Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Is this going to be lost too ?

...the old post office is 99 years old

The Old Post Office, Mayaro. Photo: Richard Charan


IF that sagging old post office in Mayaro could speak, it would be barely over the level of a pained whisper.

It's timber is 99 years old and, like an old man with many ailments, the building has bowed and quieted, unable to help itself, but filled with memories of past glory.

 From its hilltop perch now known as Old Post Office Hill, the building has watched over the people of Pierreville for close to a century, a witness to their social progress, and to their struggles.

 It would have known just about every resident by name and relation, as they came to pick up and deposit the mail.

It was in a time before the letter carrier began making door-to-door trips, and when the mail bags came by cart travelling along Mayaro Trace, and later, on the midday bus from Rio Claro, where the train reached in 1898 after Knollys Tunnel was drilled through the hill in Tabaquite.

 It would have noted the changing fortunes of the village, once enriched by the cocoa and coconut economy, then impoverished by its decline. The post office could tell of the people who had left to make a life in Britain or the bigger Trinidad towns, and also those who had forsaken the place as being just too far from anywhere important.

The old Mayaro post office.

 It could tell you that when first opened, folks who lived in the neighbouring district of Radix began moving closer, and so many would relocate to lands surrounding the post office, that a primary school would also follow.

 And the post office would become the centre point—the beachfront of the Atlantic Ocean a kilometre to the east, the Ortoire River a kilometre or so to the west.

 It was then a beautiful property, planted with fruit trees and rose bush by post mistress Olga Cuffie.

  Cuffie would turn out to be the only person to ever administer the post office, which closed up and moved when she retired in 1948.

 No one has mourned this building's decline, or championed its historical importance, more than Michael Anthony, whose public campaign at the turn of the century saved the place from demolition, but not from continuing decay.

 Anthony, historian and prolific author, spent much of his childhood living next door to the post office (where he still owns a home) and credits Cuffie with introducing him to the books that filled his mind with wonder and the words that would keep him writing to this day, at age 88.

  At age six (in 1936), he had moved from the seaside to the house next to that post office, maintained by Cuffie “like a cherished castle”.

 And the Ortoire would be the setting for his most famous work “Green Days by the River” and for the movie that was made last year.

 

Yvette Anthony Drive, named after the deceased wife of author Michael Anthony.

The building, according to his research, was the work of Mayaro master craftsman Phillip Xavier, who had been contracted by the Public Works Department, after the post office at Radix village was robbed and the Colonial powers thought it prudent to construct a post office closer to the police station.

The building at Old Road was completed around 1919, and the area surrounding Post Office Hill would be named Pierreville after the then landowner Mano Pierre.

And Pierreville would become and remain Mayaro's biggest 'town'.

 In 1999, Anthony spoke up when talk started that the post station location was earmarked for a new fire station. It was of no great architectural value, but priceless since it represented the history of Pierreville, and worthy of conservation.

 The Mayaro Historical Society was formed to lobby for its restoration, and was able to save the building from demolition.

 In 2000, then-senator Wade Mark came to Mayaro for a ceremonial handing over of the key to the building. Big plans were announced. It would be a museum to store the history of the east coast villages. It never happened.

 A contractor was employed to restore the structure. Some of the floor boards were changed before the contract ended.

 Then-minister Glenn Ramadharsingh, in 2011, said it would be the Museum of Economic History. It was never followed up. And the building continued to subside.

 That key handed over by Wade Mark would not be needed today.

 Anyone can walk in. Some of the floor boards are gone. The back of the building is boarded up. The porch leading to the main entrance is askew, the wooden columns rotted.

 The only permanent residents here now are a committee of vultures. The corbeaux live in the attic, and Anthony considers this the greatest indignity of all.

 The Rio Claro/Mayaro Regional Corporation has failed to help fix this. And because the town now revolves around the junction of Naparima/Mayaro Road and Guayaguayare Road, that old post office is now out of sight and out of mind.

Steelpans stored inside the old post office in Mayaro.

 

 In 2014, the National Trust published a Notice of Intention to list the Old Mayaro Post Office.

 

The National Trust is empowered to “preserving, maintaining, repairing and servicing or arranging for the preservation of property of interest other than land and, where such property of interest comprises buildings, augmenting the amenities of such buildings and their surroundings”.

 

 That too has brought no benefits to the building, which refuses to give up. It is being used this Carnival season for steel band practice, the structure still strong enough to support the pans and the players.

 

 If Trinidad and Tobago's history of conservation is any measure, there is little hope for the Old Post Office. It will cost a lot of money to restore it. The State can't afford it in these lean times, and local business interests have not yet stepped up.

The old post office in Manzanilla demolished in 2017. Painting by Richard Charan.

This building may very well go the way of its companion post office in Manzanilla, a building that was also nearing a century.

 While no one was watching last year, The old post office in Manzanilla was torn down. Nothing of it was saved.