While Punxsutawney, Jefferson County is best known as the home of a renowned weather forecasting groundhog, it is also a community of notable historic buildings, including the grand Classical Revival style US Post Office. With all this great weather we’ve been having, it looks like that famous groundhog got it right this year with his “early spring” prediction!
The classically designed Punxsutawney Post Office, shown in the circa 1916 postcard below, with its imposing Ionic limestone columns served as such from its completion in 1914 until 1998. Quick fun note… historic postcards such as this one are not only great works of art in and of themselves, but can also be very helpful to anyone researching the original appearance of historic buildings and places. Views of downtown commercial districts or local landmark buildings and landscapes are common subjects for early postcards, aiding efforts to document and preserve these significant places. The Pennsylvania State Archives historic postcard collection can be useful in planning the rehabilitation of historic buildings and also can help in the evaluation of properties for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Prior to the completion of this handsome red brick building, the duties of the US Post Office in Punxsutawney were carried out in a variety of buildings from general stores to the elegant Hotel Pantall. As the bituminous coal industry flourished in this region at the turn of the 20th century, Punxsutawney grew as well, warranting the construction of a new post office to reflect its growing importance. Designed by James Knox Taylor, who served as the Supervising Architect of the federal Department of the Treasury from 1897-1912, the Punxsutawney Post Office was one of his last commissions. Taylor created original designs for numerous post offices throughout the county and believed that government buildings should be both monumental and beautiful to represent the ideals of democracy. He designed numerous post offices throughout the country, often in the Classical Revival or Colonial Revival styles, creating a unique design for each location.
The vacant Punxsutawney Post Office was listed in the National Register in 2000 as part of an effort to encourage redevelopment of this landmark building. In 2001 it was converted to the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center and approved for a PHMC Keystone Preservation Construction Grant to assist in the restoration of the exterior and improve accessibility. The Keystone Preservation Grant program offers grants to nonprofit organizations and local governments for bricks and mortar projects benefiting National Register eligible or listed properties in Pennsylvania.
The preservation and reuse of the Punxsutawney Post Office highlights a positive outcome for a growing national problem, the closure of historic post offices throughout the USA. The US Postal Service has announced plans to close many historic post offices to address its financial deficit. Thus far, a comprehensive strategy to protect and repurpose historic post office buildings has yet to be developed and they remain at risk. In many smaller communities, the post office may be one of the most iconic buildings in town, essential to convey local identity and a sense of place. Some historic post offices also have architecturally significant interiors. Distinctive Works Progress Administration (WPA) era artwork and murals by a variety of impressive artists can be found in post offices throughout the state. Post offices in Pennsylvania were home to 88 WPA murals, more than any other state, except New York. More information about the historic murals in PA post office buildings can be found on our website.
Such classic and character giving American places deserve recognition and preservation. Communities can follow Punxsutawney’s lead in finding successful adaptive reuse strategies to keep historic post office buildings as functional local landmarks. Historic post office buildings should be more than memories captured on old postcards.
PHMC features a historic postcard story in current issues of its quarterly publication, the Pennsylvania Heritage magazine. The PA SHPO helps provide a preservation perspective on historic postcards by regularly contributing articles. An article about historic post offices and postcards appeared in the spring 2015 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage.