Thursday, April 20, 2017

A 420 Road Trip? Visiting Weed, New Mexico and more

It struck me that, should the laws of the land ever change, and should the U.S. Post Office ever become the U.S. Pot Office, it would have a couple of great names to start with. Basically, yes, here is a post about post offices whose sole connection is they have 420-friendly names! Let's start in New Mexico.

Weed, New Mexico
Weed is located in the middle of nowhere. Located east of Alamogordo in the hills of southern New Mexico, it's a community of 20 people. Nevertheless it, and the neighboring post office of Sacramento, is able to sustain a four-hour post office. Get your bearings with this Google Map; Weed is on the right side:

Name aside, Weed, New Mexico has some of the best welcome and post office signage around. Check 'em out!

Welcome to Weed, New Mexico sign
Weed, NM post office sign

The building that houses the post office also houses the Weed Café.
Weed, NM Cafe and Post Office

Love the cowboy minding the entrance!
Weed, NM Cafe and Post Office porch

Inside the front door is the community bulletin board and some additional directions:
Weed, NM Cafe and Post Office

The actual postal part of the building has been standardized re: the counter and P.O. Box section.
Weed, NM post office

I visited the site in 2012, during my second large cross-country road trip. A few weeks later I visited another Weed, this time in sight of Mount Shasta in far northern California.

Weed, CA

Weed has a mid-century Federal Building, which unfortunately was backlit (and doesn't have very unobstructed views in general).

Weed, CA post office and federal building

Weed was the site of a massive fire in 2014, which destroyed several institutions—including churches and a library—though not the Federal Building.

Finally, let's head up to rural South Dakota, where two small towns (also visited on that road trip in 2012) east of Pierre on U.S. 14 round out our 420 tour.

Blunt, South Dakota has a population of about 350, and the post office has been at 301 North Main Street for nearly 50 years, since 1968. The current lease, as per USPS's Leased Facilities Report, is for a modest $4.99 per square foot.

Blunt, SD post office

And, of course, once you've driven through Blunt it's pretty easy to manage a trip to Highmore. Population-800 Highmore has had its post office located at 111 Commercial Avenue SE since its building's construction in 1961.

Highmore, SD post office

'Til next time!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Number of Post Offices by State (2017)

Which state has the most post offices, and how many post offices are there? For those curious souls, here is a ranking of states by number of active U.S. Post Offices by state (and territory) as of early 2017. Facilities include all USPS retail facilities: independent post offices (including APOs, RMPOs, and PTPOs), classified [USPS-staffed] stations and branches, and the handful of Post Office Express locations. Excluded are carrier-only facilities, specialized mail processing facilities, Contract Postal Units (CPUs) and Community Post Offices (CPOs), and Village Post Offices (VPOs). Postlandia obtained a complete list of active postal facilities via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Enjoy!

Total: 30,606 post offices

Rank State
# P.O.s
1 NY New York 1826
2 PA Pennsylvania 1805
3 TX Texas 1655
4 CA California 1634
5 IL Illinois 1315
6 OH Ohio 1117
7 MO Missouri 904
8 MI Michigan 894
9 VA Virginia 888
10 IA Iowa 830
11 NC North Carolina 822
12 MN Minnesota 777
13 FL Florida 750
14 WI Wisconsin 740
15 IN Indiana 715
16 GA Georgia 706
17 NJ New Jersey 692
18 KY Kentucky 676
19 WV West Virginia 655
20 AR Arkansas 616
21 MA Massachusetts 588
22 KS Kansas 586
23 AL Alabama 583
24 OK Oklahoma 582
25 TN Tennessee 582
26 WA Washington 519
27 LA Louisiana 507
28 NE Nebraska 479
29 MD Maryland 457
30 CO Colorado 437
31 ME Maine 428
32 MS Mississippi 421
33 SC South Carolina 398
34 OR Oregon 362
35 MT Montana 314
36 NM New Mexico 314
37 SD South Dakota 314
38 CT Connecticut 303
39 ND North Dakota 295
40 VT Vermont 266
41 AZ Arizona 265
42 ID Idaho 236
43 NH New Hampshire 232
44 AK Alaska 206
45 UT Utah 197
46 WY Wyoming  142
47 NV Nevada 130
48 HI Hawaii 105
49 RI Rhode Island 80
50 DE Delaware 63

