“The crying need of the community, in which there are between 15,000 and 20,000 persons, is a branch post office in the region of 207th Street to serve a section which is growing faster than any other in the city.
Just now the mail facilities are not much further advanced than they were in the days when the Dyckman’s were the best-known residents in the section and when Inwood was just a hamlet.
That’s a good many years ago, of course, but illustrative of how far behind the times the postal facilities are up here.” -Letter to the editor of The Sun, December 26, 1918
In 1904, with the arrival of the elevated subway trains, Inwood’s first apartment buildings, the Solano and Monida, were erected at the northeast corner of Broadway and Dyckman Street.
Newspaper advertisements promised “Country Quiet and Clean Air in the City.”
With inexpensive rents and a new station located on Dyckman Street and Broadway, leases were signed on every apartment before the buildings were ready receive their new tenants.
Other real estate investors were quick to pounce on this overlooked territory, and, over the ensuing decade, had frantically, block by block, grabbed up nearly every available piece of property east of Broadway.
Natives of the recently rural hamlet on the northern tip of Manhattan were accustomed to the deprivations of country living:
“There was no post office, no telegraph station, no telephone, no electric light—absolutely none of the modern conveniences enjoyed by a rural town,” said the pastor of the Mount Washington Presbyterian Church in a 1914 sermon. “The nearest drugstore, the nearest market and the nearest doctor was two or three miles away.” (Reverend George Shipman Payson from “Forty Years in the Wilderness”)
But as the 1920’s approached the ever-growing and diverse community of former downtown folk found themselves without even a way to mail a letter.
New construction was everywhere, but still this Manhattan community had the feel of a frontier town.
The Battle for a Post Office
By 1918, residents were writing into the newspapers clamoring for a postal facility:
“At present the nearest branch post office is the Washington Bridge station, at Amsterdam Avenue and 180th Street. It is on Washington Heights, about two miles from the center of Inwood. What Inwood needs is something nearer home, something more convenient to its residents and the businessmen who have not the time to go down to the Heights to attend to postal matters.” (Letter to the editor of The Sun, December 26, 1918)
New arrivals could also hike north across the Spuyten Duyvil to a well-established station on 226th Street, “but this serves the Kingsbridge section and has no practical advantage to Inwood.” (The Sun, March 20, 1919)
On March 16, 1919 a tiny article that should have met with great local enthusiasm appeared in the New York Times announcing a “New Post Office for the Heights”:
“The Post Office which is to serve the Dyckman and Inwood Sections is to be erected at the northeast corner of Tenth Avenue and 208th Street, on property owned by Robert E, Dowling. A two-story building will be put up on the site and leased to the Government for a long term of years. The transaction was arranged by John N. Golding as broker.” (New York Times, March 16, 1919)
But the response to the announcement was lukewarm at best—the newcomers were hard to please.
“While the people of Inwood welcome the announcement that the section will soon have a post office of its own they deplore the fact that a site could not be found on 207th Street.
The latter is the principal street of the section and consequently is the logical place for a post office.
Moreover, Tenth Avenue, the site of the new post office, is removed from the center of business activity. Sherman Avenue or Vermilyea Avenue would have been more appropriate.” (The Sun, March 20, 1919)
More than six months later, despite numerous promises made by postal officials, a post office had yet to materialize:
“TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN—Sir: A mild flutter of excitement was caused in Inwood, just above Washington Heights, by the publication of a statement that Postmaster General Burleson had again promised to open a branch post office in the section.
The neighborhood is probably growing more rapidly than any other in the city, and the residents and business people have been clamoring for better postal service for the last three years. Announcement has been made time and time again that the Postmaster General had lent an ear to the appeals from the good citizens of the section, but the promises drifted away like thin air, never to be heard of again. Yet Inwood goes serenely along and hope springs afresh every time mention is made of a promise to open a branch post office to give it to the postal service to which it is justly entitled.” (The Sun, October 9, 1919)
Four months later, in the winter of 1920, the headlines again announced a “Post Office for Inwood.”
The new station was slated to open on April 1, 1920 on the west side of Sherman Avenue, between 204th and 207th Streets.
