Monday, December 11, 2017

Last chance for Mayaro’s old post office




The post office building in Mayaro from a photograph dating to the 1970s.

Donstan Bonn


Author and historian, who has lobbied for years for the preservation of the post office building.

Donstan Bonn


LANDMARK: Different views of Mayaro’s old post office. —Photos: Dexter Philip



Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn


Donstan Bonn

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 94 years old and, like an old man with many ailments, the building has bowed and quieted, awaiting the inevitable end. But what stories it could tell!

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 struggle.

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 Knolly’s 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.

It could tell you that, when first built in 1920, folks who lived in the neighbouring district of Radix began moving closer, with so many relocating to lands surrounding the post office that the primary school would also follow.

The post office became the centre of the town—the beachfront 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 very day, at age 84.

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”.

The building, according to his research, was the work of Mayaro master craftsman Phillip Xavier, who had been contracted by the Public Works Department to build the post office at Radix near the police station.

It was completed in 1919, but, due to some bureaucratic power play, occupied instead by district medical officer Armand Pampellone, who protested that his job was way more important than that of the post office boss and therefore needed comfortable accommodation.

He got his wish and Xavier was hired to build another post office building further inland on land leased by the Health Department.

Having saved the building from being demolished (the plan was for a doctor’s quarters), the Mayaro Historical Society was formed to lobby for its restoration.

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 contractor was fired. Someone thought it the best place for a fire station. That plan, too, the building avoided.

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 residents here 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.

In February, the National Trust published a Notice of Intention to list the Old Mayaro Post Office, along with Banwarie Trace (the site where human remains dating back 6,000 years were found), Fort King George, Fort Picton, the Royal Victoria Institute, Tranquillity Methodist Church, and Boissiere House.

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”.

So there may be hope yet that the building at Old Post Office Hill will survive.

UPDATE: Last week’s article, related to the bioluminescent glow in the Orotire River, Mayaro, has drawn thousands of people from across the country to the riverside at Mafeking Village and Cedar Grove Road. The phenomenon, caused by a tiny plankton that briefly glows when disturbed, happens at least once a decade in the upper reaches of the Ortoire, but for the first time has been revealed by residents.