Susan Newberry is Maplewood Township’s Historian.
As the much debated and maligned post office at 160 Maplewood Avenue closes, my mind does not turn to the still unknown future of the site or how I will adjust to bringing my mail down the hill to #195, but instead to my childhood feeling of excitement when it opened in the fall of 1958.
The building was gleaming, new and efficient. It had a sleek geometric façade that hugged the downhill slope, with panels of handsome greenstone echoed by an aluminum grid of windows. There was a large delivery bay and nearby parking. I didn’t know at the time that it was built in the modern, ultra-functional International style being promoted for public buildings during the Eisenhower era.
The grand opening of the building on Maplewood Avenue instilled a great feeling of pride in the community that would astonish residents now. From 1912 until 1947 Maplewood’s post office had been a lowly substation of that in South Orange and it had resided in a series of small rented spaces. Finally in 1958 after years of efforts, Maplewood’s importance was recognized with a new building constructed expressly for the efficient handling of incoming and outgoing mail and packages. The community was jubilant. At the dedication on November 22, 1958, a Senator and high local and post office officials gave speeches, there was a banquet and as noted in the News Record:
The biggest and most colorful parade in Maplewood’s history was held to celebrate the opening of the new Post Office building. From Maplecrest Park to Maplewood Center over 4000 people were treated to bands, floats, Army tanks, antique cars and a thousand marchers. Floats were by Maplewood Postal Employees, Junior Woman’s Club, Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs and the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce.
I remember that the post office was a ‘Maplewood institution’ through the 1980’s. It was an important local employer. The first postmaster (since 1912) was Maplewood resident O. Vincent McNany. Many of the clerks were Maplewoodians as were the carriers whose name you knew and who worked their routes for years. High school teachers sometimes worked on their off-times at the building as did college students on their holidays when the volume of Christmas cards was astronomical.
A friend recently recalled a job as a part-timer when home from his university: “We would stand but lean back against this specialty stool that was built for the sorters in order to keep them upright and mobile while they distributed the mail into about 30 boxes divided into US regions like Southeast, Northeast, New Jersey, Local, Foreign.” As a greenhorn he also had to learn the hard way not to destroy overstuffed letters in the automated cancelling machine.
It is somewhat ironic to realize that this once so admired, over 16,000 square foot building will soon be gone and that Maplewoodians will be back – at least for the present — to sending their mail at a retail facility near the locations of several bygone post offices: the general store on Baker St. (turn of the last century), 92 Baker St. in The Roosevelt building (1926-1937) and 93 Baker St. (1937-1959), now the Maplewood Cleaners.