For Lewes resident Bruce Chandler, a 100-year-old building standing in the middle of town is a gem that should be on display.
“I go to the post office every day. The building is right in the center of town, and I thought we could make it look better than it does,” Chandler said. His idea is that if overgrown trees and shrubbery were removed, people would notice Lewes’ U.S. Postal Service building and appreciate its architecture.
It's an idea that quickly went viral.
Chandler, a professional woodworker, asked friend Tim Cisco, owner of Lewes-area Cisco’s Tree Service, if he could help.
He also asked J. Kevin McBride, a landscape architect and owner of Lewes-based Renaissance Design Studio, if he could lend a hand.
Both men said yes and, through word of mouth, help with the project came from everywhere.
McBride said every business that has been asked to participate has said yes.
“Once Bruce had the idea, everybody wanted in on it,” he said.
Among those who have agreed to bring know-how and materials to the project are Rich Bell, owner of Clean Cut Interlocking Pavers; Doug Brown, owner of Brown Electrical Service; Valery and Rick Cordrey, owners of East Coast Nursery; Warren Golde, a Lewes in Bloom volunteer; Don Irelan, of Irelan Masonry; John Peterson, owner of J.H. Peterson Plumbing; and Terry Bomar, installation manager for Sposato Landscaping.
The project is named POP – Preserve Our Post Office – and will cost an estimated $26,000. With in-kind donations of $16,000 from participating businesses, POP is working to raise the remaining $10,000.
Thus far, the group has about $2,000.
In keeping with the post office building’s 100th anniversary, the organization wants100 people to donate $100 to meet the goal.
POP is also mailing letters to about 400 potential donors describing the project and requesting donations.
“It’s great to live in Lewes; it’s a place where people care,” Chandler said.
Chandler said he also wants to explore ways to attract money for interior restoration. On his own, he has restored interior sconces and polished the main entrance’s handrails. “Those things are solid brass,” he said.
A bath will also be included as part of the building’s makeover. “We’re going to pressure wash the entire building,” Chandler said. After cleaning, local mason Don Irelan and crew will replace missing brick mortar.
“As busy as everybody is, they’re taking time off from their paying jobs to work on this, to give back to the community. I think that’s cool,’ McBride said.
Public building with class
Lewes’ post office building is a one-century-old structure that is a good example of American architectural opulence in the 1900s.
“It started as a hole in the ground,” said Bill Osienski, Lewes postmaster. Mike DiPaolo, Lewes Historical Society executive director, has shown Osienski photos of post office construction from the society’s collection.
Built in 1913, the massive, brick, neo-Georgian building is a commanding presence facing Front Street and bordered by Bank Street on one side and Neils Alley on the other.
Osienski, who took over as Lewes postmaster in December transferring from the Mendenhall, Pa. post office said the building’s materials and workmanship are outstanding.
“Just look at how wide that baseboard is,” Osienski said, pointing out 10-inch wide, hardwood baseboard that rings the office. An old, walnut round-back chair is the visitor’s seat.
Chandler said the building’s interior unpainted trim work is tiger striped oak. Those who look up will see painted, dentil crown moldings. He said the building also contains marble and granite elements.
Tiger oak trims the doorway of the walk-in vault inside the postmaster’s office.
“That’s where I keep the stamps. We don’t keep any money here,” Osienski said. Gone are the days when robbers targeted post offices for cash.
He said nearly every item in the building has a label or tag reading: Property of U.S. Post Office.
Osienski said he’s always coming across something in the basement; he calls it the dungeon.
“I found some blueprints for the building and they’re still blue,” Osienski said. He’s also found odd, old keys; a dried-out leather letter carrier’s satchel; a solid brass, 4-inch-long oval letter carrier’s ID, and a stack of old FBI most wanted fliers, which are no longer posted in post offices.
During the Cold War in the 1960s, the building was a designated bomb shelter. An old black and yellow civil defense sign is still attached.
McBride said all existing plantings would be removed and replaced with new plants from East Coast Nursery near Millsboro, owned by Rick and Valerie Cordrey.
“Rick and Valerie have been very generous in giving us a discount on plants,” McBride said.
The discount is significant given the quantity and varieties of plantings he plans to use.
Because it is a two-story building with 8-foot ground-floor windows, McBride said he plans to use river birches on each corner to keep plantings and structure in scale.
Among plants he plans to use are American holly, hosta, Oriental magnolia, crepe myrtle, Knock Out roses, camellias, butterfly bush, dogwood, iris, phlox, hibernum and others.
Lewes in Bloom, the city’s volunteer, national award- winning, green thumb and beautification organization, will provide ongoing care for plantings, McBride said.
Those who would like to make a tax-deductible donation may write checks to and send them to: POP Funds at the Greater Lewes Foundation, P.O. Box 110, Lewes, DE, 19958.
For additional information, leave a message for Chandler at 302-645-2692 or go to www.greaterlewesfoundation.org.