Thursday, December 14, 2017

Quick thanks to WNPR and The Colin McEnroe Show

This is a quick post for listeners of WNPR's fantastic Colin McEnroe Show, which aired an hourlong postal-themed episode this afternoon. Thank you for reaching out and having me on the show! Here are a couple of references for Connecticut visitors:

Find more than 400 photos of Connecticut post offices on the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC) website, link here. Here is more information about the archive project. Furthermore, The Living New Deal features photos and information specifically about New Deal post office projects.

Here are some previous Postlandia entries related to Connecticut post offices!

This link will take you right to the 2018 Postlandia calendar, available now. You can read more about it (and see a couple of images) in our prior post.

Follow Postlandia on Facebook! We've got an Instagram account as well.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The 2018 Calendar of Post Offices and Places

It's that time of the year again—that time I somewhat shamelessly inform you of the amazing and fantastic new Postlandia Calendar of Post Offices and Places! This year's [the 2018] iteration features 12 all-new and unique images, from a dozen different states. And these are really good ones!

Postlandia calendar: partial cover
Cover snippet

With Postlandia I've always brought you the stories behind the post offices and communities of America, and here you can explore a wild-ranging cross-section of the nation. This year's offerings transport you across the United States: Alaska, the South, New England, the Upper Midwest, California, and the vast and empty West. These photos take you not just from time zone to time zone, but span history as you explore photos from two centuries (taken from 1900 to the present).

Where can you find a literal 'floating post office' that rises with the tides? How about a vintage Vermont general store (and post office, of course) that appears today just as it did 100 years ago? The calendar also features the 1910 New Ulm, Minnesota post office, which was so distinctive that its construction essentially forced the government to re-write its design standards. And then there's the post office on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, and I guarantee it will floor you. (This particular location took me an hour and a half to find as I drove through the high desert this summer; for you it will have definitely been worth the wait.) And there's more. Much more. As always, here you don't just get photos, you get the story behind what makes them unique.

All images in the calendar are full-page and high quality. And, with each photo, there's full text at the bottom that explains exactly what's going on. Here are peeks at just a few of the images (which have been cropped to show detail on your screen)!

Minnesota: there's no place like New Ulm
New Ulm, Minnesota post office calendar image

Montana: last looks at a ghost town P.O.
Montana post office calendar image

Vintage Vermont
Vermont post office calendar image

Again, there's so much more where these came from. I hope you experience as much enjoyment with this calendar next year as I enjoyed piecing it all together this summer. Remember, I've trekked to thousands of post offices—across all 50 states—to document as many post offices as I can, so I bring you some of the very best, anywhere.

I really do believe this is the perfect calendar for USPS employees, a great gift for the mail carrier in your life, a perfect purchase for philatelist and stamp collectors, and generally speaking, just the perfect post office calendar. The calendar is available here, at the website of a high-quality printer called Lulu. The calendar even has the honor of being on the printer's Holiday Gift Guide! Again, you can find it here, and everyone I know who's purchased either the 2017 or 2018 Postlandia post office calendar has loved it.

Thanks, Lulu!
Postlandia is awesome

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Washouts: Many post offices shuttered by storms in 2011 never reopened

Not all is well in Endwell

The post offices along the Susquehanna River in the Southern Tier of New York did not fare well in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee.

Endwell, New York: population 11,000
Post office established: 1921.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

Tioga Center, New York
Post office established: 1893.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

Barton, New York
Post office established: 1827.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

Further upstate, Fort Hunter did little better.

First post office established: 1827.
Second post office established: 1868.
Suspended due to damage: Sept. 13, 2011.
Current status: closed.

I've visited several of these offices post-suspension. In the case of Endwell and Tioga Center, mail collection points were removed but signage was still intact well after the fact. Above, the Endwell branch post office one year after suspension. Below, Tioga Center nearly four years afterward. In next-door Barton (below that), the site was vacant as the building was destroyed entirely.

Just a couple of weeks prior to Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Irene battered parts of the Northeast, with several offices closing Aug. 28, 2011. In Milltown, New Jersey, the post office operated out of a Mobile Postal Unit adjacent to the flooded-out building until it reopened in early 2013. Wayne, New Jersey (pop. 55,000), on the other hand, has been operating without its main postal facility for six years. Nearby Hanover Township (pop. 14,000) expected the post office in Whippany to reopen not long after the storm; that has been anything but the case.

