MERRILL - Pushing 100-year-old light switches, walking up century-old narrow stairwells, and flipping more antique switches, all are part of a fun, daily trip back in time for Merrill Postmaster Joelle Nelson.
"I love old," Nelson said.
Nelson took over in Merrill three years ago, having worked in post offices in Wittenburg, Antigo, Wausau, and beyond. But she thinks this place simply can't be beat.
"This is the best building by far," Nelson said of her current home.
Monday, April 17, Nelson stamped letters and postcards to mark an important date: the 100-year anniversary of the post office opening on East 2nd Street.
"I'm hoping my home looks like this in 100," Nelson said. "It's not going to!"
The plaque on the outside of the building actually says 1915, but that's the year construction started. The post office was finished in 1917. Inside, Nelson knows of many hidden gems she's excited to show off.
A trip to the back rooms reveals locked passageways for postal inspectors to secretly observe employees through fake vents. Upstairs, an empty old safe with a huge iron door stands open. Glass cases in the lobby house pictures and items from 1917, 1967, and years in between. Nelson's favorite feature is a giant glass skylight in the main lobby.
"We've got marble on the walls, we've got old tiled floors, we've got big, thick woodwork--it's just a very neat building," Nelson said.
It's such a neat place, Merrill native Jane Francouer plans to make it a historical focal point this month.
"You don't appreciate the architecture in Merrill until you've been someplace, like out west where everything is new," Francouer said.
The Merrill Historical Society will use the post office as a starting and end point for the annual "History Hunt." This year, contestants will stop at 12 Lincoln County spots mainly in places where rural post offices used to be. But Merrill's post office keeps standing the test of time.
"It's really, really simple to just say, 'Oh this building is old and it needs work; let's tear it down and put something new,'" Francouer said. "When you do that, you lose so much of what our forefathers put into this place."
That's a history lesson not lost on Merrill's postmaster, going to work in a century-old building that is far from showing its age.
"I don't feel that the age of something determines what it's worth," Nelson said. "The older structures, to me, seem more solid.
"This building, by far, is the most beautiful building I have ever worked at."
The US Postal Service operates about 33,000 buildings nationwide. But only about 8,000--including Merrill's--are actually owned by the post office. Nelson says that ownership adds to the care the building gets.
More information about the Merrill History Hunt, including registration forms (which are due by April 27), can be found via the link below.
Merrill Historical Society History Hunt