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 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.
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.
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.
(“06880” depends on support from readers. Please click here to help.)