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Post office has evolved in 100 years

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

An extremely important building in downtown New Braunfels has been saved and renovated by Pat and Becky Wiggins. It is the old Post Office building on the corner of Castell and Mill. It now serves a new purpose, being McAdoo’s Restaurant. The owners are applying for a subject marker with the Texas Historical Commission. This subject marker commemorates the postal system in New Braunfels.

In his 8th report to the Adelsverein, Prince Carl said that some postal arrangements had to be made between Galveston and the new settlement of NB “since the Texas Post is dependent on the weather and more or less on the amount of whiskey the mail driver had consumed and could, therefore, be very uncertain.”

Perhaps Prince Carl’s statement had something to do with the location of the very first post office. Count Arnold-Henkel von Donnersmark came to NB with Prince Carl and built a hotel/saloon on a lot across the street from the present McAdoo’s Restaurant. Donnersmark made quite a lot of money by buying barrels of whiskey in San Antonio and selling it to emigrants. Von Donnersmark’s building served as the first post office in the new settlement with C. W. Thomae acting as the first postmaster. In 1851 Adolph Benner became the next postmaster, and when he died, his wife became the first post- mistress (There was only one other woman serving as postmistress in NB – Charlsie Witham in 1927). Mrs. Louise Benner served until after the Civil War, at which time she was replaced by Christian Holtz. During Reconstruction, all public servants that had served in the Confederacy were replaced.

After that, the post office was in various places -the bus station, the courthouse, Seele’s residence, and Pfeuffer’s store. In 1915, Pres. Woodrow Wilson signed a law appropriating $50,000 to build a post office in New Braunfels. The Secretary of Treasury at that time in charge of post offices was, surprise, William G. McAdoo, hence the later McAdoo’s Restaurant.

The lot for the new building was purchased from Adolph Henne who also owned the lot across the street where the Donnersmark building had been. The San Antonio firm of Weston & Kroeger bid of $40,949 was accepted and the work was to be completed in 15 months. Supervisor for the whole construction job was Murray M. Davis.
The post office in downtown served the community of NB from 1915 to 1985 at which time, needing more space, it moved to Seguin St. where it remains. The old building was eventually sold to Pat and Becky Wiggins who took on the gigantic task of restoration.

After months the restaurant opened for business. All furnishings inside the building had been removed. Every bit of metal, including inside doors and wood was restored, repurposed or put in storage. The long leaf pine floors were preserved as was the Marble Falls pink and grey granite. Some of the grey granite from the restrooms was used as the bar countertop. Outside the back door was the loading area which is now the porch. In one corner of this porch, you can see a hot water heater. It’s not any old hot water heater; it was used to burn trash to heat water for the showers. I know, you’re thinking they burned garbage. No, there wasn’t much of anything in the post office except paper.

To the right of the lobby on the first floor was where money was handled – savings bonds, money orders, etc. This is now the bar. Behind the lobby in the back half of the building was the workroom and also female employee restroom. To the left of the lobby was the postmaster’s office with private bathroom.

To me, the most interesting section of the post office was the basement. It was not accessible to the public when it was a post office. It was as large as the building upstairs. There was a Civil Service room where people could apply for federal jobs and take care of anything that had to do with the federal government. The basement housed a giant boiler with its coal fuel room.

There was a room that was called the swing room. Working shifts, sometimes 12 hours, with no air conditioning, the letter carriers often rested in the swing room. There was a shower for them to bathe in the men’s restroom nearby.

Now we come to a really intriguing practice in those days. The postmaster’s office on the first floor had a closet that was always locked. On the other side of this door was a ladder that led to the passageway called a lookout on the building plan, but mostly called the “catwalk” by those who knew about it. This catwalk was a passageway above the entire building, over all floors and even over the restrooms and extended into the basement. The catwalk was not lighted in order to keep a person from being seen as they looked down through louvered “peep holes”. The employees were being watched because a great deal of money was handled in the post office.

Once a month, unannounced, the postmaster, with the only key to the catwalk, was told to take the firemen and custodial staff to clean. The postmaster and his staff were also spied on by the representatives of the Federal Postal System. These men arrived during the night, entering from the basement into the catwalk and did their observing undetected, leaving again during the night. If you look up at the ceiling in the main restaurant, you can see double rails on which the catwalk hung. The Wiggins’ removed the catwalk. Thank you!

By 1984 the old post office had run out of room. The building was sold and a new post office was built on Seguin Ave. When you are at McAdoo’s, look around and you can appreciate the amount of work that went into this project. The historical marker will commemorate 100 years of this building in 2015.

Dedication of the New Braunfels Post Office at 196 N. Castell St. in 1916.

Dedication of the New Braunfels Post Office at 196 N. Castell St. in 1916.