Old Dublin post office still delivers fine architecture

DUBLIN -- As a wide-eyed youngster, Jeff Davis walked into the pawn shop on Madison Street and was stopped in his tracks by the vaulted ceilings, marble-edged floors and huge, arching windows.

And the revolving front door. He recalls getting caught up in the entrance to the century-old former post office and his late father having to help him out.

“I’ve loved this building since I was a little kid,” said Davis. “My dad brought me in here when I was five. I remember walking in the door and just stopping. It’s had that effect on almost everyone who sees it for the first time.”

Davis recently acquired the building in a property swap and moved his information technology company there. They made it a mission to restore the federal post office to as near original as possible in time to celebrate its 100th birthday Thursday.

That the renovation of the local landmark comes as Dublin marks its bicentennial later this year gave even more reason to celebrate.

“If something ever happened to this building, there would never be another built like it. It would be gone forever,” said Davis. “The best way to preserve something like this is to put it to use.”

Davis has poured over old photographs, original blueprints and 1,500 pages of documents in the National Archives to learn the layout, features and fixtures of the post office when it opened in 1912 as a brick-and-marble, neoclassical marvel.

“Dublin now has the most up-to-date post office it is possible to build,” The Laurens County Herald proclaimed on its front page.

Many of the original architectural drawings were recovered and professionally framed for display. The drawings provide such elaborate detail that Davis was able to find original “correct” parts, as well as re-created fixtures, on the Internet.

Last week, the merging of the nostalgic and newfangled at 130 East Madison St. was on view. As Davis and his company, Alterra Networks, kept computer and communications systems in Savannah and elsewhere up and running, employees polished dozens of solid brass post office-box doors that Davis had tracked down on eBay.

‘Nobody has seen this for 80 years’

A century ago, Dublin was one of Georgia’s biggest and busiest cities. Opening a grand new federal courthouse seemed a fine way to commemorate a centennial.

The lobby and the revolving door were crafted from mahogany, the work room from stained Georgia pine. The post master’s office featured quartered oak, one of two large safes that still carry the U.S. seal and access to louvered windows that allowed him to watch over the work room from the second floor.

The craftsmanship and attention to detail -- and durability -- can be seen with the marble backboard for the still functional electrical panel.

All of the bathrooms are marble and still have original solid glass towel holders. The plaster walls of the work room remain in perfect condition.

“There’s not anywhere in this building where there’s a hairline crack,” said Davis.

The only noticeable blemish might be the patch of well-worn marble on the floor at the window where customers once waited to buy stamps.

The post office has been a restaurant, nightclub, pawn shop and even a residence. When the feds decided they needed a courthouse in Dublin, Laurens County swapped land on the courthouse square for the post office property, which became home to the county school board.

Despite the building’s varied uses over the years, the restoration required little demolition. Davis knocked out a wall to return the lobby to its original L-shape. A second floor -- added above the spacious work room area during Prohibition as a makeshift federal courtroom for moonshiners -- was removed to reveal the full scale of three large, painted-over interior windows.

“Nobody has seen this for 80 years,” Davis said, looking up at the arched windows. “We’re working here with no lights. We haven’t needed them. It’s all natural lighting.”

Davis recovered a number of interesting articles in the building, including some of the 250 original post office boxes and a large, domed crystal lighting fixture that was stored in a safe.

An original, wooden mail cart that had been loaned to the local museum was returned when the museum began a renovation.

“It’s all flat-head screws and rivets,” Davis said of the three-wheeled cart. “You never see rivets anymore.”

The quality of workmanship that went into the post office helped sway Davis to relocate his business here rather than build new space. The restoration fits in well with downtown seeing a renaissance of late.

“It’s neat to be a part of everything going on downtown,” he said. “That it makes good business sense was a blessing.”