Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Postal Summary

Welcome to Postlandia's seventh annual year-end summary. During 2016 I visited 865 new active postal facilities across 17 states, bringing my grand total to 7,461. This represents the most new visits since 2013. As always, for the active and curious follower, here are the summaries for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Woot!

Instead of driving cross-country, as I have historically done every four years, I took a handful of flights to regions of the country I wanted to explore further. These included two weeks in the high west: Albuquerque, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado; a week in Alaska (with postal layover in Seattle); a week in the Salt Lake City area / eastern Utah and western Colorado; and a week and a half in the southeast: South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Furthermore, Postlandia friend Kelvin and I explored the northern reaches of Maine and got some great photographs and stories along the way.

This summer I finally visited several post offices accessible only by ferry: Fishers Island, NY; Prudence Island, RI; and the Sophie C Mail Boat in New Hampshire. In Alaska I visited a handful of post offices only accessible by boat or by plane! But that's another post (coming soon!).

Perhaps most significantly this blog got an overdue "re-branding". No more Going Postal; hello, Postlandia! The idea came from the title of a story published a couple of years back. We've also got a great new calendar for you as well.

Postlandia post office calendar

As always, this year's visits included "standard" post offices, Contract Postal Units (CPUs), and carrier-only and mail processing facilities, not to mention former sites of relocated and discontinued facilities. For example:

Bangor, ME: Broadway Hardware CPU

Portsmouth, NH Processing and Distribution Facility (P&DF)

Alamosa, CO: former post office

Columbia, SC Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC)

But postal journeys weren't all the excitement for Postlandia 2016. Devin Leonard published his great book: Neither Snow Nor Rain [link: NPR story], which tells the story of the Post Office Department (now Postal Service) through the lens of many of the distinctive people and lives who made the institution what it is today. Yours truly is featured in the prologue and epilogue of the book! Devin was gracious enough to invite me to speak at a talk he gave at the New York Public Library this summer.

Evan and Devin at the NYPL

That's me being highly amused by someone's question.

This followed a presentation at the once-a-decade World Stamp Show at the Javits Center in New York, wherein I got to discuss some of the interesting post offices and places of the Big Apple. And postmarks!

2016 by the Numbers

I visited as many as 34 post offices in one day. State by state, counting only new, distinct active postal locations (including CPUs) for the year:

New York: 115 post offices
Focus/Foci: Modest upstate travels: Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, and Delaware County; west of Syracuse

New Mexico: 108 post offices
Northern New Mexico; Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and numerous Native reservations in NW NM

Connecticut: 91
Northern, southeastern CT; Norwich

Maine: 79
Far north, and eastern Maine; Bangor

Colorado: 71
Southern, western Colorado; Grand Junction, Durango, Pueblo

Georgia: 70
Augusta through Macon, to Thomasville

Utah: 53
Wasatch Valley: Salt Lake City, Provo; and eastern Utah: Vernal

South Carolina: 50
Columbia area; and south toward Charleston and west toward Augusta, GA

Florida: 44
Tallahassee and Orlando areas

Alaska: 43
Anchorage, Wasilla, and the Kenai Peninsula

Pennsylvania: 40
North-central, rural PA

Massachusetts: 32
East of Springfield and east of Worcester

New Jersey: 23
Northern NJ, near NY border

Rhode Island: 22
Northwest, southern RI

Washington: 12
Seattle area

New Hampshire: 11
Southeast N.H.; U.S. Sophie C., Lake Winnipesaukee

Arizona: 1
Teec Nos Pos—closest post office to the Four Corners

Teec Nos Pos post office sign


I achieved post office #7,000, as well as post office #1,000 in just the state of Pennsylvania, during the same afternoon this summer (actually, just a couple of post offices apart). Actually, I've now visited at least 100 post offices in each of 22 states. This year added New Mexico, Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Georgia to that roster. Connecticut now reaches the top five, with 321 different active locations visited.

Me at post office #7,000: Crosby, PA

Me at Pennsylvania post office #1,000: Hazel Hurst, PA

Counting Counties (and States)

I've now visited all 50 states, as well as more than 1,000 counties across the U.S. This map shows the most recent extent of my travels (2016 travels in light pink). There's always so much more to see!

Hope to write more for you soon!
Evan, Postlandia

Sunday, November 27, 2016

2017 Calendar of Post Offices and Places

Welcome to the first annual Postlandia calendar. It's a small project a few years in the making, and I hope to bring you photos and stories from a dozen new and distinctive locations every year.