PR Puerto Rico 118

DC District of Columbia 51

VI Virgin Islands 12

GU Guam 6

FM Federated States
of Micronesia

MH Marshall Islands 3

MP Northern Mariana Islands 2

AS American Samoa 1

PW Palau 1

Monday, April 10, 2017

Adamant About Vermont

Oh, Vermont. The state that's so beautiful that it banned billboards in 1968 to keep its natural scenery "free of visual clutter." Vermont is one of only four states (the others being Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine) to enact such policies. Exploring Vermont by post office is a truly enjoyable experience; historic general stores abound, old-style P.O. Boxes lurk in dozens of small towns, and the postal signage is much less homogenized than in other parts of the country. Many Vermont post offices bear wonderfully unique hand-painted signs; meaning few "Retail Standardization" blue-and-white Sonic Eagle signs, thank you very much.

Seriously, isn't this sign awesome?

One great post office—a contracted Community Post Office (CPO), to be precise—a village so small it barely registers on Google Maps. Located amid two lakes (Sodom Lake and Adamant Lake) and a State Forest, Adamant's population is perhaps a couple hundred people. The town centers around a crossroads: the four-way intersection of Center Rd., Adamant Rd., Quarry Rd., and Haggett Rd. The roads are so minor that the otherwise pervasive Google Street View has never gotten within two miles of the village (and seriously, it's 2017). Martin Road and Sodom Pond Road round out the routes in and out of the villages.

Here's a brief map, with which you can zoom out, to get yourself acquainted with this corner of Vermont. Given how remote the area feels, Adamant is but seven miles northeast of the state capital, Montpelier.

The names Sodom and Quarry pertain to the history of the town, as described on the website of the historic Adamant Co-op (which we'll see more about shortly):
In 1858 a crossroads appeared on an old Washington County map complete with a sawmill and six houses but no name. Granite quarries opened there in 1880, bringing workers from Scotland and Canada. A boarding house built near the quarry along with several other houses warranted a Post Office, which was called Sodom. ...

Albert Bliss, who refused to receive mail with the unsavory postmark of Sodom, petitioned the Post Office to change its name. Permission was given on the condition that the chosen name be unlike any other post office in the state. In 1905 Sodom was renamed Adamant, chosen for the granite quarries and the hardness of their stone, reportedly "A name perhaps as hard but not as wicked."

Adamant, Vermont Co-op and Community Post Office (CPO)

To those hard-headed enough to drive out to Adamant after a snowstorm, the visit is worth it. At the northern corner of the crossroads is the Adamant Co-op, a historic structure featuring wood-shingle siding, sun-worn signage, and an antique wall-mounted mail collection box. All of this is part of the oldest still-active cooperative store in the state. Again, from the co-op's website:
During the winter of 1934-1935, a local pastor gathered a group of neighbors to discuss starting a co-operative to buy groceries and create a market for local produce. In August of 1935, after eleven families each contributed five dollars to provide working capital, the Adamant Cooperative was incorporated. The Co-op rented space from Minnie Horr, who operated both the store and the post office out of her house, and purchased the building in 1940 for $600.

Sun-bleached signage at the Adamant post office

The wall-mounted mail collection box outside dates to 1922. How can you tell? Peek underneath and you'll often find the date of manufacture. This is among the oldest such boxes I've encountered.

Inside the co-op you'll find an iron heater, some welcoming women, and a warmly painted post office with antique brass P.O. Boxes. Love that cat up there!

Adamant, Vermont Community Post Office (CPO)

The Adamant post office was formally discontinued October 23, 1993, at which point the operation became a contracted Community Post Office (CPO) under the neighboring East Calais postmaster. The parent post office for Adamant has since changed as a result of POStPlan. Per Postmaster Finder: "On June 1, 2013, [East Calais was] converted to a Level 6 (6-hour) Remotely Managed Post Office under the direction of the Postmaster of the Plainfield Post Office."

There are plenty of fantastic postal operations all across Vermont. Hope to bring you some more stories from the area soon!

Utah CPUs: University Edition

Several university campuses in Utah maintain postal operations in the form of Contract Postal Units (CPUs). I was able to visit four such operations last November. These operations, as they are in other parts of the country, tend to reside in campus student centers and campus stores. Here's a quick tour, and a map:

Salt Lake City: University of Utah
The University of Utah, established in 1850, maintains a sizable campus east of downtown Salt Lake City. Its post office (Contract Postal Unit) is located in the University of Utah Campus Store. There is clear exterior signage (rarely a given), and the operation blends into the store with great paneling.