After years of delay, Hanover Township officials effectively gave up. In 2012 the Hanover Eagle reported that USPS's Northern New Jersey District "and the Northeast Area Facilities Services Office are reviewing all options regarding the Whippany Post Office retail function, including repairs, relocation or discontinuance." Frustrations mounted as USPS refused to commit to the reopening of the Whippany facility, despite the fact that its lease was renewed for $70,000 a year, several months after the storm shuttered operations. In 2016, five years after Hurricane Irene, the "progress" Whippany residents could claim included a "new mail collection box at Town Hall in the township," and "an email address for the post office branch dealing with complaints such as lost mail, late mail and other related mail service issues"; village mail, now delivered out of nearby Morristown, has been routinely delayed. Meanwhile the lease for the Whippany post office finally expired February of this year.

Whippany, NJ post office, May 2011

In Vermont, the West Hartland post office, also flooded out due to Hurricane Irene, never reopened. 2012's Hurricane Sandy left Sea Bright, New Jersey, without a post office.

As of this last month, the communities of Endwell, Tioga Center, Barton, Fort Hunter, Whippany, West Hartland, and Sun Bright no longer need worry where USPS stands and whether or not thir post offices will return. Instead of keeping the communities in a state of perpetual suspense, the Postal Service has formally discontinued each of those post offices, and announced those closures in the recent August 17 Postal Bulletin. In fact, USPS formally announced the discontinuance of 304 post offices in this Bulletin.

USPS had stopped short of outright discontinuing post offices for a couple of years, due to in large to the political backlash surrounding the Postal Service's proposal to shutter 3,700 post offices back in 2011. Instead it had been keeping facilities in a state of "emergency suspension," a status not supposed to keep post offices in a state of indefinite limbo. In response to pressure from the Postal Regulatory Commission, USPS has been studying each of the 600+ post offices suspended as of the end of its last fiscal year for formal discontinuance or possible reopening. (The process skews VERY much toward discontinuance.) An analysis of these operations shows 73 post offices listed as suspended, like those above, due to "damage."

Let's hope this pattern of extended suspensions leading to delayed discontinuance does not continue with the advent of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

100+ Post Offices Celebrated the Eclipse with a Souvenir You Can Mail for

... And the Word from Wyoming

From Lincoln City, Oregon to McClellansville, South Carolina, post offices from—literally—coast to coast commemorated the eclipse of a lifetime last week with limited-time pictorial cancellation stamps for application to letters and postcards. Most of these post offices were in communities that experienced eclipse totality.

Post offices in more than 125 communities have special postmarks that are still available, for the 30 days beginning August 21. Idaho is best represented, with 29 post offices offering the cancellations, every single one of which was in the eclipse's path of totality (100% total eclipse by the moon). Oregon ranks second with 23 post offices, all but one of which experienced totality. (Union, Oregon, according to my sources, experienced a "mere" 99.4% sun coverage.) In Missouri and Wyoming 17 post offices have special cancels available, and Nebraska ranks next with 12. Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, and Illinois are also represented among 'totality' post offices.

2017 Eclipse Postmark Map, by Postlandia

A handful of other post offices, dispersed around the country, experienced the eclipse more modestly but joined in the fun. Of these, a postmark available in San Diego represents the "least eclipsed" post office to make an offering. (To be fair, it is on behalf of a science center.) Among other outliers is Union Pier, Michigan, at 86%, among the closest to the eclipse in the state's far southwestern corner (a mere 283 miles from totality). In Mississippi a postmark representing Stennis Space Center (77%) can be had by mailing to the Postmaster in Jackson (84%). And this time around, what happens in Vegas (71%) doesn't have to stay there; mail your envelopes or postcards to: Postmaster, 1001 East Sunset Road, Las Vegas, NV 89199-9998 for their commemorative cancellation.

The Postal Bulletin from Aug. 17, 2017 provides a list of [nearly all] operations offering the cancellations; link here. It includes instructions for submitting your items for cancellation as well.

About 70 post offices are offering a 'standard' pictorial cancellation of this design:

However, many different designs are available. Some of my favorites include maps, featuring the eclipse's geographic arc, that tie the event more to the place. For example, Dawson Springs, Kentucky; Herculaneum, Missouri; and Stapleton, Nebraska:

Others highlight local scenes or monuments, for example: Jefferson City, Missouri; Hyannis, Nebraska; St. Joseph, Missouri; and Gering, Nebraska:

[Note: Please excuse the image quality above. The images stem from the Postal Bulletin, which never offers a very good resolution for these.]

In Nebraska several offices opened temporary units in parallel with nature's festivities: In Beatrice the postmark was "available Aug. 21 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Temporary Post Office at Homestead National Monument of America." In Gering: "8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Temporary Post Office at Five Rocks Amphitheatre." Scottsbluff: "8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Temporary Post Office at Landers Soccer Complex." And Seward: "Aug. 21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Temporary Post Office at Junto Event Center."

