Docent duties both artistic, historical

Published 12:02 pm Friday, September 12, 2008

Docent is a word that hasn’t been greatly used around Troy until the last few months.

Now, there are quite a few “docents” in town and they are making good use of themselves at the Johnson Center for the Arts.

Joan Word enjoys art and history and, as a docent, she is able to dabble in both.

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“Docent is a Latin word and it means ‘teacher,’” Word said.

As a docent for the Troy Pike Cultural Arts Center, Word has been trained to lead tours of the current exhibitions at the Johnson Center, including the Andy Warhol exhibit.

However, docents aren’t limited to leading tours. They can do other things of service.

So, Word combined her love of art with her love of history and put together a booklet on the history of the old Troy Post Office.

“I had a good time researching information about the old post office,” she said. “I learned, too, about the unique architecture of the building. I found it interesting and I think others will, too.”

Word said construction on the building began in January 1911 and the building opened on Aug. 1, 1912.

“The post office had been located in what is now the Synco Drugs building,” she said. “The ‘new’ post office was said to be a model of beauty and convenience and an improvement over anything enjoyed by the citizens of Troy.”

The building was expected to cost around $34,000 but actually cost $40,000.

“An article in the Troy Herald on Jan. 10, 1911, said that, from the size of the lot that was being excavated, it looked as though it would be rather small for $34,000,” Word said and added laughing. “The article went on to say that the government usually pays pretty high for all the work that is done and that the interior would certainly have to be ‘a very fine finish’ in order for the government to get its money’s worth.”

When the work was completed, newspaper articles reported on the beautiful interior of the building.

“The city was so proud of it so I guess the government ended up getting its money’s worth,” Word said.

The architecture of the building is Classical Revival style and draws heavily on Roman and Green models.

“The original plans called for the outside to be stucco but, because the train tracks were so nearby, the city petitioned the government to have the plans changed to brick,” Word said. “The fear was that the smoke from the trains would discolor the stucco and make it look dirty.”

The petition was sent to Washington and, after some consideration, the change was allowed. A sample of the brick was sent to Troy and the citizens were pleased. The reddish chocolate bricks were somewhat smaller than the ordinary pressed brick.

The building has four brick Doric engaged columns with limestone capitals and bases.

“Engaged columns are not free standing,” Word said. “On either side of those columns are pilasters, which are square-shaped columns. Between those are the entry and four windows with palladian arches. The frieze at the top of the building contains the name of the building and, above the frieze, is a cornice with crown moulding and a dentil band, which is little blocks. The Greeks called them dentil because they look like teeth.”

Many brick post offices around the country followed the same classical design as the Troy Post Office.

When Pike County celebrated its Sesquicentennial in 1971, the post office building was 60 years old. Margaret Pace Farmer wrote in her book, “One Hundred Fifty Years in Pike County Alabama – 1821-1971,” that changes had been made in the building but much old remained.

“The brick exterior is still handsome and reminds one of the days when a small town in Alabama could win an argument with the Federal Government about building materials for a post office,” Farmer wrote. “The flag on the pole outside of the building has 50 stars rather than 48, postage is eight cents rather than two cents, the building is air conditioned and has fluorescent lights and the revolving door has been replaced with a vestibule.

“But citizens still go up the old broad steps to the same old stamp windows and it all seems dearly familiar.”

The old Troy Post Office is now 96 years old. The storied building now houses the Johnson Center for the Arts. Many changes have been made in the building but much old remains.

“And how nice it is that we are going up those old broad steps once again to a place that seems dearly familiar to so many of us,” Word said.