Justin Grieving based on field report by Ed Chappell
Located in a prominent position on Market Street, the building that now serves as the Falmouth Post Office is one of the finest extant examples of merchant house-stores in the city. Thomas Robert Vermont, a senior resident magistrate of the local parish, built the house sometime after he purchased this lot in September 1832. Vermont died in 1865 and left this Falmouth house to Mrs. Mary Atkinson and her daughter Wilhemina [sic], both of whom had tended to the house when Vermont was away in England. Two stories of brick with bold architectural detailing, this building is different from the first generation of masonry and frame merchant houses like the earlier (1797) Moulton-Barrett House built just down the street. The large three-part window on the second story often signaled that the room behind was the best, most formal living space in a Falmouth residence of this period. The building is remarkable for its decorative details, such as the well-articulated classical door, the rough faceted masonry panels below smaller windows, and the quoins that emulate heavy stone blocks defining the building’s corners.
The loggia on the ground floor contains two conventional windows flanking a flush-panel double door with an iron-barred transom. Of note are the diagonal iron bars, used to close the window shutters (typical of the 19th century) and the means by which a wrought iron staple and bracket could bar the door; both iron features indicate the necessity to secure the building from outside elements and protect the store’s contents.
The double door opens to a wide sales/storage space extending the width of the building. A large cut out from the south (left) wall of the room was made sometime during the 20th Century to expand the Post Office, however the original footprint of the room is still perceptible. Ceiling framing in this room is substantial. Of particular interest are two large transverse summer beams that support passage partitions on the second floor. Two doors punctuate the rear wall of the room: a central double door leads to a stairway located at the northwest corner of the building, while a smaller single door to the south (left) opens to a storage room, which originally might have functioned as a counting room. The central door is similar to the front exterior door and has the same iron barred transom, indicating a desire to protect the front room from the rear quarters of the house as well as from the outside.
Upstairs, in what was likely the living space, a large room the width of the building extends over the loggia and corresponds with the three large windows visible on the Market Street façade. The existing tray ceiling may not be original, even though a small hatch reveals that roof rafters and shingle lath remain unfinished, indicating this room likely had a finished ceiling when built. A single passage leads to this main room from the northwest stairway. On both sides of this passage, rooms have been altered over time and it is difficult to establish exactly when these partitions were constructed.
The building contains a nearly complete set of iron rim locks with oval brass plates cast with “V & R BLAKEMORE, BIRMINGHAM”, likely dating to the 1840s.
Running parallel to the back of the Post Office is a roofless six-bay by one-bay building. Doors and windows punctuate the south façade, opening onto a small alley between the two buildings. Aside from this small building’s appears on the Falmouth town map drawn from a 1954 aerial survey, little can be said of its origin. An additional narrow building runs just south of the Post Office; the Flemish-bond brickwork of one wall in this adjoining building indicates it may be of an earlier construction date.
Visitors to the Post Office will notice the paint and restoration results carried out by Falmouth Heritage Renewal in 2003. A team removed exterior latex paint and Portland cement and replaced the mortar in the masonry walls with a historically accurate lime-based substance. The exterior was then painted a yellow ochre lime wash. Window sashes and frames badly damaged by termites were either salvaged or replaced; new materials matched the original window moldings.
A Trelawny spice and sauce company, King Pepper Products, Ltd., uses the Falmouth Post Office on the label of their Eaton’s line of sauces, chutneys, and jams, which are sold throughout Jamaica. Clearly, the image of a two-story merchants house from mid-nineteenth century Falmouth possesses an associational marketing purpose for the manufacturers of this modern day product.