Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reading All About It—Post Office Returns to Kansas Town After Four Years

(Updated Sept. 12, 2015: Added a new photo, modest update, and link to image of destroyed post office from 2011.)

Four years ago the 200-plus-person community of Reading, Kansas was devastated. On May 21, 2011, a tornado struck the community, killing one, flattening dozens of homes, and taking with it most of the village's business district, including the post office. (An image of the aftermath, taken by Jim Saueressig, can be found here.) USPS operations in Reading were immediately suspended; worse, the cessation of services was unlikely to be purely temporary. Some veteran readers of this blog might recall that the Postal Service was considering the closure of 3,700 [mostly rural] post offices, and Reading faced the outright discontinuance of its post office.

Reading is located in Lyon County, Kansas, about an hour's drive south-southwest of Topeka and 25 minutes northeast of Emporia. Here's a map. Note not only the location of Reading but also that of Lebo. Lebo is the site of the nearest post office to Reading.

Reading's postal operations had been relocated to Lebo after the tornado, and to reach it Reading residents had to undertake a 26-mile, 40-minute round-trip drive. At the end of 2011 the change was likely to be permanent. Imagine needing to take to the road for nearly an hour to purchase some stamps or access your mail! Reading residents had the option of picking up their mail at P.O. Boxes in Lebo or installing their own mailboxes to receive mail delivery service by rural carrier. (Note: Reading's rural carriers were also moved to, and continue to operate from, Lebo.)

Topeka's Capital-Journal newspaper has been covering the story for four years, and by mid-2011 the story was bleak. The town's post office had been in operation since the community's founding in 1870, and the story was likely to end right there. The tornado took with it two rich pieces of Reading's heritage: the post office and the historic 1915 building that had most recently housed it. Here is a photo of the Reading post office by John Gallagher taken in 2001, and part of the PMCC's massive Online Post Office Photo Collection:

Reading, KS post office, 2001

Residents of Reading refused to give up their fight to save the post office, and in Sept. 2011 the Capital-Journal reported that the USPS's formal discontinuance survey of the Reading post office had been suspended, "due to the unwavering efforts of Sen. Jerry Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts, along with all of the other folks who have written, called and emailed" in their efforts to save the Reading post office.

After some (presumably) bureaucratic stagnation the Capital-Journal reported in 2014 that Postal Service officially stated its intention to reopen the post office in Reading. A new, small site (merely 700 square feet in area) was sought at which to open a new postal facility.

The decision was made to site the new post office at the community's old town hall. The building is located just across the street from the former post office building, which has since been demolished. A 2009 Google Street View photo shows the two facilities, both located along 1st Street; in the view shown below the former post office (1915 building) can be seen at the left while the then-future site of the post office can be seen across the street (at right).

The results of the efforts on behalf of both the community and the USPS have since borne fruit: the new Reading post office reopened in June at the old town hall. According to the (who else?) Capital-Journal "a USPS construction crew has renovated the building, installing new heating and air-conditioning systems, upgrading the bathroom to meet USPS standards and erecting a new flag pole and lighted post office sign." The improvements at the front of the building also include the addition of new steps, handicapped-accessible ramp, and attendant railings. The building has been freshly painted in an elegant blue-and-white scheme that accentuates the building's windows and door; they reflect the Sonic Eagle sign above the door. Even the aforementioned railings fit the color scheme! During the first month or two of operation the location's primary downside was the lack of signage identifying the actual name of the community. Demonstrated by the first photo below, it appeared that once again a community's local identity was superseded by the Postal Service's branding initiatives. (It's a trend the author does not care for at all.) In that sense, while the building is clean and beautiful, its standardized design had been entirely devoid of any character that would actually make the new post office the community's own.

Our friend Steve Bahnsen drove out to Reading to see the new post office for himself. This photo was taken in July. Steve reports that the post office reopened Monday, June 29, 2015.

(Update, 9/12/15:) Jordan McAlister, a road trip warrior from the Midwest and friend of GP, visited the Reading P.O. on Sept. 7 after reading this very article, and his photo shows the new stenciled signage in the post office's front window. It's in a rather odd font, but at least it's authentic! Jordan's original photo can be found here.

