Historic LaFollette post office preserved for art, tourism

Arts in converted post office getting award from Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association
Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 6:36 PM EDT
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LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Visitors are welcome to immerse themselves in the arts at Postmark LaFollette in the historic downtown, in the former U.S. Post Office building.

Campbell County residents are invited to take part in a rainbow of art experiences there, from free summer art classes for kids to live concerts. The center is being honored for its work in the community as a Region Strong winner by the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association.

“They’ve preserved this historic building here. They have an art, history, culture here that is just wonderful to promote the Campbell County area,” said Tourism Association Director Carl Nichols.

He is leading the effort to recognize this and programs in five East Tennessee counties, as well as four Southeast Kentucky counties and one in Virginia, in the May 25 Region Strong Awards Ceremony. The event is planned for 6:30 p.m. at Berkau Park in historic Cumberland Gap.

Nichols said he works with organizations throughout the area to help strengthen tourism for everyone. “Strong communities build strong counties and strong counties build a strong Cumberland Gap region,” said Nichols.

Founding member Jo Anne McCloud Myers said the beginning of Postcard LaFollette goes back several years. “The post office had moved out in 2008 and it was empty.” The city bought the building, then she organized community members to start using the venue for the arts. “Even exhibitions from the Smithsonian are part of our arts activities here.” Arts include everything from crafts sold in the cooperative store to live concerts to theatrical presentations written and produced by Campbell County residents.

Managing Director Elaine Schatzline-Behr said of the store requirements, “We require that it is handmade and that you are a Campbell County resident. Other than that we are very, very flexible.”

The store contains handmade jewelry and quilts as well as locally canned organic preserves.

Tony Branan runs the show with Appalachian music from yesterday and today, called Postmark Jamboree, traditionally set in the post office building.

“We want to preserve this building and keep it active. And we decided to have a radio program based loosely upon a previous program which used to be in LaFollette called the Tennessee Jamboree.”

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to use the space to preserve family histories by letting residents share what they recall about past generations in film. Bradley Smiddy directs the Filmworks division also tied to Postmark LaFollette. “We’ve went back all the way to the Civil War era and especially how families have found their way all the way to the North.”

McCloud Myers is enthused that the myriad of ways Postmark LaFollette can continue being a focal point for the community, serving residents and attracting visitors.

“We tell our stories of our history and our culture through the arts. And it doesn’t matter what art we use,” he said.

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