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Public Safety Building
Photograph by Kathleen McKenney, courtesy of the City of Cumberland

Public Safety Building
Photograph by Kathleen McKenney, courtesy of the City of Cumberland

The Public Safety Building, originally built as a United States Post Office, stands today as one of Cumberland's only physical links to the Federal government. For a large part of U.S. history, the postal system has served as the only means of affordable long distance communication. Politically, the U.S. government used post offices as tangible reminders to otherwise isolated communities of the role and ideals of American democracy. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Congressman used the establishment of post offices and postal service as way to win favor with voters. To many Americans in small towns, the U.S. Post Office was the Federal government.

The buildings constructed for use as post offices have reflected various government and architectural philosophies. Beginning in the 1850s, the U.S. Treasury Department controlled the design of all new Federal buildings. In 1859, James Knox Taylor became supervising architect of the Treasury. During his 53-year tenure, Taylor's architectural designs promoted the concept that government buildings should be monumental, represent the ideals of democracy, and set a standard for architectural sophistication in their communities. Taylor's buildings, as a rule, are "neo-classical" or "Georgian Revival" monuments that integrate Greek and Roman classical details into newer "modern" construction techniques.

In 1795, Cumberland, still a "frontier" village, opened its first U.S. Post Office in a log building. Six post offices and 100 years later, Cumberland was a booming transportation and industrial center. In 1895, the U.S. Congress authorized the erection of a large new post office and purchased a site from local real estate dealer and Republican party supporter John Holzshu for $20,000. Taylor's design closely follows his philosophies, and in 1904, the impressive Neo-classical Cumberland U.S. Post Office opened--with John Holzshu as Postmaster.

In 1934, the Federal government determined the building no longer suited its needs, and the city purchased the building to serve as headquarters for the police department, renaming it "The Public Safety Building." Later, the city converted the building for use as a senior citizen's center, and as the headquarter's of Cumberland's Human Resource Development Commission.

The former Public Safety building is located at 19 Frederick St. Although tours are not available, the building is open to the public during regular business hours.


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