New Deal in Mississippi: Old Batesville Post Office

Batesville old post office

The former post office in Batesville is in the town area known as Public Square, and is one of the more imaginative and attractive post office buildings constructed under the New Deal administration.  The slight arch of the recessed windows and the dentil detail alone make the building stand out.

The railroad bisected the square, and runs parallel to this street.  On the day I was there, a large Farmer’s Market was operating on the Square, and it was very active for a very hot day, but reflected what a public space in any town should: service to and use by the community.  The Postal Service appears to have lost sight of that fact in its efforts to both sell and close historic post offices throughout the country–a major loss to their communities.

The mural that occupied this building–Cotton Plantation, by Eve Kottgen, completed in 1942, is now hidden from public view, last known whereabouts on the work floor of the new post office building where it was moved in 1998 (livingnewdeal.org).  Of course, as has been discussed previously here, the depiction of the South was not always welcomed–then or now.  One photographer reported visitors to the mural were welcomed, and another, that he was not allowed on the floor, but the postmaster took a photograph for him.  Although none of the photographs were particularly clear and visible, the best one is at newdealartregistry.org(Addendum: a better photograph is visible in the link to the article “Windows on the Past.” )

The fate of the murals in the Berkeley, CA, and Bronx, NY, historic post offices remains unknown at this point as the post office proceeds with its plans for closure and sale of the buildings against the wishes of their communities.  It is a preservation issue (and a postal service issue) that may be coming to your town sooner than you think.

lower level

The one-story brick building has a basement, accessible from the front of the building.  Letitia Parham Wright (National Register of Historic Places nomination form, February 15, 2003) described the features:

a copper visor over the front entrance…recessed windows…decorative dentil work around the top perimeter and between recessed window openings…iron railing on front facade.

The architect, as many of the other New Deal post offices in Mississippi, was Louis A. Simon, Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury.  The builder/contractor was H. D. White & Company, from Chicago (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory database).  The building currently houses a law office.

 



Categories: Batesville, Historic Preservation, New Deal, Post Offices

9 replies

  1. Oh, this is a beautiful mural, despite it’s subject matter. Too bad it’s in a place where the public can’t see it.

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    • Eve Kottgen was born in London, England, and lived in New York. I think she is an example of some of the artists whose work, while artistically done, did not necessarily mean they understood the reality of the area. Only a couple of artists who did Mississippi murals were actually Mississippi artists. I did locate a better photograph of the mural at the linkhttp://www.research.olemiss.edu/UMQuest/2004/Fall/windows_on_the_past.html

      I will update it in the article.

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  2. It is a beautiful mural! Maybe it isn’t too realistic, but it seems that often in art work (and other genres) the artist tends to gloss over the harshness of everyday life. TV shows/movies do the same thing when they depict people with perfect homes and perfect hair!

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    • True; I was actually thinking about it while reading the article that said she had been criticized for “romanticizing” cotton picking. I can understand the criticisms of the mural in the Jackson courthouse, or some of the ones that really were not accurate depictions, but I didn’t see anything romantic about the mural. My parents picked cotton, and that is what it looked like.

      By the way, my house and my hair are both perfect. Aren’t yours?

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      • I looked at the mural again (I never tire of looking at them) and this time I’m a little more focused. I will have to say that it is realistic in its depiction of cotton fields. To the casual observer, unfamiliar with farm work, it would appear to be an almost idyllic setting however, picking cotton is hard, dirty work (even if you have equipment with an air-conditioned cab!). I don’t see anything romantic about the mural, but it does tie together the economy supported by cotton and the importance of the river. Maybe it is the serenity of the river in the background that lends the peacefulness to the mural.

        And, yes my house looks just like the ones on tv and my make up is always perfect :)

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        • James “Super Chikan” Johnson, a Mississippi Delta blues man, sings a song about the cotton picking days under the share cropping system. One line always fascinated me: “how can the blues be so pretty and white; I see cotton in my sleep at night.”

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  3. da relist 1. this is actually on thepublic square so its in full public view all of the time :)

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    • Actually, Tabatha, the mural is not located on the pubic square as it is no longer in this building, and the building itself is no longer a public building. The mural was moved to the new post office on Lakewood Drive in 1998, nowhere near downtown, and placed in the workroom, out of sight of the post office lobby where patrons can visit. The former post office on the public square is now privately owned and is used as a law office.

      At one time at least, people were allowed to view the mural by being escorted onto the workroom floor of the new post office. More recent reports have indicated the requests to view the mural have been denied. What was billed as “art for the people” and intended to be readily viewable in public spaces, i.e., post offices, courthouses, etc., has over the years in many locations no longer been accessible, for many reasons. Some are similar to Batesville where the building is no longer used as a post office, or the artwork itself has been “placed in storage” or destroyed. When a post office is sold with a mural in it, the post office can give permission for it to remain in the building if the new owners commit to preserve it. That still does not render it with public access unless the new owner grants it.

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  4. Bob Ferguson’s Eleven-cent Cotton, Forty-cent Meat.

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