Cultural Resources Department
At the Town of Boone Cultural Resources Department, we strive to ensure that history, the arts, and culture thrive in our community. We work with the diverse cultural groups of Boone to enhance the quality of life, highlight our unique community character, and drive the local economy and tourism. It is our goal to encourage the development of our cultural facilities in order to meet the needs of the local community and visitors to Boone.
In addition to managing the Jones House, the Cultural Resources Department oversees three historic facilities in Boone. Contact us today to learn how you can participate in our arts and cultural activities.
The Rivers’ home was built in 1929 by Robert Campbell Rivers, Jr., the first publisher of Boone’s Watauga Democrat Newspaper as well as publisher of the Blowing Rock Rocket and Avery Journal in Newland. Eventually his daughter, author Rachel Rivers-Coffey, and her husband, photographer and reporter Paul Armfield Coffey, took over ownership and publication of the newspaper. Rachel and Paul published the newspaper until they sold the company in 1994. It was Rachel Rivers-Coffey’s wish to donate her family’s property and house to the Town of Boone. The Town accepted the property as a piece of local history and to preserve the natural beauty of the property for the citizens of and visitors to Boone.
Daniel Boone Park
The Daniel Boone Park is one of Boone’s cultural gems. Situated at the top of Horn in the West Drive, the park offers visitors special events, stunning views, and a number of family-friendly activities. The 36.5-acre park was purchased in 1957 by the Town of Boone from James B. and Carrie W. Winkler to be used for recreation, education, and historical purposes.
It is home to the gorgeous scenery of the Daniel Boone Native Gardens, a project of the Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc. Jayces Park provides a playground for our younger patrons while the historic Strawberry Hill overlook grants visitors a breathtaking view of Boone. On Saturdays May to November, the Watauga County Farmer’s Market offers up local produce, food, and crafts and in summer the park’s Daniel Boone Amphitheater houses the Horn in the West outdoor drama. Stop by today to see what the park has to offer.
Downtown Post Office
The following is a brief history of the downtown Boone Post Office as written by Eric Plaag, a local historian and historical consultant.
Boone’s United States Post Office building, begun in 1938 and completed in 1940, is in many ways the culmination of nearly 200 years of postal history in this small mountain community. Beginning in July 1823, Jordan Councill operated a post office out of his general store in vicinity of downtown Boone, back when the community was still known as “Councill’s Store.” The post office would remain in Jordan Councill’s building even after the community’s name changed to Boone in 1850.
Eighty-seven years later, when increasing postal volume strained the ability of Boone’s existing post office building to handle the volume, local residents pushed for a continuation of the link between the Councill name and postal operations. The building that now stands on West King Street, begun in 1938 and completed in 1940, lies on land acquired from Emma Councill, the widow of J.D. “Crack” Councill, who for many years operated a blacksmith shop on the property fronting on Depot Street.
The acquisition of this land and the erection of a new post office at the height of the Great Depression were in many ways the consequence of good political connections. Robert L. Doughton, Watauga County’s representative to the U.S. House in 1937 and the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, successfully pushed the Construction of Public Buildings Act through Congress, which authorized acquisition of Works Progress Administration funding for a number of post offices throughout the state, including the one proposed for Boone.
By August 1937, Boone’s funding was appropriated, and the federal government acquired the selected Councill property on November 18, 1938. While the Boone Post Office is one of the most impressive surviving WPA projects in the area, it was certainly not the only one built during this period. Others included portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Watauga County Hospital (now Founders Hall) in 1936, Appalachian High School (now Chapell Wilson Hall) in 1937, Cove Creek School in 1938, the old Watauga County Library in 1938. These various resources – including Boone’s stunning post office – are tangible evidence of the dramatic ways in which WPA funds greatly improved the lives of Watauga County and Boone citizens whose economic fortunes had been sent reeling by the Great Depression.