University of Utah post office/CPU

Orem: Utah Valley University CPU
40 minutes south of Salt Lake City is the city of Orem. It and Provo make for a sizable metro area unto themselves, so much so that Provo had (and still has!) a mail processing center. What is now Utah Valley University, in Orem, was founded in 1941 and is now the largest public college in the state. Its enrollment exceeds 33,000! The post office (CPU) for UVU is located in the Sorensen Student Center. There's no exterior signage but the CPU itself is photogenic. I was in and out quickly enough that parking in... let's just say a no-parking zone... at the entrance by the Outdoor Adventure Center wasn't an issue.

University Valley University post office/CPU

Provo: Brigham Young University CPU
Brigham Young University is a private university operated by the [Mormon] Church of Latter Day Saints. It is located just four miles southeast of UVU, and like UVU, BYU has an enrollment in excess of 33,000. BYU's Contract Postal Unit resides in the Ernest L. Wilkinson Student Center:

Wilkinson Student Center, BYU
Brigham Young University post office/CPU

BYU Print and Mail operates the CPU at the Wilkinson Center, and also has an operation a half-mile north on East University Parkway. Photos of the Mail Services operation there were taken by Postlandia friend John Gallagher, and they can be found here (ext.) and here (int.).

Price: Utah State University Eastern CPU
Head from the developed regions of the Wasatch Front, which includes all the places we've seen thus far, toward the stunning vistas of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in eastern Utah, and you're likely to take the road through Helper and Price in Utah's Carbon County. The county is so-named for its coal deposits, though the area is also a sizable producer of natural gas. Utah State University Eastern is located in Price, and maintains an enrollment of 2,000. USU Eastern's Contract Postal Unit is informally known as "Eagle Station," and it is located just inside the N 300 E [street] entrance to the Purchasing/Police building. USU Eastern Purchasing/Police building
USU Eastern post office/CPU

Bonus—Logan: Utah State University
Postlandia friend Jimmy Emerson took a photo of the CPU at the Taggart Student Center at Utah State University's primary campus in Logan, Utah, back in 2009.

Utah State University post office/CPU

See you next time!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Generations of Post Offices in Elkhart, Indiana

In the far north of central Indiana, 15 miles east of South Bend, lies the city of Elkhart. With a population of 50,000 the city's roots lie with the Village of Pulaski; established in 1829, Pulaski consisted of "a Post Office, mill, and a few houses on the north side of the St. Joseph River." (Wikipedia)

George Crawford was the first Postmaster of Pulaski, serving from June 6, 1829 to January 1839, at which point he was succeeded by Nathan Helmick. After a rival town named Elkhart was established by Dr. Havilah Beardsley next to Pulaski, the post office was renamed Elkhart on March 14, 1839, with Nathan continuing to serve as Postmaster. Paul Petosky, in February 2017's PMCC Bulletin, presented this historic photo of Mr. Helmick and his wife, Susannah Ross; it was supplied by Steve Squier, their great-great-great grandson.

Nathan Helmick, first Postmaster of Elkhart, Indiana

The first building erected for postal use was located on West Jackson Blvd., a half block west of Main Street. Built in 1868, the building served for about two decades before being relocated. The building has been recently restored and is part of a private business today. Here is a view of the old building taken in 2012.

Elkhart, IN: Old, old post office

A sizable federal building was constructed just down the block from the historic 1868 post office. Several stores adjacent to the 1868 building, including "a bicycle shop, a fish market, and a shooting gallery," were demolished to make way for the new facility, which opened in 1905 (Elkhart Public Library). A National Register of Historic Places documentation form details the 1905 federal building further:

"The [historic] district boasts some especially fine Neoclassical Revival buildings from the early twentieth century. Outstanding is the former post office, since rehabilitated into a bank, completed in 1905 on the northwest corner of Main and Jackson, the northernmost point of the district. Solid and substantial, of limestone with a granite foundation, its restrained exterior exhibits a dentilled cornice and pediment over the main entrance, which is flanked by Ionic columns."

Below are a National Archives photo of the newly completed post office taken in 1905; and a photo of the building from 2012, in use as a PNC Bank.

