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Moving the Museum to the Wenatchee Post Office – 5/21/2024

With the museum’s collections growing far beyond the Carnegie Building’s capacity, museum Executive Director Beulah Davenport and Museum Association Board member Richard E. “Dick” Bell work together to move operations to the now vacant Wenatchee Post Office Buildings.

The Beginning of Wenatchee’s First Post Office

Wenatchee’s postal service operations were nothing short of humble, starting in 1886 when the first Postmaster Sam C. Miller opened the Miller-Freer Trading Post on the corner of Miller and Springwater Streets.

Miller-Freer Trading Post and homes located at north end of Miller Street. People standing from left: Samuel C. Miller, Lucy Freer, Hattie Freer, Mattie Freer, and Del Curry.

Miller was born in Ashland, Ohio in 1828. In 1853, he traveled across the Plains, spending time in California, Oregon, before reaching Walla Walla, Wash, working in freighting during this time.

According to historians V.W. Bartes and Ethel E. EcCrery, who recounted the early history of Wenatchee in 1939:

“As very few white settlers were arriving at that time, the duties of the Postmaster were, necessarily, not very arduous.”

Prior to an official post office, the closest means of transportation was in Ellensburg via the Northern Pacific Railroad, which is how settlers received mail in the Columbia River Valley.

In 1892, settlers were anxious to see whether the Great Northern Railroad from Spokane would pass through the small settlement of Wenatchee, or alternatively be built further south. This railroad project prompted a rapid move of the old village and post office to be closer to the new site.

The first post office was held in the Rarey building, which previously housed the Morris Hardware store on Wenatchee Ave. Miller was the postmaster until 1902, succeeded by Ellsworth D. Scheble, who assisted an aging Miller in postmaster duties between 1899-1902.

Combined with a boat service carrying packages from Wenatchee to Pateros and the introduction of the railroad, postal services expanded rapidly. In fact, it was so fast that Postmaster Scheble would discreetly take postal receipts home with him due to the office lacking a proper safe. Scheble was unable to convice the Post Office Department that furniture was necessary, so workers built their own tables and desks by hand.

Following Scheble was L. M. Hull (1906-1910), who left the postal service profession to be a full-time orchardist. Later in life, Hull compiled the early history of Central Washington, which helped build Bartes and EcCrery’s own report.

It was during Hull’s tenure that rural route services were expanded, and the first city delivery service was carried out by William R. Leonardy in 1909. Two carriers were tasked with delivering mail to the entire city!

After Hull was Terry L. Ross (1910-1914). During this time, the post office moved twice, first to the Central building, then to the Wenatchee World building. In 1912, construction of the Post Office was authorized by Congress in the Public  Buildings Act.

The Central Building located on the southeastern corner of North Wenatchee Avenue and First Street housing the Wenatchee Post Office, Clarke’s Drug and other businesses. Downtown Wenatchee.

Interior of the Wenatchee Post Office

In 1915, Woodrow Wilson appointed C. A. Battles as the new Postmaster. It was during Wilson’s presidency that community members rallied together for an established federal building. The community urged the Treasury Department of Washington to consider this capital project.

On Jan. 31, 1917, Sound Construction & Engineering Co. were awarded a bid of $74,225 to construct the new federal building on Mission Street.

Construction of the Post Office. Looking northwest with Mission Street visible to the left and the Elman Hotel off to the right. American flags are flying in commemoration of America’s Independence Day. Date – July 4, 1917.

Construction of the Post Office, back and south end view, October 1917.

According to the Wenatchee World (published on Dec. 2, 1979) the contract was scheduled to be finished by April 1, 1918, but with WWI spurring the demand for building materials, construction was further delayed. Because of this, the Post Office was officially opened on July 27, 1918.

WWI made operations difficult during Postmaster Battles’ two terms, with many postal workers being recruited for the front line, and an increasing influx of mail to the city. In 1929, postal intake reached its peak while the Rock Island Dam construction project was underway. Receipts were calculated at $124,798.69 that year, establishing three stations around Wenatchee and one in the developing City of East Wenatchee.

Construction of the Post Office finishing work in the front lobby April 1918.

Construction of the Post Office, completed lobby as viewed from the south end, June 1, 1918.

Personnel of United States Post Office, Wenatchee, Washington. November 1934. Studio photo #6657 First Post Office building.

