Harrisonburg Virginia New Deal Projects - Photo #1 - Harrisonburg Post Office and Courthouse 1939

Photo: Connie Gilmer, 10 June 2020.
The United States Post Office and Court House, 116 North Main Street, Harrisonburg, Virginia, built by the US Treasury Department Public Buildings Branch in 1939-40[1,2,3], supervising architects: Louis A. Simon and Rudolph Stanley-Brown[3]. Various renovations have been made since then but the original building is mostly intact. The Post Office moved out at some point and today (2020) the building houses the US Attorney's office and courthouses. The lobby contains a huge New Deal mural (described below), but these photos were taken during the Coronavirus epidemic and building was closed.

"Although the interior floor plans have been slightly modified from their original configurations, the general layout of the building still reflects the original post office and court house functional program. The first floor was designed to house post office operations and originally included a large workroom with access to the rear loading dock as well as offices for the Postmaster and Assistant Postmaster. Much of the original workroom has been built out as offices for the US Attorney's Office, but it remains an open space along the south and east elevations. The catwalks above, from which Postal Inspectors once kept an eye on workers below, remain intact. Within the main public lobby along the west side of the first floor, the original mail boxes have been removed as have the sales counters looking into the workroom space, but the lobby itself retains much of its original finishes including terrazzo floors, black structural glass baseboards, polished marble wainscot, plaster walls and cornices, built-in desks with black structural glass writing surfaces, bulletin boards, building directories, and bronze sconces. The east wall of the lobby also contains an original New Deal-era mural."[1]

"In 1941, artist William H. Calfee was commissioned through the Federal Works Agency, Public Buildings Administration, Section of Fine Arts to paint the mural that adorns the lobby. The Federal Works Agency was the successor agency to the better-known Works Progress Administration and administered various types of Depression-era employment and infrastructure projects. Calfee was a well-known Washington, D.C.-based artist who received commissions for several federal art projects throughout his career. From 1937 to 1943, Calfee created seven murals for post offices in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Calfee's proposal for the Harrisonburg mural was unanimously selected by a jury during a regional competition sponsored by the Federal Works Agency. The five foot tall, approximately seventy-foot long mural is entitled 'Country Fair, Trading, Courthouse Square.' Painted with tempura on canvas, it depicts a montage of contemporary life in Harrisonburg in the early 1940s, emphasizing its importance as the market and trading center of Rockingham County. The centerpiece of the mural is a depiction of an ornate fountain that then stood and continues to stand in front of the Rockingham County Courthouse and is an important community landmark. The mural was completed and installed in 1943. The mural panels were restored by Hiram H. Hoelzer, a New York artist, c. 1970."[1]

"Remarkably, most toilet rooms throughout the building remain largely as constructed. Original multi-fixture toilet rooms for each gender remain in the basement and on the second and third floors. An additional male toilet room with shower remains on the second floor. Additional single fixture toilet rooms with original finishes remain in select second and third floor locations. The materials palette present in these toilet rooms includes white structural glass partitions with steel support brackets and stall doors and brown tile floor. Original urinals, toilets, and sinks are often present as are original accessories such as toilet paper holders and towel bars. One handicapped accessible single-fixture toilet room has been added to each the second and third floors, featuring contemporary finishes."[1]

"[S]ignificant for its association with racial desegregation in public education as the site of judicial rulings directing the desegregation of Virginia's public schools. In 1956, Judge John Paul, Jr., of the Western District of Virginia, issued the first order in the state pursuant to Brown vs. Board of Education (1954, 1955) directing a public school system to desegregate immediately. In 1958, in another state first, Judge Paul's order directing the City of Charlottesville and Warren County to admit African American school children triggered orders from the governor to close the affected schools. School desegregation cases continued to be administered from this court throughout the 1960s."[2]

  1. U.S. Courthouse, Harrisonburg, VA, US General Services Administration (accessed 27 June 2020).
  2. 115-0108 United States Post Office and Court House, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, NRHP Listing Date 09/18/2018, NRHP Reference Number SG100002992 (accessed 27 June 2020): "The Post Office-Court House is also a significant example of a federal government building erected under New Deal-era federal programs intended to relieve the economic problems caused by the Great Depression. The building was perceived as a symbol of community pride and achievement and as a representation of the federal presence in Harrisonburg."
  3. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form SG100002992, 18 September 2018: "In 1933, the U.S. Treasury Department was reorganized and the Office of the Supervising Architect was shifted to the Procurement Branch of the Division of Public Works of the Treasury. In July 1939, the public buildings program was removed from the U.S. Treasury Department and merged into the Federal Works Agency, Public Buildings Administration."
  4. Documentary about WPA / Fine Arts Commission Mural in Harrisonburg, VA, by Ezra Horn and Matt Gilkeson (2003), Youtube (accessed 27 June 2020).
  5. Works Progress Administration: Historical Articles from Rockingham County Recorded in the 1930s. A somewhat corrupt document that contains expired links, but indicates that WPA writers produced over 400 pages of history of the area, which might or might not be in the Massanutten Regional Library in Harrisonburg and/or the Virginia Library in Richmond.
New Deal Projects in Virginia ]   [ New Deal Home ]