Elkhart, IN: 1905 post office Elkhart, IN: 1905 post office, now PNC Bank

Five blocks south on Main Street a new post office was constructed during the mid-'60s. Occupied in April 1965, USPS pays $7.00 per square foot rent for this 31,000-square-foot facility.

Elkhart, Indiana post office

We end our Elkhart tour with a visit to Heart's Desire, an antique / collectible / arts and crafts store in which lies a friendly Contract Postal Unit (CPU).

Heart's Desire, Elkhart, Indiana

The store gets a Nice Touch Award for having multiple guidance lines on the floor to lead you from the front to your destination within the complex. Here's the point at which the yellow line delivers you to the restroom (let's not pause to consider how apt that might or might not be); the blue line brings you to the CPU.

Elkhart, Indiana: Heart's Desire CPU


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Heart of the White Mountains: Bretton Woods, NH

In the shadow of Mount Washington, at the start of the road to the famous Cog Railway, lies a historic resort that's more than a century old. In 1902 The Mount Washington Hotel opened its doors, and this corner of New England continues to serve as a winter sports destination. I got to visit the site on a wintry February day.

The building houses quite a bit of history.
In 1944, The Mount Washington hosted the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference. Delegates from 44 nations convened, establishing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, setting the gold standard at $35 an ounce and designating the United States dollar as the backbone of international exchange. The signing of the formal documents took place in the Gold Room, located off the Hotel Lobby and now preserved as an historic site.

For our purposes, the hotel is also home to a friendly and photogenic post office in the form of a Community Post Office (CPO), a subset of Contract Postal Unit (CPU). This means it's operated by a contractor, but offers most standard postal services at the same prices as an official Post Office.

You can read a bit more about the history of mail services here to the right of the window.

Bretton Woods, N. H. Post Office.

SEASON 1903.

Arrival and Departure of Mails.
• Close 7.00 a. m., 12.30 and 10.00 p. m., via B. & M. All mountain houses (except Crawfords, Boston and way stations, New England States, New York, Middle and Western States.
• Close 8.00 a. m., 4.00 and 10.15 p. m., via Maine Central railroad. Crawfords, Bartlett, Glen, Jackson, Intervale, North Conway, all Maine, Nova Scotia and Boston.
• Close 9.00 a. m. and 4.30 p. m. Summit Mount Washington, N. H.
• Close 12.00 m., via Maine Central Railroad. Direct Western and Canadian, Twin Mountain, Whitefield, Jefferson, Lancaster, Colebrook, N. H., St. Johnsbury and Burlington, Vt.
• Close 8.00 p. m., Direct New York, Middle, Western and Southern States and foreign.

• 9.00 a. m., 4.00, 6.00, 8.00 and 9.00 p. m., from Boston and New England States.
• 9.00 a. m., 4.45 and 7.45 p. m., from New York, Middle, Western and Southern States and foreign.
• 9.00 a. m., 12.30 and 5.30 p. m., from all Maine, Nova Scotia, Intervale, North Conway and Crawfo rds.
• 12.00 m., from Burlington, Montpelier, Concord, and local New Hampshire.
• 5.00 p. m., from the West and Canada.
• 9.00 a. m. and 4.00 p. m., Summit Mt. Washington, N. H.
What service!

The history of the Bretton Woods post office is complicated, as detailed on USPS's Postmaster Finder. Originally established as the Mount Pleasant House post office in Grafton County on July 24, 1884, the operation was iscontinued on October 1, 1887. The operation was reestablished on July 10, 1888, in Coos County ("CO-aahs" -- imagine the word cooperate); renamed Bretton Woods in October 31, 1902; discontinued March 31, 1943 and once again reestablished July 6, 1944. The official United States Post Office was discontinued on February 11, 1966, but was finally reestablished as a contract facility in the form of a Rural Branch with the parent post office of Twin Mountain. Postlandia friend Kelvin Kindahl sheds further light on more recent developments: Rural branches were designated as Community Post Offices (CPOs) in 1977; and with the advent of POStPlan the administrative office for Bretton Woods was changed to Whitefield as of Feb. 23, 2013."

I love the classic wall-mounted blue collection box.

A really cool piece of the operation's history can be found in the 1943 postal scale. It has multiple 20-pound weights you can apply to weigh even rather heavy packages.

'Til next time!

