train

H. Louis Freund’s “Arrival of the First Train in Herington, 1885” depicts a crowd showing up to greet the locomotive, bedecked with flags. The town’s homes, businesses and a church are in the background.

When my wife, Lori, and I walked into the Belleville post office on a midsummer evening in 2018, we had no idea what to expect, nor that our impromptu visit would become an obsession we’ve pursued across four states.

Above the postmaster’s office was a painting — bright, simple, minimalist: four horses on the edge of a deep stream, a distant line of autumn-flecked trees dwarfed by storm clouds. Painted in 1939 by Birger Sandzén, “Kansas Stream” was my introduction into a largely unknown era of American history—the beautification of U.S. Postal Service facilities under the New Deal, enacted by the Roosevelt Administration and Congress following 1929’s financial meltdown and the Great Depression.

gun fight

The Geneva, Neb., Post Office features the mural “Building a Sod House,” by Edward Chavez. The painting was completed in 1941 and restored in 1981. The mural, and many others, was part of the beautification of U.S. Postal Service facilities under the New Deal, enacted by the Roosevelt Administration and Congress.

Boat

One of 12 murals in the St. Joseph, Mo., Post Office depicts a horse, cows and sheep being transported in a boat powered by oars. Each mural is about 100 feet wide.

Buffalo

“Stampeding Buffaloes Stopping the Train,” an oil on canvas by Eldora Lorenzini, 1939, is displayed in the Hebron, Neb., Post Office. The amount of detail in the painting is staggering, photographer Tom Parker says.