Remembering Sheila Murphy Foster — And Her Post Office

In 2011, the post office moved from its spacious, classical and long-time home downtown (now Design Within Reach, for all who have moved here since).

Just before relocating to cramped, parking-impaired Playhouse Square, I wrote: 

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

Sheila Murphy Foster

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.

Sheila Murphy and her father, cutting the post office ribbon.

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, in 2011. 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 Foster 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.”

Sheila Murphy Foster died peacefully Monday evening at her Miami home, surrounded by her family. She was 92 years old.

Sheila Murphy Foster

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8 responses to “Remembering Sheila Murphy Foster — And Her Post Office

  1. Jack Backiel

    Historic picture of Sheila cutting the ribbon. (Note there are no women in the picture.) I knew about two deliveries per day. I hardly went to the downtown post office though because we were in Greens Farms.

  2. Nell Mednick

    I remember Sheila well! She was always up beat, friendly and with a big smile on her face! A memorable fixture of the post office ! RIP Sheila.

  3. Joyce Barnhart

    When we moved to Westport in 1972, our mail carrier introduced himself as “Mills” and told me about walking the route in the Hillandale Road/Morningside Drive South area twice a day in the past. Of course, he drove the route when we met. He was a lovely man and left me fresh figs while I gave him tomatoes from my garden. When he retired our mail didn’t arrive by 11 am anymore, but came closer to 4 pm.

  4. Jack Backiel

    I’m curious if anyone recognizes any of the men in the picture. The first guy is smoking a cigar. RIP to this wonderful lady.

  5. Linda Grabill Parker

    What a wonderful post ,Dan – funny , how I well remember going to Westport Bank and Trust with my Dad on a regular basis , but cannot recall going to this classic post office with him…

  6. Bill Coley - Staples 1967

    My father worked at the Post Office for 44 years as an RFD Carrier (retiring in 1967) in the Westport, Saugatuck and Weston Post Offices. I remember going there to see where he worked. An author who lived on his route (Ian Munn) wrote a children’s book about him entitled “The Little Mailman of Bayberry Lane” and gave my father a signed copy.

  7. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Hello Bill,My mom (Jane Pomerantz,Weston’s elementary school librarian),late 1960’s) she remembered this same story about the children’s book & your father.

  8. Robert M Gerrity

    Likely 1959-1960, I was helping my mother unload those long thin trays of pre-stamped marketing pieces (for Dr. Tressler’s Avi Publishing), when, as she handed one to me and I turned to lift it up to the back loading dock, I was startled to see a Bedford El classmate’s Dad reach down to take it from me. “Ah, hello, Mr. Carmody,” I said, weirded out to see a teacher in any other place but a class room. They lived down around the corner from us. Said “down around the corner” house likely now has a $1.2 million price tag on it. Mr. Carmody was sweating to make a 20-year monthly mortgage on a then Westport teacher’s salary. Just making ends meet during the summer months as a part-timer doing grunt work for the USPS with just big fans whirring to cool off the insides.