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Stamp Issue to Make FDR Proud

A drizzle couldn't dampen the mood at the historic Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York last Tuesday as a crowd of 175 gathered to celebrate the issuance of ten WPA Poster-themed Forever postage stamps. Speakers at the First-Day stamp ceremony included Library and Museum director Paul Sparrow; Megan Brennan, Postmaster General; Anthony Musso, FDR author and historian; and David Roosevelt, grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Postmaster General Megan Brennan speaking at WPA Posters stamp First-Day ceremony.

The series of ten stamps was made available for sale nationwide in a booklet-of-20 format beginning on March 7. The Works Progress Administration (later Work Projects Administration—each WPA) was perhaps the capstone of Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambitious New Deal, a set of programs which impacted all corners of the American social and geographic landscape as part of a massive effort to combat the effects of the Great Depression. The WPA operated between 1935 and 1943, and is best known for the staggering array of physical infrastructure development projects it undertook: more than 1,000 airports were developed; 24,000 miles of sidewalks, and sewers were installed; 40,000 public buildings were constructed, including schools, libraries, and hospitals; thousands of parks were developed; and hundreds of thousands of miles of roads built or improved with WPA labor. The list goes on. 8.5 million unemployed Americans were put to work as part of WPA projects that benefited the public good.

In addition to manual laborers the WPA put thousands of white-collar workers to work. Women were employed as seamstresses (creating and repairing 382 million articles of clothing), nurses, and school cafeteria workers (serving 1.2 billion school lunches). The new WPA Posters stamp issue celebrates a lesser recognized accomplishment of the WPA: poster artwork produced by a division of an arts program, which was known as Federal Project No. 1. As part of "Federal One" WPA artists created murals and sculptures for public buildings; musicians played in Federal Music Project orchestras; and thespians performed in Federal Theatre Project plays. WPA artists also created posters that were displayed in public places. These posters encouraged exploration of America's landmarks and natural treasures, "education, health, conservation and other civic ideals" (USPS). Two million posters of approximately 35,000 designs were produced. Ten of these designs are commemorated with the new WPA Posters stamp issue.

Left to right: Paul Sparrow, Megan Brennan, David Roosevelt, and Anthony Musso.

"These stamps commemorate the work of my grandfather's most ambitious New Deal program and the artwork generated from the WPA artists," declared David B. Roosevelt, grandson of Franklin and Eleanor.

Postmaster General Megan Brennan dedicated the stamps at the ceremony, lauding the "simple, effective, and striking" style of the artwork created as part of the WPA's poster program. FDR, an avid stamp collector, "understood the power of visual design" and the WPA's artwork was "bold and energizing." The designs featured on these stamps are "classic and enduring" images that continue to appeal today.

The Library of Congress maintains the largest collection of surviving WPA poster artwork. Digitized images can be viewed here.

It's only fitting that the stamps were inaugurated at Hyde Park in Dutchess County, explained Anthony Musso, author of FDR and the Post Office. Dutchess County is home to the five 'FDR Post Offices': Beacon, Wappingers Falls, Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, and Rhinebeck. Each of the five distinctive post offices was constructed during FDR's presidency, and FDR himself had a hand in the design of each. Each was built with locally quarried stone and each possesses sizable or otherwise distinctive works of New Deal artwork inside. (Beacon, Hyde Park, and Rhinebeck house full lobby-wraparound murals; Wappingers Falls has two triangular murals painted directly on walnut wood, and Poughkeepsie's houses five large murals on two stories.) In each case the New Deal artwork displays aspect of the community's heritage. The art was created and installed in public buildings so to be accessible to all people. Four of the five post offices (all but Beacon) were designed after historic buildings in each community. Poughkeepsie's post office— the "Grand Palace"—was designed to emulate the former courthouse in the city in which New York became the 11th state to ratify the Constitution, in 1788. Collectively the five FDR post offices in Dutchess County are among the finest and most concentrated collection of New Deal post offices in the country.

The "Grand Palace" Poughkeepsie post office, recently completed, Dec. 1938.

[Note: I must correct a popular misconception that was repeated several times by the speakers at the stamp ceremony (and, alas, even by me in the past). New Deal post offices and their attendant artwork were not themselves products of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Rather, they were products of parallel but separate New Deal programs that were overseen by the federal Treasury Department. Post office building construction was overseen by the Public Buildings Branch (1933—1939) and Public Buildings Administration (within the Federal Works Agency, 1939+), with many facilities funded in conjunction with the Public Works Administration (PWA). Federal building artwork was commissioned by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts ("the Section", or SFA) and Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), not the WPA's Federal Art Project.]

