CATEGORY: Pontotoc County
Hed: Pontotoc's post office building to become county museum
By Errol Castens
PONTOTOC - The current post office on Pontotoc's square will be replaced next year by a modern facility on Mississippi Highway 15 North, and a county museum will be established in the old building.
But museum backers hope downtown won't be saying goodbye to the U. S. Postal Service.
The Pontotoc County Historical Society is coordinating the effort to create the museum on the square.
Museum steering committee members hope to include a working U.S. Postal Service contract station as part of a "living exhibit" in the building.
"This is a unique situation because the old post office itself is on the National Register of Historic Places, so there are certain restrictions on anyone who might have bought it," said committee member Jim Mogridge.
"The outside has to be unchanged, and the post office part of it - the antechamber - has to be left as it is now or as it was originally. So instead of just leaving it alone, we decided to try to make it a living, working exhibit."
According to Mogridge, the U.S. Postal Service will leave the original eagle-imprinted brass post office boxes. In addition, the building will retain a Depression-era mural by Joseph Pollet depicting the 1540 Christmas Day wedding of Juan Ortez, a member of the DeSoto expedition, and an Indian princess, Sa-owana, at the Chickasaw wintering grounds southeast of present-day Pontotoc.
"This is the only mural Pollet ever painted," Mogridge said. "Since his other paintings are worth tens of thousands of dollars now, this mural may be worth $50,000 or more."
Although Pontotoc County will purchase the post office building, no public funds will be used for the acquisition.
"The county graciously agreed to be our agent to acquire the building," former Mayor Herman Austin said. "We've got a benefactor who's donating the $78,000 to purchase the building. The county will buy it, then they'll lease it to us for 99 years at the purchase price."
The arrangement between the county and the private Historical Association will allow the museum to be included under Pontotoc County's general liability coverage, with no additional premiums for either entity.
Both the City of Pontotoc and the county have been asked to contribute $5,000 per year for operating funds until the museum is receiving enough in private donations, grant monies and postal profits to render it self-supporting.
A number of local people have expressed an interest in being curator of the new museum, but the search is not limited to local residents. Plans are for the facility to include not only Indian and pioneer artifacts, but to house a family histories section as well.
"We'll start with Pontotoc County, then the 15-county Northeast Mississippi area, then eventually have family histories from across the whole state," Austin said. "Pontotoc was really the beginning center of North Mississippi. It originally included even the area where Tupelo is - almost to the Itawamba County line."
Austin emphasized that the museum's focus will go well beyond Pontotoc County, though.
"We want to ignore all city and county boundaries on this project. This is not political. Basically it's going to be a privately operated museum, where we do not depend on any city, county or state for operating funds.
"We want it to be a real educational center for folks from all around."