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‘A treasured memory’

The beautiful old Liverpool Post Office, covered in ivy. (Tim McDonald Collection)
The beautiful old Liverpool Post Office, covered in ivy. (Tim McDonald Collection) - Contributed

The journey of the Liverpool post office

My last article dealt with the post offices in the rural areas of Queens County before the present-day rural route mail delivery. 

At that time, post offices in areas like Western Head, Port Mouton, Brooklyn and in the North Queens district were located in people’s homes and stores.  However, in Liverpool, an actual post office building has existed for a very long time.

John Dunlop, collector of customs in the old Liverpool Post Office. Anna Dunlop photo
John Dunlop, collector of customs in the old Liverpool Post Office. Anna Dunlop photo

The earliest days of a postal service in Liverpool date back to 1802 when Elisha Calkins was appointed to the position of post master for the town. Simeon Perkins recorded in his diary on June 19, 1802, that he “administered the oath of post master to Elisha Calkins.”  

Calkins died in 1818 and eventually, his son, Thomas P. Calkins, held that position. In those earlier times, there wasn’t an actual post office building. It was located in Thomas P. Calkins Hardware Store on present-day Carten Street, which later moved to the corner of Main and Gorham Streets, presently 233 Main St. In 1872, A. J. Campbell was post master and held that position until 1880 when it was taken over by Alex Cowie, who was post master until 1906.

After the devastating fire in downtown Liverpool in 1895, the town was rebuilt. A contract with Rhodes, Curry and Company of Amherst was signed by the town to construct a building on the corner of Main and Market streets. This would house the post office and customs ffice.

Construction began in 1898 on the Victorian Gothic building. It was a four-storey red brick building that was completed in 1900 at a cost of $17,098.43. The basement was made of grey sandstone. At the top of the building was a tower that contained a four-sided clock that had to be wound twice a day. Sometimes, if the clock stopped working, the cause was most likely birds sitting on the hands. Someone from the post office would have to go up and remove the birds. At the top of the clock tower was a flagpole and weathervane. 

The first level of the building was the post office, which contained a large oak desk in the lobby, three covered wickets and 725 mailboxes. The customs office was on the second floor and was operated by John Dunlop, Collector of Customs and Excise Tax.

In 1900, when the post office was completed, the Liverpool Advance announced that James Clements would be the first to hold the position of janitor of the new building. Danny Winters later held that position, a job he had for 50 years. Alex Cowie was the first post master in the new building.

As the years passed, ivy grew on the outside of the post office building and most photographs and postcards show it covered almost from top to bottom with the ivy. A few residents remembered rodents climbing throughout the ivy.

William Bartlett donated a fountain and it was placed on a grassy spot on the Carten Street side of the post office. Coloured lights were part of the fountain, making it a beautiful addition to the post office property. Apparently, parts of it were later used in the fountain at the old burial ground on Main Street.

By the 1930s, the amount of mail increased and more space was needed. A small one-storey addition was constructed on the first floor. It was located on the Market Street side of the building. It was also in the 1930s that a billboard was set up outside the post office to announce the scores at baseball games, when the Liverpool team played out of town. The scores would arrive via telegraph (the telegraph office was located next to the post office) and would be posted on the billboard for locals to see. Baseball was at its peak in Liverpool at that time. The hometown team, the “Liverpool Larrupers”, was winning provincial and Maritime championships during those years. 

But, by the early 1950s, the life of the Liverpool Post Office was coming to an end. When it was built in 1900, the revenue was $2,040 and by 1954, it was $32,773. The federal government made an announcement in July 1952 that $225,000 would be spent on a new building in Liverpool. Speculation on where the new building should be constructed was a big concern in the town. The government owned property where the present-day Queens County Museum is now located, so some residents thought maybe it would be built there. In October 1953, meetings were being held in Liverpool to discuss possible locations. A possible site was next to the (old) Liverpool Fire Station on Main Street. There were a few wooden structures there at the time that were not in the best condition so many people hoped it would be the chosen place.

Liverpool post master Alex Cowie, a job he held until 1906. Photo from “Beautiful Queens”
Liverpool post master Alex Cowie, a job he held until 1906. Photo from “Beautiful Queens”

In November 1953, Liverpool town council unanimously agreed that the property next to the (old) fire station should be the place for the new post office. However, that would not be the case. Though other locations were considered, none were as convenient as the present one. So, it was decided by the federal government that the old Liverpool Post Office would be demolished and a new one would be built there. Many local residents were not happy about this decision.

At 6 p.m., on Saturday, Feb. 19, 1955, the old Liverpool Post Office officially closed its doors. All of the post office equipment was moved to the Masonic Hall on Main Street and it became a temporary post office until the new building was completed. The customs office temporarily moved to the Liverpool Legion. Sadly, the beautiful old post office was demolished.

The architectural firm, J. Philip Dumaresq and Associates of Halifax, designed the new building. Rodney Contractors of Yarmouth was chosen to build it. E. J. and L. D. Carey Ltd of Avonport did the masonry; E. G. MacCaul and Sons of Liverpool did the plumbing, heating and ventilation; Roy V. Germain of Yarmouth was the electrical contractor and Boehner Woodworkers from West LaHave did the millwork and counters.

Work began and by mid-November 1955, the steel frame of the new Federal Building was in place. It was a two-storey structure, measuring 109 feet by 89.6 feet, four times the space as the old building. It was made of brick and had two entrances. The post office section had an area for seven postal clerks and 1,057 mailboxes. The customs office, the Department of Fisheries, the Unemployment Commission and janitor’s quarters, were also located in the new building.

In September 1955, Senator Donald Smith laid the cornerstone. Behind it, a copper box was placed, containing the latest issue of the Advance and the Chronicle Herald. Also included, were photos of the old public building, drawings of the new post office, postcard scenes of Liverpool at that time, as well as a few other items. 

Today, in 2018, that same building still serves the postal needs for the Town of Liverpool and area.

For many years, people in Liverpool had wondered whatever happened to the clock from the old post office. When the new Liverpool Regional High School was built with a clock tower, rumours circulated that it was the clock from the post office. This was not the case. A small mention of the clock in a May 1955 Liverpool Advance indicated local resident and business owner, Albert Sapp, purchased the clock. Some say it went to a scrap yard. Others say they knew of someone who had it in their possession in later years. I guess we will never really know whatever happened to it.

The demolition of the old Liverpool Post Office in the 1950s remains one of the saddest events for local residents to this very day. Judging by the number of old post office buildings that still exist all over Nova Scotia, there was really no need for ours to be torn down. To those who remember that clock tower rising high above the other downtown buildings, it will always be a treasured memory.

Tim can be reached at localhistorynut2015@gmail.com

* Since this is the last issue of the Queens County Advance, June 27, 2018, I would like to thank all of you who have enjoyed my articles over the last few years. I appreciated getting your comments and emails. Thanks so much for the support and encouragement.

Senator Donald Smith, right, placing the copper box time capsule behind the cornerstone in the new post office in 1955.
Senator Donald Smith, right, placing the copper box time capsule behind the cornerstone in the new post office in 1955.

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