Describing the announcement as a “pleasant shock,” one newspaper reader wrote:
“It was only natural that they (Inwood residents) should be surprised, for they have waited patiently for at least two years for the postal authorities to take definite action in the matter of improving the service in their district, which has grown to be an important one. From time to time rumors have been current that a carrier station would be established in the district, but the project always fell through.” (The Sun and New York Herald, February 2, 1920)
The reader also expressed joy of news that the post office would not be built on Tenth Avenue as had previously been discussed:
“Moreover, the fact that such an excellent site has been chosen for the new carrier station adds to the joy felt by the well-wishers of Inwood. The site is convenient to 207th Street, the business center of the district, and is more appropriate for a new station than is the site at 208th Street and Tenth Avenue, where it was once proposed to erect a carrier station. The latter site is too far removed from the center of activity and for this reason was objected to by the business people of the district.” (The Sun and New York Herald, February 2, 1920)
As the summer of 1920 approached the empty promises turned into grim resignation and anger. One wtiter to the editor of the Sun and Herald vented that “the longed for post office was apparently as far away as ever:”
“Some months ago announcement was made that a site had been secured on the west side of Sherman Avenue between 204th and 207th Streets for the erection of a new post office for Inwood, and the residents of that thriving part of the city rejoiced.
At present there are indications that Inwood is no nearer a new post office than it was before the announcement, and it is said that it has no prospect of getting one until the cost of labor and building material decreases. In the meantime Inwood must struggle along under its old handicap of poor service.
The residents of Inwood have grown tired of procrastination and want action.” (The Sun and New York Herald, May 25, 1920)
A Post Office at Last
Sometime around 1923, and possibly earlier, Inwood finally received a post office—though not the Sherman Avenue location most in the neighborhood had hoped for.
According to city directories, Inwood’s first post office was situated on 3860 Tenth Avenue, a few storefronts south of 207th Street, below the elevated IRT Station.
Judging from vintage photos and buildings records, this early location must have been both a gritty and lively spot.
Currently an auto parts store, the original “Inwood Station” shared a block with a bowling alley, a shoe shine parlor, two rooming houses; the Dyckman Hotel and Fagan’s, McDermott’s Moving and Storage, Moran’s Restaurant and Oppenheimer’s Grocery.
Perhaps our best descriptions of the old Tenth Avenue location derive from news accounts of a fire that swept through the post office in the winter of 1934.
Oddly, it was the second time that year the post office had caught fire, though the damage from the first blaze appears to have been minor.
According to a description in the New York Sun:
“Smoke was discovered seeping through the floor of the building, a one-story “taxpayer,” shortly before 4 o’clock this afternoon. The cellar was found to be ablaze. Superintendent J. F. Tabin hastily threw several thousands of dollars worth of stamps and a small amount of cash into the safe, and he and other employees fled to the streets. Some mail was saved before the flames drove the clerks away, but an undetermined amount was destroyed.
Deputy Chief Daniel Carlock, who arrived with the first apparatus, immediately turned in a second alarm. The Post Office building is adjoined by a five-story apartment house.
Despite the intense cold several thousand persons gathered, and police from the Wadsworth Avenue station had to establish fire lines. Most of the tenants in the apartment house left their flats, although they were not ordered out by firemen.
The fire, eating through the wooden floor of the Post Office sent out thick clouds of smoke, which added to the difficulty of fighting it.
While the firemen were at work, most of the twenty-five or thirty mail-collectors working out of the branch arrived with the afternoon’s gathering of mail. A big truck was drawn up to the curb in front of a candy store a block from the burning building, and a temporary post office for receiving the collections was set up in it.
One fireman was cut by glass from one of the big windows of the office, but there were no other injuries.
Last April the branch post office burned, and was so badly damaged that it had to be closed for more than a month. Today’s fire is believed to have started from an overheated furnace.” (New York Sun, February 9, 1934)
Another article cited the difficulties faced by fire fighters on a bitterly cold day marked by “an epidemic of blazes”:
“The routine hazards of firemen were increased by frozen fire-plugs, bursting hose lines and the thick sheet of ice that formed almost instantly wherever water fell. Many firemen were treated for frostbite and exposure during the day. In the metropolitan area the number of fires was unusually large and though most of them were of a minor nature the fire units were heavily taxed to combat them.