Postlandia—the blog, the Facebook page, and now the calendar—is really about celebrating the connections between post offices and the communities they serve. You'll find that theme throughout this year's dozen selections, from the grand New York GPO at the heart of Manhattan; to the population-100 villags with distinctive century-old general store/P.O.s; to the massive, Spanish-style mail-sorting plant in southern California; and the P.O. on stilts along the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast. The photos are from 12 different states, ranging from Florida to Alaska; from villages population 100 to New York; and taken as far back as 1900 and up to the present. Captions detail the significance of each post office. Most are of places never before shown on this blog.


Postlandia Calendar Cover:

Oregon: join thousands of couples and send your wedding invitations here!

Texas: German Hill Country @ 110 years old

Ohio: housing historic American artwork

I hope you'll consider this celebration of some of America's great post offices for the postal worker, historian, or philatelist in your life. The calendar is available here, at Lulu, a high-quality printer-to-order. Proceeds go toward bringing you more stories from across America. Thank you for your support! Yours,
Evan @ Postlandia

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Looking Back on Luckenbach

Luckenbach is a fun find. Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, this once-thriving German community is 13 miles from its county seat and a few miles south from U.S. 290. The community is roughly between Fredericksburg and Johnson City (think: L.B.J.-family Johnson), and there are a handful of photogenic post office buildings in the area. Luckenbach's own post office operated between 1850 and 1971. Though it's been closed for 35 years, the remnants of the town's general store and post office (not to mention Luckenbach itself) continue to draw tourists from all around.

Here's the general store and old P.O. outside:

In addition to the commemorative signage outside, the building still houses its old post office sign inside, as well as its general delivery boxes and even the old safe. For those who ask they even have a commemorative "postmark" that you can stamp items with.

The general delivery window with sign in the background:

The old safe:

Looking toward the front:

One interesting thing that's easy to overlook is a strip of tape on the floor of the building. It served as the dividing line between postal property and the rest of the general floor facility. Patrons had to be sure not to bring any alcohol across the line onto the postal side. This gentleman is on the general store side of the tape.

Visit the official Luckenbach website here! It's a nice place with friendly folks. And a fun postal find.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Marck-et Research

The Early- and Mid-Century Federal Buildings of Bismarck, North Dakota

Bismarck, North Dakota is on the small side, as most state capitals go. With 55,000 residents the city ranks as the second most populous in North Dakota, though it ranks in the bottom-third when compared with other capital metropolitan areas across the country. Regardless, Bismarck is the largest city for 200 miles in any direction (Fargo, to the east, beats it out), and as such it is important postally speaking. Bismarck and Fargo house the only two remaining mail processing facilities in the state. The capital also boasts a historic early-century Federal Building, which we'll present here. In our next post we'll show vintage photos of the '60s-era facility that replaced it, inside and out.

North of downtown Bismarck lies the distinctive North Dakota State Capitol, at 242 feet tall the tallest building in the state. When it was constructed during the early 1910s, however, the then-new U.S. Post Office and Court House building was constructed at the west side of Bismarck's downtown district. It is located at 304 East Broadway Avenue and can be seen per 2011 Google Street View imagery here:

The building is described as part of a National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Bismarck's downtown district.
The federal government constructed this three-story building at the northwest corner of East Broadway and North 3rd Street in 1913. Architectural plans for the edifice were prepared by the Treasury Department's supervisory architect, James Knox. Upon completion, the Renaissance Revival-style building housed a Federal Post Office and District Court, one of only four such facilities in North Dakota. A three-story rear wing was added in 1937. The building was nominated to the National Register in 1976.

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is a steel framed structure veneered on the exterior by limestone ashlar. The Renaissance Revival character of the building is displayed by the rusticated stone work and large arch window openings at the first story; smooth stone finish and simple rectangular window openings at the second story; recessed window openings between paired stone columns at the third story; and quoin details at the wall corners. The building is also distinguished by a prominent hip roof, covered by red tiles and featuring wide eaves underscored by press- metal medallions. The design of the 1937 addition is sympathetic to the original.
Here, you can see the building both pre- and post-addition.

You can more easily see the dividing line between the original and extended structure from this rear photo, post-addition. Note how the style of the architecture blends largely seamlessly with the original.

Note: Unlike many other post offices/federal buildings that were expanded during the New Deal era, the Federal Building in Bismarck did not receive any lobby artwork.

The General Services Administration (GSA) and National Park Service (NPS) also feature descriptions of the building.

Now we move to the 1960s, to the precast concrete stylings of what is now known as the William L. Guy Federal Building. So renamed in 1999 after a former governor, this mid-century U.S. Post Office and Court House housed Bismarck's (at least non-processing) postal operations. Nowadays, the building houses the only classified (USPS-staffed) postal retail operation in Bismarck: the Downtown Station post office.