David Roosevelt speaking at the WPA Posters stamp First-Day ceremony.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was an avid stamp aficionado. At its peak his collection of stamp numbered 1.2 million items. Collecting and studying stamps "helped save his life," declared Ms. Brennan. Philately was "like a Zen meditation for him," stated Mr. Musso. According to the National Postal Museum, "As a child, he looked to stamps for knowledge about the world. As a polio-stricken adult, they offered solace." David Roosevelt affirmed the value of philately: it "makes us better citizens and innumerable ways enriches our lives."

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum granted free admission to all attendees of the stamp ceremony. FDR's first stamp album was put on display at the museum for the first time.

One special guest at the ceremony was Jeremiah Brennan, Postmaster General Megan Brennan's father. He lived through the Depression and was an admirer of FDR. Mr. Brennan came from Pennsylvania to attend the event.

The Colors were presented by New York State Police Troop K. The National Anthem was sung by the First Ladies a cappella group from Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park. (Now Haviland Middle School, the former Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School building in Hyde Park was constructed as a New Deal project with Public Works Administration funds!)

First Ladies a capella group singing at the WPA Posters stamp First-Day ceremony.

In addition to stamp designer Maribel Gray, USPS personnel from Postal Headquarters, the Westchester District, and Hyde Park Post Office were on-hand. A first-day hand-cancellation and Hyde Park "bullet" dater were available for postmarking purposes.

Local coverage by the Poughkeepsie Journal and Hudson Valley Post.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Alaska's Floating Post Office, and the Town Under One Roof

Hello again! Welcome to Postlandia's fourth installment of Alaskan postal explorations. In case you missed them here are the links to the first three posts in the series:

1. The Last Frontier: Alaska, Anchorage, and Bypass Mail
2. The Halibut Capital of the World
3. The Crooked Runway

This time we conclude our late October explorations from Homer, Alaska. Instead of flying we will be heading to our final village off the road network, Halibut Cove, on the official U.S. mail boat. And like the communities we've visited in our previous posts, there's nothing quite where we've about to go.

TravelAlaska: "There are no roads to Halibut Cove — in fact there are no roads in Halibut Cove — but the community is only [a few] miles across Kachemak Bay from Homer and the famous Homer Spit... Halibut Cove's peak years date back to 1911 when it supported 42 herring salteries and a population of more than 1,000. After the salteries closed, most residents left and today the community is an enclave of artists, craftsmen, commercial fishermen and the operators of one very fine restaurant."

Halibut Cove features just one-to-two dozen permanent residents around its pristine waters, with scenic views of the Kenai Mountains and blocks of boardwalks on stilts to protect everyone from (as we noted back in Seldovia) some of the highest tides in the world. They also have, of course, a post office—a contracted Community Post Office (CPO), to be precise.

Fortunately, of those dozen full-time residents two are named Carl and Tammy Jones. They were gracious enough to answer all my questions, get me on the mail boat out to the town and ferry me back to Homer, all during the tourist off-season. Thank you, Tammy!

Our journey begins at the docks near the end of the four-mile-long Homer Spit (seen from above, below).

Flying over Homer Spit

On the ground (water?) our destination of the Stormbird, a former U.S. Army T-boat that carries the mail twice a week to Halibut Cove. During the tourist season she also carries passengers who can "visit the art gallery, hike the scenic trails or beaches watching the wildlife or grab a bite to eat at the Saltry Restaurant." Today though, we're off to see Halibut Cove's floating post office.

Here is the Stormbird docked at the harbor in Homer, and its USPS / mail boat decal.

Stormbird in Homer Harbor

The Kenai Mountains are in the background as we leave the harbor.

Aboard is a stack of mail and a bag of mail. Mail gets delivered twice a week to Halibut Cove: Tuesday and Saturday. The post office is open those days and only those days. Current operating hours are 9:00am - 10:00am and 3:00pm - 5:00pm. The official "address" of the post office is 6400 Boat Dock Lndg.

You are welcomed to Halibut Cove by a former lighthouse, now a rental that can be had for a cool $200/night.