The Word from Wyoming

Perhaps my favorite set of cancellations comes from Wyoming, where many participating offices made a special effort to marry the celestial with the terrestrial by including their community's particular location on the planet by way of latitude and longitude coordinates, and time and duration of totality. Simple and to the point, many of these daters resemble a post office's "standard" four-bar cancellation device—literally, as illustrated below, a date stamp with four solid bars sticking out the right side for the purpose of cancelling a stamp. For these special postmarks, the bars are replaced with four lines of text featuring specific eclipse information for the community: the time of totality (in Mountain Daylight Time); the latitude; the longitude; and the duration of totality.

Here is an illustration of four-bar cancellations in regular use, and as interpreted by way of two of these eclipse postmarks, from Lander and Powder River, Wyoming:

Curious as to how this set of designs came to be, I checked in with Corporate Communications for USPS's Western Area and Colorado/Wyoming District, which did a nice job of promoting their impressive assortment of pictorials. Here are stories they posted re: Oregon, Idaho, Nebraska, Wyoming.

They referred me to Antoinett ("Toni") Benthusen, Postmaster of Powder River, Wyoming post office (a PTPO, for those who are into that kind of thing). Powder River, located 40 miles west of Casper, has a population of "approximately 17 (not counting the dogs and cats)." The community is located on U.S. 20/26, one major route for those traveling between the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Yellowstone / Jackson Hole area.

Here is the Powder River post office, photographed in 1997 by Postlandia friend John Gallagher. (We also have another photo, taken last year, by Jimmy Emerson.)

Powder River, WY post office, 1997

Toni provided some insights into the pictorial design process:

"I got the idea for my design from Julie Greer, Postmaster of Upton, WY. She suggested using the four-bar dater and replacing them with the Coordinates for Powder River..." Coordinates and other eclipse information came from

One step in the pictorial creation process is copyright management, by way of artist's release: "When I went to fill out the paperwork there was an Artist Release form which either I needed to fill out as the Artist, or have the person who created the artwork fill it out. So, I called Julie and asked her if she would sign the form as the Artist. She said no, that I was the Artist; she only gave me the idea and then I ran with it, making me the Artist. WOW was I blown away, me an Artist?! I couldn't believe it!!!!!"

At this point "other offices (7 in all) started calling me and asking if they could use my design." And they needed help by a bona fide artist. "Would I help them with the paperwork since I had already done mine, and gotten approval to use the design for my stamp? I was so honored that they wanted to use my design and that" Corporate Communications specialist "David Rupert thought enough of it to use on a release." [See links, above.] "He then asked me to create a flyer with all the [participating] offices in Wyoming, and their addresses," for distribution to their customers. Here's a snippet from the flyer featuring several of the unique designs representing the state:

Toni recounts her experience at the Powder River post office last Monday:
[W]e sat just a few feet north of the center of the path of totality. This gave us a crystal clear view of the Eclipse, and what a spectacular event it was! The 20 or so people who chose to park off the edge of the highway were ecstatic about their choice! Immediately after the event a lady from Italy, who is currently living in California, came in to mail a backpack full of extra things she didn’t want to haul along on her trip. When she saw that I was selling the Eclipse Stamps and sleeves and doing the Special Cancellation she went outside and spread the word to everyone out there who all came in and bought me out of sheets of stamps and sleeves, and then bought envelopes to collect and send. I did 160 special cancellations that one day, which for my office is Huge!

I have since restocked my office with Eclipse stamps and sleeves so anyone interested can still purchase them from me or any other offices who still have them in stock. And it’s not too late to get the special cancellation postmark until September 21, 2017. Just send your cards and/or envelopes bearing First-Class postage stamps inside another larger self-addressed stamped envelope to any Post Office who are doing the special postmark.

I was very impressed by how calm and nice everyone was during the days before and after the event! ... The business people in Casper and Riverton interviewed on TV said ... they were very pleased with the amount of customers they had. So...


Finally, here are three photos from the day in Powder River, courtesy Postmaster Toni: getting ready for the big day, with glasses and special shirt for the occasion; viewers in from out of town, in front of the distinctively Wyoming cowboy-signed post office; and an image of the eclipse in progress, through a pinhole projected against the blue collection box.

See USPS eclipse photos at USPS Link. Data for the Postlandia map, top, from Vox.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Explore Montana with the Man Who's Been to Every Town

In recent entries we explored the development of some of Montana's large post offices. Today we delve a little further. As of last month the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC)'s online post office photo collection for Montana is complete! We have a photo from every active post office in the state—and then some.

