Many museum exhibits pay homage to a place or way of life that no longer exists. That's not true of "Rogers Postal History: From Stagecoach to Mail Truck," open through July 13 at the Rogers Historical Museum. Everybody still gets mail, and the World War I era post office that served the city until 1962 is still standing proudly.
But the old post office -- most recently an annex to the Rogers Historical Museum -- had come to a crossroads, says Robin Williams McClanahan, whose family roots run back through two postmasters.
Go & Do
‘Rogers Postal History:
From Stagecoach to Mail Truck’
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; through July 13
Where: Rogers Historical Museum, 313 S. Second St. in Rogers
Information: (479) 621-1154
"When I learned of the purchase of the newspaper building for the new museum and that the post office was to be returned to the city of Rogers to be repurposed, I felt strongly that the city officials and citizens of Rogers should be fully aware of the importance of the building," McClanahan says. "It is on the National Historic Register and is the first federal building built in Benton County, built between 1917 and 1919 during World War I. So I began research, focused at first just on the post office building and its construction and importance."
McClanahan was already thinking about the old post office, because she had been volunteering there for the museum, "scanning and digitizing over 350 photos and documents belonging to my family, who had been in Northwest Arkansas since the 1870s. A good number of the materials were from my father and grandfather during the time they were postmasters.
"Monte Harris [of the museum staff] suggested I might want to write a research paper to present to the city to highlight the importance of the building and its significance in the history of Rogers before it was repurposed," she goes on. "As I continued to research, it just kept expanding to incorporate the whole history of the mail service (nationally) and in Northwest Arkansas, which also tied it to the history of the railroad mail service as well. James Hales encouraged me to publish it as a book as a contribution to local history and to be used for educational purposes."
That book, which McClanahan calls "just a self-published booklet," is now for sale in the museum store. But it also inspired the exhibit currently featured at the museum.
"We had been talking, since the book From Overland Stage to Postal Truck: A History of the Mail Service in Rogers, Arkansas was written, about doing an exhibit based on the book and Robin's research," explains Terrilyn Wendling, the museum's interim director. "We are proud to still have the original purpose-built Post Office in Rogers and for it to be on the Historic Register."
Wendling explains that the first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, was appointed in 1775, and in 1794 Congress voted for the United States Postal Service to become a permanent institution, no longer subject to annual renewal. By 1840, Northwest Arkansas had its first official mail service stagecoach line running from Missouri to Fayetteville and then on to Fort Smith and beyond.
Rogers' first official postmaster was B.F. Sikes, who had previously been postmaster at Cross Hollows. From 1881 until 1906 the Post Office moved from one location to another in Rogers, setting down in the store front of whoever was the postmaster. Finally in 1906 a permanent location was established on First Street, where it remained until 1919 when the building was built at Poplar and South Second streets. A reporter for the Rogers Democrat described the Georgian Revival building as being made of "mat-faced red brick, laid in white mortar; is steam heated, electric lighted, and is modern in every detail; thus affording the force to carry on their duties to a better advantage than ever as everything is now for their convenience."
McClanahan's grandfather, Claude M. Williams Sr. -- who was born in 1893 in a log cabin in Boston, Ark. -- was postmaster from 1925 to 1935, she picks up the story.
"He had moved to Rogers at the end of World War I, around 1919, and married Opal Karnes, daughter of a Rogers realtor for whom Claude worked for a time," she says. "Claude was very involved as a community leader from the beginning. Postmasters were political appointees, appointed by the president of the United States, so you had to be nominated by either city officials or be influential in the same political party as the president. This was before it became a civil service position. During his time as postmaster, Claude completed law school by taking a correspondence course and upon passing the bar, was appointed city attorney as well as being postmaster. He resigned in 1935 to open a law office on Walnut Street and practice law full time."
McClanahan's father, Richard E. "Dick" Williams, Claude's son, picked up the torch, becoming postmaster in 1953 and serving until 1981 -- making him, she says, "Rogers' longest-serving postmaster."
"He married Sally Rand, granddaughter of J.O. Rand, in 1947; Sally taught school in Rogers for 33 years and was a well known and loved Rogers teacher," McClanahan says. "During his tenure, the post office became more mechanized, saw a huge volume increase because of the arrival of Daisy Manufacturing and oversaw the building of and move to the new post office on West Walnut and Seventh streets in 1962."
Among the artifacts included in the museum exhibit is a stamp moistener used by Postmaster Claude Williams, Wendling says, along with the clerk's desk used at the original Post Office building and a letter giving instructions for the use of the first car on a rural route in 1911.
"My favorite part of any exhibit is always the artifacts, the real stuff," Wendling says. "It's the artifacts that bring the words on the information panels alive and make [the exhibit] more accessible and relatable."
"I would like for people to gain an appreciation for the significance of the mail service in the daily lives of people living in early Rogers during the late 1800s through the 1960s, the role it played in everyday life and how the mail service was part of the railroad history as well," McClanahan says. "Also, I hope people gain an understanding of the importance of the old post office building on Second and Poplar, its architectural importance as an historic building and will honor that significance when it is once again put to a new purpose for downtown Rogers."
NAN Our Town on 05/16/2019
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