The new post office is located at 413 1st Street. USPS's Locations tool states that the hours for the post office are 9:30 to 1:30 M-F with two morning hours (9:30 to 11:30) on Saturdays. The facility is accessible 24 hours a day so that residents can access their P.O. Box mail any time they choose. The post office is a RMPO (Remotely-Managed Post Office) as per POStPlan.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Going Galápagos—The Post Office Without Stamps

My lovely friends Brian and Katie took a long-awaited trip to the Galápagos Islands a few months back, and they were thrilled to pass on information about the, shall we say, informal 'Post Office' on Floreana Island.

The Galápagos Islands (and the biota living thereupon) are among the most distinctive in the world, straddling the Equator across a span of a couple hundred miles. The archipelago constitutes a province of Ecuador and currently houses 25,000 residents. More significantly, the islands house native species not found anywhere else in the world, and the rich diversity of animal and plant life inspired Charles Darwin's development of the theories of natural selection and evolution. These islands changed our understanding of life as we know it. But I digress.

As always, let's introduce some mappy goodness. Below, the islands are in the left-center of the initial map:

Floreana Island is at the southern end of the archipelago:

And here's a closer view of Floreana Island [bottom of map]—note Post Office Bay!

The Bahía Post Office on Floreana Island has been around since 1793. Back in the day the Galápagos were a stopping point for large whaling vessels. Now imagine: your home country is somewhere in Europe, and here you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America, half a world away (and the Panama Canal not to be built for another century). Your voyage is not just months but probably multiple years long. The people who invented the telegraph haven't been born yet. So how do you communicate with loved ones?

Well, many whalers pondered this (let's just say they were all in the same boat—hah, get it?). Many of them ended up relying on each other. writes:
This is one of the few visitor sites in Galapagos where human history is the main focus. A group of whalers placed a wooden barrel here in 1793 and called it a post office. Traveling seamen would leave addressed letters in the barrel and hope that the next seamen to come along might be headed in the direction of their letters’ destinations. Today, visitors leave their own postcards and sift through the current pile of cards—if they find one that they can hand-deliver, they take it with them.
My friend Katie writes that the principle behind the site hasn't changed much...
1. To send a letter: you write a post card, do not put a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox.
2. To deliver a post card: You look through all the post cards in the mailbox and find one that goes somewhere near where you live. You take that post card home and drop it off at their house when you have time.

(I have no idea how long the average item remains in the mailbox or what percentage do actually get delivered. Or if some people just bring it back to their home country and mail it from there.)

Here are some photos by my friend, April 2015; the post office, some signage, and mail barrel:
Floreana Island, Galapagos post office
Floreana Island, Galapagos post office sign
Floreana Island, Galapagos mail barrel
Floreana Island, Galapagos mail barrel

I have no idea what is going on by the barrel. (Does that head-thing on the right remind anybody else of Donnie Darko??) Unfortunately it appears there has been some graffiti as well. That said, this is definitely unique and utterly cool!

You can read more about the Floreana Island post office here:
The Washington Post: Galapagos island relies on travelers to deliver the mail
Land Loper: The Post Office at the End of the World

Bonus: Ecuador's postal service is called Correos del Ecuador and there are other, more traditional, post offices on the Galápagos Islands. Here are some descriptions.

Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz: "The main drag, Charles Darwin, runs east-west along the bay. At the westernmost end of town you will find the Academy Bay port, the main grocery store, hardware store and post office." There is only one bank in town with an ATM machine and the post office is right hear the harbor.

Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela: "Buildings are concrete block, often colorfully painted or sporting murals as on the post office below. As the postmistress is the mother of one of the town’s laundress, when the laundress is out of town, you can pick up your laundry at the post office."

There's are photos of the post office here (fourth photo on the page) and here!

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla de San Cristóbal:
Great photo here! "There aren't many places where you can send or receive mail in the Galápagos islands, but on San Cristóbal the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno has a post office."