As of January there are 314 active post offices, one carrier annex, and 27 Contract Postal Units (14 of which are Community Post offices—CPOs) in Montana. At press time we have 481 photos from the state, including images of discontinued operations, former sites, and (as seen with Pendroy below) multiple stages in the visual evolution of a single post office building.

The majority (276) of these photos were taken by Postlandia friend Gary Splittberger, a consulting geologist (think: oil/fracking country) who has worked in and explored much of western oil country. He's also provided more than 80 photos from North Dakota, and more than 20 from Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. Most importantly for this article's purposes, he has visited each of the post offices in the 147,000 square miles of our fourth largest state. He puts his visit count at 419, when you include discontinued operations and new post office locations: "for instance, I have visited 3 different St. Marie PO buildings over the past 20 years."

St. Marie, Montana Contract Postal Unit sign, 2014

Gary and his SLR at a marker commemorating 100 years of the post office in Gold Creek, Montana.

But that's not all, as Gary keeps on top of developments in Big Sky: "I will soon visit #420, as Bighorn, Montana has a brand new PO building that is about to open (probably August 16)." That photo will surely be posted to the PMCC collection soon.

The Great Falls Tribune covered the end of Gary's 24-plus-year trek around Montana: the post office at Malmstrom Air Force Base outside of Great Falls, a site not accessible to the general public—which makes sense considering it's a nuclear ICBM launch site. For this leg of Gary's travels he was accompanied on post by a veteran, Wayne Olson.

(The PMCC's post office photo collection now includes a photo Gary took of the Malmstrom post office this year, and one our friend John Gallagher took in 1999, when those attending the PMCC's annual convention, that year in Great Falls, were allowed to tour the base and visit the P.O.)

Left to right: Wayne Olson, Sharon McCrea, Gary at the Malmstrom A.F.B. CPU/post office

In addition to Great Falls Tribune coverage Gary received an unexpected note of congratulations from Montana governor Steve Bullock:

How awesome is that??

An Evolving Mission

Gary didn't start out photographing post offices. At first he collected regional postmarks in "a very casual sort of way." When collecting at the post office in Broadview, Montana (a town comparatively near—only 30 miles from—Billings) in 1993, the Postmaster (presumably, as per Postmaster Finder, Mary L. Baasch) suggested that Gary that it would be really "neat" if he documented the places he visited with photographs in addition to postmarks. And so that branch of the quest began.

Gary in Springdale, Montana, in 1993. How times and styles change!

Many post offices in Montana are small and remote, such that Montana has 51 Part-Time Post Offices (PTPOs), more than every other state except Alaska. PTPOs are independent post offices which USPS now deems too small to justify a full-time Postmaster's salary; they would ordinarily be assigned to a neighboring postmaster's oversight. PTPOs are far enough (more than 25 miles) from another full-time post office that they instead report directly to their USPS administrative District—in this case the Dakotas District, headquartered hundreds of miles away in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. [USPS's former Big Sky District, which had overseen operations in Montana, was absorbed into the (self-explanatory) Dakotas District several years back, making the Dakotas District among the most geographically broad in the country.] As Gary was quoted in the Tribune, "It’s not that there’s so many [post offices in Montana], it’s just that they’re spread out."

Take a look at Gary's Flickr stream and you'll discover another arm of his collection: postmarks from post offices from an era of Montana long gone. He has postmarks from more than 1,100 Montana post offices in Montana, at least half the total that has ever operated in the state. The Tribune featured a sizable and detailed gallery of some of Gary's collection, much of which has been scanned and posted to his Flickr feed. But there's more, and this is what's really awesome: Gary then goes out and finds the sites of these ghost communities, and shows you what they look like now. What remains could be anything: a cluster of buildings, perhaps decrepit; a dusty crossroads; a railroad track; a ranch; a single sign; or even an empty field, hillside, or stream bank. It's Forrest Gump's box of chocolates spread across tens of thousands of square miles... and condensed into an image feed, conveniently for us.

Further still, Gary's feed features descriptions of what had been. Below I've combined two pairs of adjacent images [current photo, old postmark] typical of what you see in the feed. These two are of Brookside and Bald Butte. Here is Gary's caption of the former:
Phillips County. View of the Little Rocky Mountains from the Stage Road, near the last site of Brookside. Brookside was a ranch post office that moved between three different ranches in it's 34-year lifetime. The Brookside post office first opened in 1903 (June 15) on the Coburn Ranch along Beaver Creek, on the northeast side of the Little Rocky Mountains. Robert Coburn served as the first postmaster. In 1916, the post office moved ten miles north to the Graves Ranch with Belle Graves filling the postmaster position. The post office moved again in 1920, one mile further north, to the Daellenbach Ranch. Paul Daellenbach was postmaster until the Brookside post office was closed in 1937 (July 31). On a postcard from 1937, Postmaster Daellenbach wrote a note describing how the area had been "ruined by the drouth and is now deserted". Today, 80 years later, the area is still very lightly populated.

