Kendal at Lexington resident Margaret Skovira resumes a local history column. She invites readers to ask a question about an event, person or place of historic interest in Rockbridge County (including Lexington and Buena Vista) to be answered in this column.
Q: Where was the Lexington Post Office located before its present location on Lee Avenue?
A: The easy answer is it was in the First National Bank building (now Hess Jewelry) on Main Street next to the old Courthouse.
But that was only for the 11 years before the current Post Office opened in 1913.
During the 19th century Lexington’s Post Office was installed wherever the postmaster chose to put it – often his place of business. The job usually changed hands whenever the political party of the U.S. President changed; there were twelve Lexington postmasters appointed in the 19th century. At least two of the 19th century post office locations remain on Main Street – the Alexander Withrow building at the corner of Washington and Main Streets, and the old Capitol Hotel on North Main Street, now The Georges.
Mail handling in 19th century Lexington was a challenge.
The local newspaper objected to the fact that Lexington received only three deliveries a week in 1870. Home delivery was not provided until 1908 when it resulted in a scramble to clearly identify the streets by name for the benefit of mail carriers. In the 19th century newspapers printed lists of unclaimed letters at the Post Office.
The present Post Office required an appropriation from Congress to acquire the necessary land and to erect the building.
The local congressman, F.T. Flood, encouraged local leaders to visit the Congressional Committee on Appropriations to request money to purchase land and hire a contractor. The resulting building, the first federal building in the county, opened 14 June 1913. It is not identified as a Post Office but an inscription at the top of the building reads “ERECTED BY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA A.D. MCMXI” below which is a frieze depicting a shield, sword and battle ax representing war, a torch and laurel wreath representing learning, and a Greek symbol representing Mercury, messenger to the gods.