On October 1, 1939, the Camas Main Post Office opens. Camas is located in Clark County on the north bank of the Columbia River. Following the official opening, on October 5, the post office hosts an open house for the public to tour the new building. The Classically designed and proportioned building will continue in operation as the main post office for Camas to the present. The post office was funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and has a noteworthy mural by Douglas Nicholson.
A Columbia River Community
The community of Camas is located less than 20 miles east of Vancouver. Exploration of the area began in 1792 when Lt. William R. Broughton of His Majesty’s British Navy and an accompanying party of sailors journeyed upstream from the mouth of the Columbia. Further exploration occurred in the early part of the nineteenth century when the Lewis and Clark party arrived in 1805.
Development in present-day Camas began in 1846 when Jacob Hansaker constructed a sawmill on the site. However, fire gutted the building, and thereafter the area lacked any industry until the arrival of the LaCamas Colony Company in 1883. The company laid out the original site for the town of Camas, formerly known as LaCamas, on September 10, 1883, after beginning construction on a paper mill and completing the first dam on Lackamas Lake. A. E. MacMaster opened the town’s first store in 1883 and the community built its first school building in 1886. The mill continued in its role as the community’s primary industry, expanding in size and scope over the years. In 1889, the mill employed 200 men.
Following the establishment of the mill, LaCamas (Camas) quickly grew in size and activity, reaching a population of 1,000 by the time Washington became a state in 1889. The community incorporated as a town in 1906 and changed its name to Camas in 1907. Even during the depression years of the 1930s, the mill and population of Camas continued to grow, reaching 4,433 residents in 1940 and 5,790 residents in 1970. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, Camas featured a population of 12,534.
You've Got Mail
The development of government institutions, such as the establishment of postal service in the region, occurred concurrently with the growth of the community’s business activities and population. The town’s first post office opened in MacMaster’s store in 1890, with Aaron F. Mills serving as postmaster.
In 1936, the federal government appropriated funds for several new buildings in the region under the WPA (Works Progress Administration). In Camas these included the construction of a new city water reservoir and a new junior high school. Camas experienced economic growth during this time, reflected in the increase of postal receipts from $18,567 in 1934 to $20,845 in 1935.
Elected as postmaster on April 7, 1936, Frank B. Collins encouraged Camas citizens to express the community’s need and support for a new post office. In August 1937, Camas, along with 30 other Washington communities, made the list of the House Appropriations Committee to receive a new post office building.
A September 10, 1937, article of the Camas Post-Record announced the approval for the new building, but progress stalled with budget decreases and a series of unfavorable construction bids. The site finally selected in March 1938 for the post office consisted of three lots on the corner of NE 5th and Dallas, costing $8,525. City planners proposed the Colonial style for the design for the new building.
The Camas Post-Record printed the plans for the new post office in a September 1938 issue, including a sketch for the building. Joseph H. Anderson won the bid for the building construction at $53,333, and work began in early 1939. A July 1939 article indicated a project completion date for September 1939.
Completed on-time, the post office opened on October 1 and held an open house for 500 citizens to tour the new building on October 5, 1939. U.S. Congressman Martin F. Smith, Second Assistant Postmaster Ambrose O’Connell, and Camas Postmaster Frank B. Collins, alongside an audience of 600, dedicated the new post office building for use on August 10, 1939.
WPA Post Office and Mural
The post office building features a handsome public lobby with stained mahogany window and door casings, pink marble wainscoting and terrazzo flooring. A mural, one of 18 commissioned in the state of Washington under the sponsorship of the Federal Works Agency Section of Fine Arts, prominently hangs on one wall in the lobby. Douglas Nicholson completed the mural, using egg tempera painted on canvas, in 1941. The mural, entitled Beginning of a New World, focuses on the land and Northwest resources. The mural depicts Northwest settlers and a Native American woman as well as local industries of lumber, dairying, fruit and grain, and fishing. The mural’s artist, Douglas Nicholson of Berkley, California, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1907 and studied at the University of California under H. Hofmann, W. Ryder, and R. Boynton. Nicholson exhibited his work at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1938 and served as an illustrator with the U.S. War Department in 1946.
The Camas Post Office building is remarkably intact, exhibiting only minimal changes over the years. Such changes include the expansion of the mailing platform to the rear of the building and a reconfiguration of the public lobby space for the addition of contemporary mailboxes.
The Camas Post Office is significant for its association with the New Deal arts programs of the 1930s as well as the commissioned mural, which is representative of other pieces of its type and artistic style.