A postmark is, in its own way, a physical embodiment of a place, and Gary's work ties them together to tell their stories. You can see why I enjoy his work.

On Cookie-Cutters and Gems

When I've explored Montana I must confess I've been a bit disappointed. So many of the small-town and remote community post offices that you see in Montana nowadays are cookie-cutter structures with standard blue-and-white USPS signage. I've illustrated this before in this post about Hammond, Montana. Or maybe, if you're in a larger town, you get this standard design—again, no real character distinct to the open West. Examples of these designs below:

Joplin, MT post office; Gary, 2013.

Fortine, MT post office; Gary, 2017.

I'd hoped to see more of this:

Volborg, MT post office; Gary, 2013.

When prompted, Gary provided his thoughts about how things have changes in his 2+ decades of exploration, as well as some of his favorite P.O.s to visit in the state. Verbatim:
You asked about the cookie-cutter Montana post offices. Most of them were built in the 1990's and they they built all across the state so you can find similar PO's from Alzada to Heron and from Turner to Roberts. Not the best for those of us who enjoy photographing post offices, but likely a good thing for the P.O. staff and customers.

I was fortunate in that I was able to visit and photograph many of the earlier PO locations prior to the construction boom of the 90's. There are still a few post offices around the state that retain some "character" and are fun to visit and photograph; Volborg [photo above], Canyon Creek, Ismay [photo below], Silver Star, Polaris, Wyola, and Zortman came to mind right away. The old bank buildings in Flaxville and Fallon are fun to photograph. Yellowtail is kind of unique in that it's the only PO I've ever seen in a laundromat. And, of course, we still have some of the grand old PO's from the early part of the 20th century; Anaconda, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Miles City, Glendive, Livingston, Missoula, and Billings.

Ismay, MT post office. Jimmy Emerson, 2008.

He continues:
Unfortunately, some of my favorite PO's to visit have closed in the past few years. Vandalia, Powderville, Polebridge, Haugan, Swan Lake, Lake McDonald, Kinsey, Forestgrove, Creston, and Mosby were all unique places to visit. In fact Vandalia was probably my favorite of all; it was located in an old school building (dated 1912) that was much fun to photograph. For many years Penny Strommen served as postmaster there; now she has an art gallery in the old school house/post office building. And right next door to the old school house, the previous Vandalia P.O. building still stands, with "post office" readable to this day across the front of the building. I've stopped in Vandalia for photos at least 6 times over the years.

Former Vandalia, MT post office, 2011. Discontinued 2010.

Powderville was also a great place to visit, although not an easy place to visit; it's about 35 miles over dirt and gravel roads to get to the PO building which was a little shack out on the prairie. That little shack served as the post office for at least 50 years before it closed in 2013.

Former Powderville, MT post office, 2015. Discontinued 2013.

While monotonous standardization might have impacted the visual appeal of many post offices in Montana, Gary concludes, "there are some treasures to be found around the state if you've got the time to search."

Some of this searching takes Gary, and his wife and "fellow backroads traveler," Mary, way off the beaten track—even by Montana standards, to wit: Gateway, "a former port-of-entry along the Kootenai River in NW Montana." Gary: "The Gateway townsite was flooded in the 1970's when the Libby Dam was built, creating Lake Koocanusa." Normally accessible by foot or by boat, "very low lake levels" meant the site was only accessible via a five-mile hike.

Gary and Mary at Gateway

Other remote sites include Duderanch:
The post office at the OTO Ranch, one of the earliest dude ranches in Montana. It was a summer-seasonal P.O. that closed in 1937. The ranch is owned by the Forest Service now and has been restored to some of its former glory. It is accessible by foot, about a 2-mile hike in the Absaroka Mountains. The main lodge, which I'm standing in front of, was probably the site of the Duderanch P.O.

Gary's trips ain't over yet. When asked how much further his adventures might take him, he waxes poetic and practical:

"I'll likely keep driving the back roads looking for these long-gone communities as long as I have gas money and as long as Montana will give me a driver's license!" I sincerely hope you enjoyed this article, the first in what I hope will be a series of articles featuring postal enthusiasts from around the country!