There was a time when neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would keep Baysiders and Parksiders from their favorite neighborhood Post Office on Cumberland Ave.
Wait!—Isn’t the Post Office on FOREST Avenue? Yep, it is, now. But for many years, from 1921 to 1934, Portland’s busiest downtown Post Office was the graceful brick building that still stands at the corner of Cumberland and Forest Avenues.
“Station A of the Portland Post Office went into commission as a duly authorized office today,” proclaimed the Eastern Argus newspaper in December of 1921, “and is ready to perform the many functions of any first class office.” Downtown businesses took to it immediately, and it was a bustling place indeed.
In those days Portland’s main post office was a pillared temple of white marble on Middle St. at the corner with Exchange St., today the site of Post Office Park. Built in 1871 atop the ruins of Portland’s Great Fire of 1866, it stood as the symbol of midtown recovery in the days of sailing ships and horse-drawn traffic.
Although beautiful, by 1920, the cramped, columned building could expand no more and was a bottleneck for cars flocking there from “the congestion and inconvenience of many of the business houses on Congress Street,” said the paper.
“Business interests and the Portland Chamber of Commerce took the matter under advisement,” and many city sites were inspected. But long-term leases ran afoul of U.S. government policy, and business eyes turned westward down the peninsula. There they lighted upon a fine brick structure sitting in what were still some open pastures above the then-brand-new Deering Oaks Park
Built as a private home about 1880, 415 Cumberland Ave. shows up in photos of the 1886 Portland City Centennial Parade amid children waving little U.S. flags, and floats on horse-draw wagons. Owned by businessman Albert S. Rines, the building was chosen to serve as the post office because it was “not far distant from Congress Street, taking into consideration the advance of business houses to the westward of our city,” said the Argus.
“The structure was little changed from outward appearance with exception of a small addition” (today visible on the Forest Ave. side) and “all the furniture and equipment of wood and finished in natural grain has been installed, made to measure and expressly for this office. It runs the complete width of the building, there being various windows for the several departments.
“New cases have been installed, also racks for holding the pouches. [Here] the business may be carried on with dispatch.”
And indeed it was. Carriers still delivered mail only out of Middle Street, but in those pre-UPS days, parcel post and stamp sales centered on Cumberland Ave., and a classic photo still preserved by the Forest Ave. Post Office shows a fleet of a dozen Fords and a score of delivery men posing proudly before 415 Cumberland, loaded with packages.
Manager Louis W. Melaugh, clerk in charge, reported that the place was happy and humming on Christmas and holidays, open 7 AM to 7 PM six days a week.
This was Portland’s second-busiest post office until the current massive brick building on Forest Ave., a WPA project under President Roosevelt’s New Deal, was built in 1931-1934. The last day’s mail left the Middle Street structure, and the last parcel post from the Cumberland Ave. office, both functions switching officially to Forest Ave. overnight on January 21, 1934.
Since then 415 Cumberland has called a variety of businesses home, including the showroom for Thos. Moser’s elegant Maine furniture, a colorful art gallery, and the busy Hurley’s Travel Agency. The rear ell has featured a ballroom dance studio, a weight-training room, and a thrift shop storefront.
Today, over 80 years on, few may remember when Christmas presents, Easter cards, and Valentine chocolates moved by flivvers out to happy households through busy Cumberland Ave. Soon, new development may fill the building, and new life may return to an old place.
It is all part of the ongoing story of our part of the ever-changing West End, this corridor where the Parkside and Bayside neighborhoods meet and shake hands as they have for over a century.
[Editor’s Note: The full story of the controversial building of the current Forest Avenue U.S. Post Office in Bayside appeared under Herb’s byline in one of the very first Baysiders, Vol. 1, No. 3, in April 2001! Read it for all the colorful details about our busy neighborhood!]