Built in the Colonial Revival style with a dressed ashlar stone façade, the design was the creation of the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, led by architect Louis A. Simon (1867-1958). Boone’s post office plans were probably a slight variation of a standard Treasury Department design for post offices of this era, modified to account for the unusually spacious project site and the use of local stonemasons Earl and Clarence Lyons, whose work was well known throughout the region, and Watauga County native Willard Watson, whose handmade wooden toys would later be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution. When the building was completed and ready for dedication on April 10, 1940, a crowd of more than 3,000 people assembled to hear Postmaster General James A. Farley’s dedicatory remarks – an impressive crowd given Boone’s population of approximately 2,500 at the time, but it may have been swelled by Farley’s recent announcement of his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President. Farley’s visit, in fact, the first time that a presidential candidate had ever visited Boone. Representative Doughton was also on hand for the festivities.
Unlike the building itself, the post office’s famous lobby mural was cloaked in controversy when it was first designed. As part of a national 1939 contest sponsored by the WPA and the Treasury Department, artists were invited to submit proposed designs that would be used in the lobby of a single post office in each state. Perhaps because of Doughton’s connections to Watauga County, Boone’s post office was selected to receive North Carolina’s WPA mural from the contest. Alan Tompkins of Stratford, Connecticut, submitted the winning design for Boone’s post office and collected a commission of $740 – a substantial sum for the time. Tompkins’ initial painting, along with those for the other forty-seven states, was published in the December 4, 1939, issue of Life magazine.
Commissioned for the east wall of the post office lobby, the mural’s original design was not nearly as popular with local residents as the building itself had been. The Watauga Democrat, for example, complained about the “so-called painting which portrays a couple of hungry-looking tobacco growers in a ‘low-land’ field” and concluded that “as far as the artistic imagination goes, the thing stinks.” Boone Postmaster Wiley Hartzog expressed concern to the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts that the image of a tobacco field had little to do with Boone’s mountainous region and culture. In response to these criticisms, federal officials brought Tompkins to Boone to consult with locals and fashion a new concept. The present mural is the result of that consultation, including Daniel Boone’s depiction in a broad-skimmed hat, which Tompkins selected because “history tells us that (Boone) hated the coonskin cap in which he is so often depicted, and never wore one.” The mural is the only example of more than forty New Deal art works designed for North Carolina post offices that survives in the northwest part of the state.
With the construction of a new postal facility on Blowing Rock Road in the 1970s, downtown merchants and community leaders feared the closure of the King Street Post Office and successfully lobbied Congressman James Broyhill to keep the facility open, not only because of its functional importance to downtown, but also because of its significant architectural and artistic components. Indeed, as Boone has rapidly developed over the past three decades, the Boone Post Office has survived while many of Downtown Boone’s other historic buildings have disappeared. While the leaders and citizens have seen firsthand in the fate of another Boone landmark, the Daniel Boone Hotel, that listing on the National Register alone – contrary to popular misconception – does not ensure the preservation of our community’s vital historic resources.
Accordingly, when the United States Post Office again threated to close the facility and sell the property to developers in 2009, Boone’s Historic Preservation Commission and the Town of Boone moved quickly to acquire the property for $1.25 million and establish a long-term lease with the USPS that will preserve both the building’s primary function and its architectural and artistic resources. As part of this initiative, the Town of Boone began an extensive restoration project that included asbestos, lead paint, and mold remediation as well as the preservation of many of the building’s essential architectural components, including its original interior service windows, the original vault, original walls, flooring, and window glass where possible, and the building’s original stunning exterior stonework and weather vane. In addition, the basement of the post office was rehabilitated to make room for the Town of Boone Planning and Inspections Department, thus providing the community with much-needed town government office space at a minimal cost. The famous WPA lobby mural is also scheduled for restoration in the near future.
When Postmaster General Farley spoke at the Boone Post Office dedication in 1940, he presided the new postal facility for its “elegance and design (that) will stand as a constant reminder of the power and dignity of the government of the United States,” remind Boone’s residents that the entire point of such a facility was that it be dedicated to “the use of all the people, rich or poor, strong or weak, Democrat or Republican.” Seventy-three years later, the preservation of the Boone Post Office from the developer’s wrecking ball and its re-dedication today as both a post office and the home of some of our town’s government offices is a strong validation of Farley’s vision for our community. Indeed, by preserving our past in tangible, meaningful ways, we remind Boone’s future generations of who we were, who we are, and how we became such a robust, resilient, and thriving community in western North Carolina’s rugged mountains.
For more information about the Cultural Resources Department, please contact the Jones House at 828.268.6280.