Between 1924 to 1935, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Arthur A. Bousquet as Postmaster. After Bousquet was George C. Eller (1935 to 1938), who died in office on December 9, 1938. Historians believe his injury during his service in France contributed to his sudden death.

Nearly two decades after erecting the first Post Office, the size of Wenatchee was rapidly growing, prompting the construction of another building adjacent to the post office. In 1937, the new federal building was erected, with construction totaling $140,000. That building currently sits as the museum’s Main building.

The opening of the new Wenatchee Post Office Annex Building on March 26, 1938, was a momentous milestone within the community.

In 1940, the post office was made even more spectacular after the official unveiling of “The Saga of Wenatchee,” a mural depicting the agricultural legacy of Wenatchee within an Americana style. The painter, Peggy Strong of Tacoma, Wash., painted the mural as part FDR’s initiative to decorate federal buildings with beautiful landscapes, which gave critical employment opportunities for artists during and after the Great Depression. This mural is accessioned to the National Collection of Fine Arts/Smithsonian Institute.

Courtesy of the Wenatchee World. As she works on “The Saga of Wenatchee,” Peggy Strong rests in a chair on the scaffold her father built for her.

Pictured at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center.

Fun fact: The ground-level floor of the main building consisted of hardwood blocks, needed to be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the incredibly heavy mail carts. Learn more about that on our Youtube Channel.

Mailman Bob Seiler with delivery bag standing on front sidewalk of second Wenatchee Post Office building, 127 South Mission Street.

Christmas 1947, inside first Post Office building; carriers shown (front to back): Albert E. Freeman, Paul A. Millet, Thomas “Tom” A. Healy, Raymond Robert Lake, Norman K. Jensen, Harry C. Clark, Milo C. Camp, Gordon G. Bird, Agard A. Olson, Clayton E. Picket and Fred A. Ekholm.

According to the National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination form for the Post Office Annex, the Annex was the birthplace of the first Controlled Atmosphere storage experiment in the Pacific Northwest (prior experiments were conducted on the East Coast and California), testing a process that would store apples all year round. The lower-level of the Annex building now houses the museum’s Apple Industry exhibit.

Future postmasters include the following: Mr. Maus, Joe Lester, Ken Allen, Joe Pospisil, Vada McMullan. On July 31, 1960, Pospisil’s retirement marks the end of an era, with the Wenatchee Post Office closing operations in both buildings.

Apple Blossom festival float, “Postal Improvements Week” -May 1922.

Five Wenatchee postal workers standing on steps to the back entry to Wenatchee’s first Post Office building.

Moving the Museum to the Post Office:

The idea to move to post office buildings leads back to former Postmaster Vada McMullan, who encouraged Dick Bell to pursue the facilities. Within two years, the community raised funds for this move, while volunteers converted the buildings into a feasible museum space.

On November 19, 1976, the Post Office buildings were officially granted historical significance. Following the announcement of this milestone, Dick Bell informed the Wenatchee World that they needed to register the post office as a historic building in order to apply for a $7,000 grant.

After months of hard work and with the buildings’ standing as historically significant, the North Central Washington Museum opened in their new location on April 29, 1978.

October 6th, 1977. Installing bronze plaque, officially designating the old Post Office building as the NCW Museum. Dick Bell, president, museum board of trustees, and Wenatchee Mayor Jack C. Grover. Source: Wenatchee World.

The grand opening of the new and improved museum once again aligned with the Apple Blossom festival, featuring an all-new Main Street exhibit, equipped with a general store, old-time print shop, post office, and a fully functioning bank vault that folks could walk into.

During the Apple Blossom celebration, old-style demonstrations in the Main Street exhibit included butter churning, baking bread on the wood stove, and washing clothes through the wringer washer. These replicas were crafted by cabinet makers Claude Case, Rob Zook, and Herb Ikenberry.

The museum’s first executive director after the move was former Wenatchee Valley College President Bill Steward. Steward and the board spearheaded the phrase “The museum comes alive,” along with a new theme: “Preserving the past, presenting the present, shaping the future.”

When you enter the Wenatchee Valley Museum now, you can still see the enclosed catwalk hovering above the rotating gallery in the main building. Along the catwalk are thin window slits that supervisors would peer through to monitor employees. Another piece of history are the rows of post office boxes that are currently displayed in our lobby and the Executive Director’s office door still bearing the “Postmaster label.”

This article is the second part of a four-part series detailing the 85-year journey of the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center. Follow our website and social media for future updates on this blog series!

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