Pictures of the Past 

Pictures of the Past 

By Sonia Duggan

In the heart of downtown Farmersville, the post office stands as a testament to the past, its interior meticulously preserved as it was in 1939. 

Walking through its doors, visitors are greeted by a nostalgic ambiance, complete with original fixtures and a stunning mural from 1941, making it not just a place for mail but a living museum of local history.

The origins of mail delivery in Farmersville trace back to 1845, a time when Texas was still a young state, to a settlement known as Sugar Hill, the epicenter of East Collin County’s early community life. 

In documentation submitted for a State of Texas historical marker for the Farmersville Post Office, Collin County Historical Commission member Linda Hess wrote multiple pages documenting its history.

 “After a saloon brawl on Christmas Eve in 1854, which killed several participants, Sugar Hill residents moved from the trading center and established the town of Farmersville,” Hess said. 

With the establishment of the Farmersville Post Office in May 1857, just two and a half miles away from Sugar Hill, Thomas E. Sherwood became the first of many dedicated postmasters who shaped its narrative over the years. 

According to Hess, Sherwood was succeeded by William A. Gotcher in 1859 who donated land for the town square of Farmersville that same year. He served as postmaster for one year and was succeeded by Samuel R. Jones. 

In 1894, the suicide of William H. Chapman within the confines of the post office itself, prompted its relocation to the north side of the square. 

“Tragically, another postmaster, Huge Simon, killed himself in the post office, which was located on South Main Street in the building that was next to the Farmersville Insurance in 1930,” Hess said. 

It wasn’t until the dawn of the depression era that the town received a new landmark thanks to the construction of a new post office at 213 McKinney Street, property once occupied by a log corn crib.

With aid from federal initiatives, the new post office was built by the Stephens Brown Construction Company with guidance from Construction Engineer Robert C. Schacher. Construction began in February 1939 and was completed September 1939 for a cost of $48,992. 

An Open House was held a week before construction was completed, marking a milestone in the town’s history, drawing crowds of spectators to view its modern amenities and striking neoclassical architecture. 

According to Hess, Postmaster M. B. Smith and other Farmersville citizens were hosts at the informal occasion. Tours of the new building were given which included modern postal equipment in the work room, a beautifully decorated postmaster’s office, three stock and storage rooms in the basement and a boiler room heating plant. 

Hess noted the north half of the basement housed the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) assembly room for farmers, which was furnished with 100 chairs and other furniture for the AAA local committee.

The federal dedication of the building was delayed so Congressman Sam Rayburn could be present, said Hess, adding, “Postmaster Smith said that through Congressman Rayburn’s efforts, ‘Farmersville was given this beautiful post office.’”

The following December, Postmaster Smith greeted Congressman Rayburn at the new federal building before the Christmas Parade, said Hess, where he spoke to a crowd of over 10,000 and pledged to fight for peace.      

New Deal programs

The federal government embarked on a groundbreaking initiative to bring economic relief during the Great Depression by creating job programs for Americans. The New Deal art programs provided work for jobless artists and elevated the quality of life for all citizens by embracing the creative contributions of artists. As part of this movement, murals and sculptures found their way into various public spaces, including post offices, courthouses, libraries and schools.

There were four programs that made this possible: Public Works of Art Project, 1933-1934, The Section of the Fine Arts, 1934-1943, Treasury Relief Art Project, 1935-1938, and the Works Progress Administration-Federal Art Project, 1935-1943.

According to the Texas Historical Commission, most of the post office works of art were funded through commissions under the Treasury Department’s “The Section” of Fine Arts. Some artists were picked from anonymous competitions, then commissioned to do the work.

Artists were often compensated for creating works specifically for post offices or federal buildings. According to the National Postal Museum, “one percent of the building’s construction budget was allocated for embellishment, which included paying the artists.”

Additionally, mural artists received guidelines and themes to follow for their projects, with a preference for depicting scenes of local interest and events. Artists invited to submit design sketches for a particular post office were often urged to visit the site. 

“Once awarded a commission, the mural artist engaged in an often-lengthy negotiation between the Post Office Department, the town, and The Section before finally getting the finished mural on the wall,” reported the museum.

According to Hess, when the Open House was held for the new post office, the mural in the lobby had not been painted. But Jerry Bywaters, a Paris, Texas artist, had been commissioned by The Section to paint the mural.

In 1941, Bywaters’ 11-foot wide mural titled “Soil Conservation in Collin County” was installed at the Farmersville Post Office above the postmaster’s office door. The mural depicts a blend of farming practices and pastoral landscapes and served not only as an aesthetic marvel, but also as a subtle call to embrace contour plowing, a technique promoted by the federal government to save the land and prevent soil erosion. 

“Despite the obvious signs of power plowing in the mural, the artist kept images of tractors out of the picture, as the postmaster requested,” noted Hess. “The civil servant wanted chickens included in his post office mural, and as a nostalgic nod to small farms in an age of increasing mechanization, Bywaters complied.”

Bywaters, a Southern Methodist University graduate, was a renowned regionalist and muralist. 

After studying at the New York Art Students League and traveling extensively, Bywaters organized artists to paint Fair Park buildings for the Texas Centennial and co-founded the Lone Star Printmakers. 

Bywaters successfully completed six projects in Texas, including a series of panels with Alexandre Hogue depicting events in Dallas history. Although destroyed, portions of those murals have since been recreated and now are on display at Dallas’ Union Station, according to Dallas City Hall.

Bywaters’ other most notable murals include those in the Trinity and Quanah, Texas post offices.

According to the Bullock Museum, “Texas was awarded 106 artworks for 69 post offices and federal buildings through New Deal programs, centered on scenes from ‘better times’ to show how the present would itself pass into history with ‘better times’ ahead.”

One of the few post office murals based on a particular event is in McKinney. The former post office, now the Collin County History Museum, houses a mural “Confederate Company Leaving McKinney” painted by artist Frank Klepper in 1934. It depicts an 1864 scene witnessed by his grandmother on the McKinney Courthouse Square. 

Now decades later, the New Deal art programs are still remembered for bringing fine art out of the confines of museums and into the heart of communities like Farmersville and McKinney, exposing millions to the transformative power of artistic expression. 

In Farmersville, the post office stands as an elegant  historical landmark on the downtown square. And although Hess reported the federal government wouldn’t approve the placement of a Texas Historical Marker, it continues to symbolize the town’s rich history and resilient spirit.