspondent

In Winnsboro, Louisiana, a new attraction is causing a stir. The latest in a list of accomplishments envisioned by Winnsboro Main Street, Inc., and a group of citizens interested in historic preservation, what was once a working post office is now a tourist attraction. Known today as the Old Post Office Museum, the building was the focal point of local business and bustle for sixty years. Built in 1936 and located at 513 Prairie Street, renovations feature new lighting fixtures and a new front door, but much of the old is left to bring back memories. The gold-toned post office boxes are still intact and if you once had one you may rent one if you desire. The money will be used to bring future events to the museum.

Of particular interest is a depression-era painting that has been restored and hangs in its original place on the right side of the post office. It is a monument to the best of times. The mural is called "Logging in the Swamps". It was painted in 1939 by Dates E. Myers and is one of the thousand murals that was commissioned for new post offices built between 1934-1943 as part of the Works Progress Administration (W P A) and the Federal Art Project. Kay La France-Knight, Main Street manager, is especially proud of this restoration.

The post office was closed in 1998 when a new modern version was built on the more traveled Louisiana highway 15. The city bought the building and it sat vacant for ten years. Grant money and capital outlay funds totaling nearly $400,000 helped make the dream of preserving the historic building come true. The post office museum now houses the offices of Winnsboro Main Street, Inc., the Winnsboro-Franklin Parish Chamber of Commerce, the Franklin Economic Development Foundation as well as the Franklin Parish Tourist Commission. It is still the hub. The upstairs rooms are for conferences and two extra rooms will be for teaching art to local youngsters. Out back is a lovely place that has been made for gatherings of musical talent. Lamp posts have been added. It was a pleasant surprise when they discovered the old loading dock had wonderful acoustics and is this now is a stage.

While the building of the old post office was being refurbished a secret tunnel was discovered. It is thought that it was used by the post master to keep an eye on his employees without their knowledge. Paul Price, past president of the Winnsboro Chamber of Commerce, and a current member of the Historic Preservation Commission noted that the tunnel was used by the postal inspector and that he did look down on the unsuspecting workers. Price said the inspector had an office on the side of the building and could slip up a ladder and into the tunnel on the second floor without anyone discovering this. No one had been aware of this until now. The tunnel featured slits in the walls, some covered with metal doors - a forerunner to surveillance cameras.

The buildings floors which have been stripped now reveal beautiful Michigan maple and the walls are of cypress .The original black iron vault with the words "Diebold Safe and Lock Co." with the date 1936 is still in place. Within the vault is a treasure collected from local families. Scrapbooks which say volumes about our little town and the times it has lived through are now in the vault. The family of Mrs. Nell McLemore has generously donated her scrapbooks which present a detailed record of the happenings of Winnsboro history.

LaFrance-Knight said that the two story brick building will display a permanent Winnsboro history. In the middle will be rotating exhibits. An upcoming exhibit is called "Toys in the Attic" and will feature antique toys through the Christmas season. This display is made up of toys at least 25 years old and is gathered from the community. It will be on display thru Jan. 6th.There are doll houses, trains, all sorts of pull and riding toys. Not one, but six Christmas trees will be on display to make your baby's eyes shine.

LaFrance-Knight said she feels honored to have been able to have a part of restoring the old post office and making it once again a center to be used by all the citizens and visitors to this place. LaFrance-Knight said she also feels honored to be able to work in such a historic building, and that the wait has been worth it.

Winnsboro is designated as a veteran Main Street Community and became part of the program in 1988.The Catfish Festival, and the Princess Theatre and the many new shops and stores have made downtown Winnsboro a fun place to be and to revisit often.

I am a native of Winnsboro. My husband and I bought our first home there. Our first child started to school here and our second child was born there. My classmates have been mayors and store keepers and are just plain good folks who are generous to all, stranger and natives alike. Recently we returned for a funeral. We spent the night in a clean comfortable motel in the country side. It was reasonably priced. We arrived in town at two in the afternoon, hungry and stopped at a local eating place. They were just putting up their buffet so my husband ordered a seafood platter with six oysters. When they brought it, he was sure it was a mistake. There were so many oysters on that plate they were falling off. They just smiled and assured him they were all for him at his nominal price. Feeding people has always been a joy for the folks in Winnsboro.

Born in the great depression days and surviving it all, moving around the U.S. and always making it back home, I am the one who can tell you about the wonderful people that make up this community. The old post office and stores were wonderful and now a strong revitalization effort is breathing new life into the downtown area. It is the perfect place to visit or settle.

Coming home for Christmas this year can include a trip with your friends to the down town Old Post Office Museum. It is something to be proud of in our area. The many wonderful shops located in historic buildings make down town come alive. The memories I have of the old movie theatre and the old post office are priceless to me and the stores where my Christmas toys were bought back in those depression days still have a footprint there. A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes but now I'm prouder than ever to have been raised in Franklin Parish.

Old winnsboro Post Office is now a local museum.