Memories saved The Grand Old Post Office

The Old Darlington Post Office. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The current building, The Grand Old Post Office. PHOTO BY DAWSON JORDAN

By Stephan Drew, Editor

Near the heart of Darlington, South Carolina, stands a remarkable structure that embodies the rich history of the town. The Grand Old Post Office, built in 1912 and located at 201 Pearl Street, served as a hub for the distribution of mail for nearly a century until it fell into disrepair in the early 2000s. However, thanks to the visionary efforts of Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee, this architectural gem has been resurrected and transformed into a vibrant venue for various events, breathing new life into the community.

The Grand Old Post Office carries a profound significance for the residents of Darlington. As the town’s lifeline for communication and correspondence, it served as a symbol of connection and unity. However, with the advent of digital communication and the decline of traditional postal services, the building was left vacant and abandoned. Its once-grand façade deteriorated, and its historical charm faded away, leaving behind a solemn reminder of the town’s past.

When asked how strongly he felt about the building, Hardee recounted an inspiring story. While he was still in high school, he worked for T.C. and Vera Kistler, owners of what was then Kistler Funeral Home (now Kistler-Hardee Funeral Home), located at 315 Pearl Street. Hardee worked after school until 5:30pm at the business. Dr. Vera Kistler, a wonderful teacher, consummate musician and woman of great culture, took time to review Hardee’s scholastic achievements. “I wasn’t a scholar,” Hardee said, “I was a struggler. But, Miss Vera took an interest in me.” Hardee recalled how, if his grades dipped, Dr. Kistler would consign him to “community service” – pulling weeds and picking up trash or debris – usually around the public square, by the library or in front of the old post office. 

Back in the 1980s, high school teenagers usually cruised the “main drag” (driving down Main and Pearl Streets) each evening. “It was alright,” Hardee stated, “to be working behind the library or down the side of the square, where nobody could see me. But, I really hated it when I had to pull weeds out of the flowers in front of the post office, right on Pearl Street, where all my friends could see and make fun of me.” Dr. Kistler found out that’s where disliked being the most and stationed him there quite a bit. He came to harbor animosity for the location, until he saw it in disrepair years later.

One afternoon in 2018, he and his son were driving down Pearl Street when they stopped at the traffic light right in front of the post office. As they sat there, waiting for the light to change, a broken pane of glass fell from one of the windows and smashed into the flowerbeds Hardee had weeded so many times. He felt that was a sign from Dr. Kistler. “It was almost like she was sending me a message,” Hardee said. He went home and gave considerable thought to the matter before buying the property, which had also once belonged to a Kistler relative. 

In 2019, J. Todd Hardee recognized the immense potential the Grand Old Post Office held. He understood that by restoring and repurposing this architectural treasure, he could preserve Darlington’s heritage while simultaneously creating a modern space that would serve the needs of the community. Hardee embarked on a journey to breathe new life into the building, acquiring it and initiating an extensive remodeling project in April 2020.

The remodeling process was no small feat. The structure required significant renovations to restore its former glory. Months of meticulous work went into every detail, from preserving historical elements to incorporating modern amenities. The building’s stunning architectural features were carefully preserved, ensuring that its original beauty was not lost amidst the renovations. They also added a women’s bathroom. “Before, there was only a men’s bathroom,” Hardee said, “I guess because, when it was built over a hundred years ago, only men worked there.” The facility has a total of 5 bathrooms, one of which is extremely large, has a sitting area, and doubles as a Groom’s Room for weddings.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the restoration was the incorporation of state-of-the-art technology. The Grand Old Post Office now boasts 15 miles of new wiring, providing a robust infrastructure to support its transformation into a multi-purpose venue. A cutting-edge sound and electronic system was installed, allowing for exceptional audio and video quality during events. These technological enhancements not only modernize the property but also ensure that it remains relevant and adaptable for the needs of the community.

Today, the Grand Old Post Office has become a dynamic hub for various events. Its versatile space accommodates a wide range of activities, from intimate music workshops and guitar classes to grand concerts, dinners, lectures, and shows. This revival has reinvigorated the town, attracting artists, musicians, and visitors from far and wide, while also fostering a sense of community and cultural exchange.

The venue’s ability to host diverse events plays a pivotal role in preserving the history of Darlington. By offering a space for musical performances, educational lectures, and artistic displays, the Grand Old Post Office ensures that the traditions, stories, and talents of the community are celebrated and shared with future generations. It acts as a living museum, bringing the town’s past to life while nurturing creativity and fostering connections among its residents.

There is also a constant reminder of Dr. Kistler’s link, not only to Hardee but, also to the property itself. After Dr. Kistler died, many of her personal effects, including her grand piano, were sold. The beautiful piece ended up in Effingham and it took quite a bit of time to track it down. Hardee badly wanted the piece returned and made a swap-deal which the new owner suggested. The beautiful piano now has a permanent home at the Grand Old Post Office, maintaining her connection in the legacy of the fine old structure.

The Grand Old Post Office serves as a testament to the resilience of both architecture and community spirit. Through the passion and dedication of J. Todd Hardee, it has been reborn as a beacon of cultural significance in Darlington. By combining the preservation of history with the embrace of modernity, this grand building not only symbolizes the town’s heritage but also creates opportunities for growth and enrichment.

As Darlington continues to evolve, the Grand Old Post Office stands as a reminder of the town’s roots and the importance of preserving its heritage. With its renewed purpose and rejuvenated spirit, this architectural gem promises to play a significant role in shaping the future of the community while honoring its past. The Grand Old Post Office is more than just a building; it is a testament to the power of restoration, the value of history, and the unwavering spirit of a town determined to preserve its legacy for generations to come.

Author: Stephan Drew

Share This Post On

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Posts Remaining