Sheila Murphy’s Magnificent Post Office

When the post office moves into its new Playhouse Square digs a few months from now, it will likely be without fanfare.

They’re downsizing, after all; you don’t cut a ribbon at some spare, utilitarian space.

It’s a far cry from 1936, when Westport’s shining “new” post office opened on (appropriately) the Post Road.

Sheila Murphy remembers that ceremony like it was yesterday.  She should:  She cut the ribbon.

Sheila Murphy

Sheila was back in town the other day.  She’s lived in Florida since graduating from Staples in 1948 — but she’s 82 years young, and still loves Westport.

Her roots are deep.  Her own mother Mary is a Staples grad — in fact, Sheila says, Mary helped develop the school lunch program, and came up with the name “Inklings” for the school newspaper.

Sheila’s father John commuted to New York City for his job as an accountant with American Standard.  He had 3 children, and when his wife got sick he needed a job closer to Westport.

John Murphy was active in Democratic politics — locally and nationally — and knew Postmaster General James Farley.  Soon, President Roosevelt appointed Murphy as Westport’s postmaster.

“It was a plum job,” Sheila says.

The job was even better because a new post office was about to be dedicated. The WPA project replaced what Sheila calls a “ratty building” across the street.

“It was the middle of the Depression,” she recalls.  “Things were bad.  Having the government build a new building was good.  Thank heaven for the WPA.”

So one day in 1936, 7-year-old Sheila stood on the broad steps of the “magnificent edifice” and cut the ceremonial ribbon.  Well, she tried to — the oversized scissors were too big, so her father the postmaster finished the job.

He had a lot to do besides pose for photos.  Mail was delivered twice a day back then.  Westporters — many of whom did not have telephones —  communicated with friends by mailing postcards back and forth, one delivery following the next.

The Westport Post Office today. Trees now obscure the front of the WPA-era building.

John lived only a couple of more years.  He died very young — as did his wife.  From age 9 on, Sheila was raised by her aunt.

Sheila remembers her Imperial Avenue home — near the intersection with Bridge Street — as a wonderful former onion barn.  There was sledding in winter, and playing on a nearby 10-acre estate.  Owner Rose O’Neill had already earned fame as the creator of the Kewpie doll.

In town, Sheila took dance lessons at what is now Toquet Hall.

Though she stayed in Florida after college, Sheila returned regularly to Westport — with her 3 sons.

Sheila Murphy outside the Postmaster's office. It probably looked the same when her father had the job.

On her most recent visit, she stopped by the post office she dedicated 75 years ago.

How did she feel when she heard the building has been sold — taking with it three-quarters of a century of Westport history?

“I felt bad,” she says.  “It still looks like a beautiful building.

“But it’s old,” she admits.  “Maybe it’s too expensive to renovate.”

The clerks — and postmaster — may move to Playhouse Square.  But one thing will never change, Sheila Murphy insists.

“It’s always been my post office.”

10 responses to “Sheila Murphy’s Magnificent Post Office

  1. What a fabulous story! Well told. I would love to hear more personal stories specific to certain locales in town.

  2. Ann Marie Flynn

    Thank you for telling a wonderful part of Westport’s history….and, having a great photo to go with it. Good memories are needed of the past.

  3. Beautiful story, sad theme Westport is losing its character and no one seems to care. On a trip to the Saugatuck bodega post office I missed Mike and Ed at the window of the real Saugatuck office. The attendant was rather rude and spoke very bad English, and yes that is a problem when trying to get two day delivery not two dollar delivery.
    We are now losing out primary post office downtown, a historic and stately location to what most likely will become another overpriced short lived restaurant or boutique sock store.
    I blame the local government not protecting our heritage, soon the old town hall, our post office , our main bank, movie theater and yes our YMCA will be mere shells filled with worthless excess retail bandwidth. Look at our neighbor Norwalk downtown and you will see what happens when your town loses it’s soul.
    The town needs to be more proactive in helping the infrastructure maintain its sense of Westport, the exact type of spirit that will allow our children to tell stories like Shelia in the future

  4. What a great story. It really expresses Westport’s long and vibrant relationship with Federal Government, and some of the best of Democrat Party History.

    Needless to say it’s a shame that the Federal Government has lost a grip on it’s holdings.

    And to lose some of those holdings in Westport, a place that has for a long time hosted important dynamics for the Democratic party, is really disheartening.

  5. I love this story about Westport way back when. While it is certainly sad to lose the friendliness of local post offices, I will argue that libraries fill some of that void. They have become our community center.

    What does Shelia think are better times? In 1936 with a World War beckoning, a depression festering, and Hitler at the helm, or now with two (three?) wars, high unemployment, and Osama’s followers likely to be planning their next attack?

  6. The Dude Abides

    Actually we are bombing five countries at the present. Exceptionialism versus Defeatism as Friedman and Brooks like to call it now. The country is split between the two philosophies. I love the memories of ole Westport but am practical enough to realize that the landscape must and will change with time. We can’t live in a time capsule, restoring every old building that crumbles. As one great quote from a commentator here said: “I miss the Brooklyn Dodgers too.” Great stories from Shelia. Thanks for your memories. Want more? Fellow classmate Nazzaro at Burying Hill gate has many more. 81 years of them. Thanks Dan, as well, a good piece of writing.

    • For those who are very young now, these will be”the good old days.” The post office is becoming irrelevant as are libraries of printed books. Our children will remember Kindles as quaint relics from their past. BTW I went to watch the Bums in their new home in Chavez Ravine in 1966. What a depressing experience. LA is not a baseball town.

      • The Dude Abides

        Mark Cuban finding that out with all the subcorporations of the now Dodgers. Cluster$#%^, he deemed it. I have never been a strong proponent of the library. It is short on books and large on noise. For some reason, I love to get mail, however.