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1913 flood, others part of local landmark’s history

April 8, 2013
By Jasmine Rogers ( , The Marietta Times

The existence of a post office in Marietta dates almost back to the existence of Marietta itself.

According to David Van Allen, corporate communications specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, the first post office was established in Marietta in 1794, just six years after Marietta was established as the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.

A letter to General Rufus Putnam on May 24, 1794, sending "packets" for the person Putnam would designate as postmaster at Marietta is the oldest postal receipt traceable to Marietta.

Throughout most of the 17th and 18th centuries, the location of the post office followed the current post master, wrote the late local historian Jerry Devol in a series called "Ohio's First Post Office" published in "The Tallow Light" in 1968.

In 1900 it was moved to the St. Clair Building on Putnam Street, he wrote.

"Steamboatmen and others complained about the location of the post office in the St. Clair Building as being too far away from the river as well as the center of commerce," he wrote.

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The St. Clair Building was also not big enough to encompass the ever expanding crowd receiving mail at the post office, said Devol.

Therefore the groundwork was laid in 1909 for the post office at 275 Front St.

"The post office area was originally called the City Ice Lot because it was very low lying land and people would walk onto the river, cut chunks of ice and walk back to sell it to townspeople," explained Harley Noland, who owns and runs Trolley Tours, Inc. in Marietta and is a Marietta City councilman.

Fact Box

History of the Marietta Post Office

The existence of a post office in Marietta dates back to 1794.

The current location of the post office was built in 1912.

Less than a year after completion, the 1913 flood crept eight feet high in the building, which had been purposely elevated to avoid flooding.

The post office was expanded in 1958, almost doubling in size thanks to an addition in the back.

In 2008, the post office received its most recent updates, including a larger customer service window area and new tile floors.

Source: United States Postal Service, "Ohio's First Post Office" by Jerry Devol, The Marietta Times Nov. 10, 1960

The lot had been an eyesore, wrote Devol, and the post office was a welcome change in downtown Marietta.

It was completed in 1912, just in time for an event of historic proportions.

In May 1912, acting postmaster Asa McCoy took the afternoon mail to the Washington County Fairgrounds, affixed each letter with a "Mailed by Aeroplane" postmark, and had a bi-plane drop the letters over the lawn of the new post office, Devol wrote.

"The pilot made the fourth experimental air mail flight ever in the nation," he wrote.

A quick look at the post office will show that it had been built up on a bit of a mound, said Noland.

"That's a huge amount of earth they put under it and you would have thought they would have been safe. Well, they were not," he said.

In 1913, the Great Flood converged on the post office, creeping eight feet high in the first floor and turning the building into an island.

But the post office was built of the right stuff, and bounced back quickly after the flood, said Noland.

"Being masonry, it didn't really damage it much. It didn't have wood floors. It had poured floors," he said.

While it did not do any structural damage, the post office was a mess.

"When the water finally receded, the post office's beautiful marble floors were caked with putrid mud," wrote Marietta historian Lynne Sturtevant in "A Guide to Historic Marietta Ohio."

Marietta was also without mail for more than a week, wrote Walter Dow, who was a retired Marietta Post Office employee, in a Nov. 10 1960 issue of The Marietta Times.

"Because of the large accumulations of mail in Parkersburg, Postmaster Rose secured the government boat Forthye to take what mail Marietta had for dispatch and bring that which had been stored there," he wrote.

The Marietta Post Office was also the home of two first-day issues of commemorative United States postage stamps. In 1937, a stamp commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Ordinance of 1797 was first issued in Marietta.

In the tradition of coupling memorable milestones with disastrous ones, 1937 was also the year of another devastating flood. This time the water only reached four feet high in the post office, but the slowly cresting water put the post office out of commission for nearly two weeks, wrote Dow.

In 1938 a second first-issue stamp was released in Marietta. This one honored the sesquicentennial of the establishment of civil government in the Northwest Territory and featured the "Start Westward" monument which still stands in Muskingum Park.

Until 1958, the post office had a beautiful facade that faced the river, said Noland.

But due to expanding demands, a $190,000 addition was approved, wrote the Marietta Times on June 19, 1958. The one-story addition covered the side of the building that faced the river. It spans the length of the post office and makes up the back 56 feet of the post office as it is today.

The next major renovation would come 50 years later. In 2008, the post office expanded its customer service window areas and replaced the worn marble floors with tiles.



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