The facility was designed by architects Leonhard & Askew, and was completed in 1964. The building is located just two blocks north of the original Federal Building, and both facilities are managed by the General Services Administration. Many photos of the newly completed building are available at the National Archives, and they encompass both the interior and exterior of the building. Let's have a look!

Here is the building as photographed in 1964 (at NARA) and in 2011 (per Google Street View):

Inside, dry '60s-style right angles abound; though so do panels of marble and (at least back when) old-style P.O. boxes. The Archives feature completion photos of the elevator and P.O. box lobbies. As is custom in the Upper Midwest, the P.O. Box lobby (entrance at the 'right' of the building, is available to customers 24/7. (Don't abuse the privileges, though—the U.S. Marshals Service is housed in the building.

In the service lobby the counters are fronted with what appears to be Formica. (Can anyone with design chops confirm or correct this?) Ah, the 1960s. Compared with the federal buildings of the 1930s, the design is downright spartan. Though check out those vintage postal scales!

By this point you might observe that I am really not a fan of utilitarian mid-century architecture. So here's the work floor, lit by enough strings of fluorescent lighting to stretch something like halfway to China. The most interesting thing I see in these photos are the windows from the Postal Inspector catwalks above the floor.

In 1991 Main Post Office and mail processing operations relocated to this 45,000-square foot facility on the southeast side of town. Our friend John photographed it in 2005.

'Til next time!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sculptures and History in Ridgewood, New Jersey

Look closely while passing by the post office in Ridgewood, New Jersey, or you might end up doing a double take. At first glance, particularly from across the street, it appears as though the well-dressed mailman out front needs assistance delivering a letter! Alas, the sculpture "Special Delivery," [undated], created by J. Seward Johnson, is part of an outdoor sculpture initiative. Its placement at the Ridgewood post office, a New Deal construction that itself bears sculptures created with the goal of expanding cultural access in public spaces, is particularly apt.

Special Delivery, Ridgewood, NJ
Special Delivery, Ridgewood, NJ

The village of Ridgewood, located approximately 20 miles northwest of Midtown Manhattan in Bergen County, New Jersey, is home to 25,000 people. The Ridgewood post office was established in 1865. It received a federal New Deal facility during the Great Depression; construction began in 1937 and was largely completed at the beginning of 1939. Here, photos of the front entrance to the post office and its cornerstone.

Ridgewood, NJ post office

Ridgewood, NJ post office cornerstone

The ornamentation above the entrance to the post office is particularly stunning, and unlike that I've witnessed anywhere else during my travels. It is in apparently great condition and, as early photos you'll soon see show, it is original to the building.

Ridgewood, NJ post office: entrance ornamentation

A treasure trove of photos of the newly finished facility are available at the National Archives, a few of which are shown below.

This photo from February 1939 gives you a taste of the Deco ornamentation that encompassed the entire building. You can also see a then-newly-planted tree and numerous additional ornamentation details (above and below the windows, and along the roof line) on the post office exterior that have since been removed. The large tiles have also been replaced with brick.

The building just does not bear the same visual presence without them.

From January 1939: a photo of the post office lobby showing the large tiles, era lamp, and Deco radiator motifs. A second photo shows part of the work area at the same time.

One wonders who the two gentlemen at the right are!

Soon after completion the artist Romuald Kraus was commissioned by the federal Treasury Section of Fine Arts to create a pair of sculptures to be mounted in the post office lobby. Respectively, the untitled work (?) depicts a male and a female figure. The pair of metal reliefs were installed in 1940 and can still be viewed today.

As can be seen from the photo below (showing the sculptures in context), some of the interior magic of the lobby has since been lost, particularly in the replacement of the Deco radiator grilles and light fixtures, as seen above. Much of the tile design appears the same.

The Ridgewood post office is a site of some unfortunate infamy: in 1991, a recently fired postal employee committed four murders, including two at this post office. (You can read more details here, if you're so inclined.)

Three years later tragedy struck the post office again, when mail carrier Julio Cruz was killed after a tree collapsed onto the front of his mail truck. A plaque [visible at the right side of the above interior photo] in the post office was placed in memory of Julio. (The author believes a second plaque, to the left, honors the fallen employees from the incident in 1991; alas, he didn't know to check at the time so he's not certain.)

Facing south, the building is particularly photogenic on a sunny day. During such an afternoon you can snap a beautiful photo, from a high vantage point, of the south and west faces of the building from Van Neste Square Memorial Park. The park is located kitty-corner to the P.O.

I took a second look at Special Delivery out front. If you look closely, even the letters the carrier is delivering are parts of the sculpture. I'm not too sure everyone would like to be the recipient of these particular letters, however; if you inspect closely enough you can see that the letter is an official business envelope from the Internal Revenue Service in Atlanta, Georgia!