In upper Manhattan two alarms brought a large force of men and half a dozen pieces of apparatus to a blaze, which swept through the one story post office at 3860 Tenth Avenue, near West 206th Street. Mail and supplies were carried to safety.” (New York Times, February 10, 1934)
The New Post Office
The current Inwood post office, located on 90 Vermilyea Avenue, was commissioned as part of the United States Government’s public works projects during the Great Depression.
Inwood Station, designed by Brooklyn architect Carroll H. Pratt, was one of twelve new post offices built in Manhattan during the mid to late 1930’s. Pratt, who specialized in the design of hospitals and banks, also designed the Parkville Station post office in Brooklyn.
Designed in 1934, Inwood Station was constructed between 1935 and 1937 by the Globe Building Corporation.
According to a 1937 statement from then Postmaster Albert Goldman, “The new building occupies a site 100 by 100 feet. It is one and a half stories high, and is constructed of brick with cast stone trim. The property was purchased by the government for $32,000. The total cost of the land and building is $106,000.” (New York Times, June 27, 1937)
On June 29, 1937, Goldman, believed to have been Gotham’s first Jewish Postmaster, stood before a crowd of nearly a thousand persons and welcomed them to the new facility.
But the day did not go as smoothly as Goldman had hoped.
While the neighborhood, in general, was happy to receive a new post office, many were still out of work and much of Goldman’s message was drowned out by boos and jeers from the impressive crowd; especially at the mention of President Roosevelt’s name.
According to one news account, “Mr. Goldman spoke in a laudatory vein of President Roosevelt’s building program, which he said provided considerable employment. Sentiment regarding the reference seemed evenly divided among the 1,000 persons present, according to the volume of cheers and boos.” (New York Sun, June 29, 1937)
After a ribbon cutting ceremony and music provided by both the Post Office Band and the band of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fort Tryon Post 3037, Goldman entered the new facility and purchased a sheet of 100 one-cent stamps.
According to the Sun’s description, “The first floor has 10,000 feet of workable area, with a lobby 20 by 52 feet, nine stamp windows, lock box facilities and a parcel post counter 24 feet long. The second floor contains locker, recreation and lavatory rooms.
The basement, spread over 1,600 square feet, contains the boiler room, fan room, storage room, supply, record and washrooms.
“The new station, Mr. Goldman said, will employ three supervisors, 25 clerks, 26 carriers, 12 substitutes and two laborers.” (New York Sun, December 2, 1939)
The cornerstone of the post office makes no mention of Postmaster Albert Goldman.
An Inwood Landmark
In 1982 an application was submitted to the United States Department of Interior requesting that Inwood Station be granted historic preservation status.
According to the entry form:
“The Inwood Station Post Office is architecturally significant as an intact representative example of the federal architecture erected as part of the publics works projects initiated by the United States Government during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.”
“Inwood station is a modest and simple Colonial Revival style structure,” the report goes on to state. “Of particular note on the façade of Inwood Station is the triple-arched arcade of compound round arches that have appeared to be by Federal style architecture.”
“Although the use of a one-story design for 1930’s postal stations in New York City was uncommon, this form was almost always employed in post offices in the remainder of the state.”
“The interior of the post office is laid out in a utilitarian manner with no ceremonial spaces. The rectangular lobby is entered though a vestibule and there is a large workroom to the rear. The lobby is entered through a vestibule and there is a large workroom to the rear. The lobby retains some original detail in marble, terrazzo and plaster.” (1982 Department of the Interior application)
On May 11, 1989 Inwood Station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Also on the list: Inwood’s Dyckman farmhouse, the 207th Street subway Yard (Signal Service Building and Tower B), the Dyckman Street Subway station, Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters and the Mount Washington Presbyterian Church.
Post Office Today
Author’s note: My grandfather, Charles Clinton Thompson, (seen below) was the Assistant Postmaster General of Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960′s. This post is dedicated to “Grandaz.”