The original 1897 stone Harding Post Office on 2 Hospital Road
The last This Old Town article gave a history of the post offices in Medfield.
But for 75 years, Medfield also had a second post office in the north end of town.
Most people in Medfield today have no idea what you are talking about when you mention the Harding section of Medfield. But it is listed on all the old maps and it had its own post office, called the “Harding Post Office,” with its own zip code: 02042.
When Medfield State Hospital, originally called the Medfield Insane Asylum, opened in 1896, one of the first impacts it had on the town was the creation of a new economic center that began to develop its own identity. The north end of town, the area from Medfield Junction (West Mill and Adams Street), along Harding Street and Hospital Road and up to the former state hospital became known as the Harding section of Medfield.
The large number of hospital employees and staff created an economic need. Built in Harding were a number of stores, tea rooms, lunch rooms, inns, reported houses of ill repute, and later, gas stations. Their existence was dependent upon the hospital. Also built was a post office for this new economic center. It was established “for the convenience of the asylum and the neighborhood.” The office was given the name “Harding” in honor of one of the town’s oldest families, who lived on what is today Harding Street. In 1677, John Harding was given a small grant of land in the area of 74 Harding Street. Here, generations of Hardings were born and raised. The original post office, made out of stone, is still standing today as a residence and is located at the corner of Harding Street and Hospital Road: 2 Hospital Road.
In 1897, that new post office at Harding was officially opened and Albert Lovell was appointed its first postmaster. This remained the post office until 1903 when the new postmaster, Herbert Hutson, feeling the rent at the stone post office was too high, moved the post office to a small one-story wooden building located at 82 Harding Street, which was located around the corner from the stone post office. The wooden building contained one large room, divided into a back office and a small front lobby, and was heated by a coal-burning pot-bellied stove. In 1907, Albert Lovell returned as postmaster and moved the post office back to the original stone post office. During the next couple of decades, the post office moved between three Harding locations, often back and forth between the buildings, depending upon the rent. A wooden building, later to become the variety store run by Ida Woolford, was located diagonally across the street from the stone post office in the area of 83 Harding Street. It served, at different times, as the other Harding Post Office location.
In 1934, Tom Sweeney became the new postmaster. He was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt and the post office stayed for good in the little wooden building on 82 Harding Street. Sweeney, a native of Chicago, grew up in Lynn. He would serve as the Harding Postmaster for the next 38 years until the post office was closed on June 30, 1972. His wife, Elizabeth, served side-by-side with her husband as postal clerk for 28 of those years. During Sweeney’s tenure, the population of the state hospital would continue to grow and its population was, for a time, larger than that of Medfield itself. The Harding Post Office served upwards of 1,000 patrons, about 70 of whom held mail boxes in the office, and who lived and worked at the State Hospital or the Harding section of Medfield.
After Sweeney retired and the post office closed, it temporally re-opened to give time for the box-holders to open new mailboxes at the Medfield Post Office. Enio DiBerto took over as acting postmaster during the brief reopening. When the office officially closed, much of its interior, including banks of postal boxes, went to the Postal Museum in Weston, located next to Regis College. The Harding Post Office wooden sign that hung on both the 82 Harding Street office and the Woolford Store Post Office is now on permanent display at the Medfield Historical Society.
The wooden post office itself is gone today, as it was demolished in 2004.
For many, though, the 02042 zip code will always bring to mind the little rustic post office on Harding Street.
And for many of the old timers living along Harding Street and Hospital Road, their official address, when asked, will always be Harding, Massachusetts.