Stormbird is ably captained by skipper Jim, seen here focusing on the task at hand.

Upon arrival at the dock the mail is carried the few dozen feet to the post office. Halibut Cove is identified by USPS as a No-Office Point (NOP), "a location where there is no Postal Service facility or Postal Service personnel. The NOP community identifies and appoints an individual as the agent responsible for receipt and dispatch of mail." Below, mail is walked to the post office, and contractor ('Postmaster') Kay comes down to greet the mail and open up shop for the afternoon. Behind her is the Halibut Cove Coffee House, a visitor favorite.

Stormbird handles deliveries beyond official mail as well. Tires were among the products getting delivered this October afternoon.

The post office building (along with the entire dock) rises and falls with the tide. Hence it is truly a floating post office. See the pilings? We're actually near high tide at this time. I think it's also interesting to watch just how extreme the tides in this area can be, and how it affects the piers. Watch this time-lapse video from nearby Tutka Bay, from low to high tide:

I will let the post office speak for itself. This might be the greatest post office sign ever.

Halibut Cove post office

Halibut Cove post office

The inside of the post office is not unusual, per se.

I think it's helpful to provide a broader view of the community. I never made it to high ground, per se, but one person who took a Halibut Cove hike, Panoramio user jeffxx, took this wonderful overview photo. I annotated a small version of it to show the Halibut Cove Community Post Office (CPO) in its larger context.

Anyway. I sent a LOT of postcards to my friends from the post office. Thank you, Kay, for putting up with me!

From the post office Carl Jones ferried me on the Bay Roamers Water Taxi to the beautiful Covelight Inn for some much-needed coffee after a long day of flights and ferrying. Bye, floating post office!

The water taxi ride was pleasant. You'll likely see wildlife during a trip to Halibut Cove. Case in point: welcome back, Otter!

Here's the lovely Covelight Inn. And here I am with Tammy, outside.

The trip back to Homer was chock full of wildlife, all documented (from very long range) while still in the cove. First was a sighting of Spot, the resident seal. You can even get postcards of him at the post office! Careful if you're a fisherman just back from a run; he might just snatch away some salmon!

(And, gotta love the Internet, here's a video of a cat named Cleo passing by a sleeping Spot, on a kayak.)

Next up, a graceful blue heron.

Finally, a couple of bald eagles!

Bald eagles in Halibut Cove

Back on terra firma, here's one final look of the Homer Port and Harbor.

Homer Port and Harbor

So the flights to Seldovia, Port Graham, and Nanwalek, as well as my trip on the mail boat, occurred in one day. Let's get a drink. The Salty Dawg Saloon is right by the docks and is positively plastered floor to ceiling in (largely signed) dollar bills. Talk about a really cool decor / possible fire hazard!

Salty Dawg Saloon

Anyway. Cheers, and thanks for joining me on this Alaskan voyage.

But before we go...

Whittier: The 'Town Under One Roof'

Before we bid adieu to the Last Frontier for now, I thought I'd show you a postal operation south of Anchorage that, while it is on the primary Alaskan road network, makes for a rather unique travel experience. That's because a mountain separates the city of Whittier from Portage, which is on the primary route Alaska 1. The solution? A tunnel, of course. But this isn't just any tunnel. This 2.6-mile tunnel was the longest highway tunnel in North America until it was edged out by upon completion of Boston's Big Dig. What's remarkable about Whittier's Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is that it's one lane wide. This means that both vehicular traffic, and even train traffic, travel in the same space. How is this accomplished? Very carefully. "The one-lane tunnel must be shared by cars and trains traveling in both directions, and it usually needs to be aired out in between trips (with jet turbine ventilation, another first!). This unique design that enables a single lane of traffic to travel directly over the railroad track saved tens of millions of dollars over the cost of constructing a new tunnel."

So how does it work? You can't travel the tunnel any time you want; there's a schedule stating when eastbound traffic can enter and travel (once per hour), and when westbound traffic can enter and travel (once per hour). And then, of course, the trains get their time slots as well.

The arrangement makes for an interesting visual when driving through.

Tunnel to Whittier

Ah, yes. There's also a toll (collected eastbound), which was $13 for the round trip last year. And don't head to Whittier for the nightlife; the tunnel is closed entirely between 11:00 pm and 5:30 am.

So how is Whittier "under one roof," you ask? Because Whittier is an unusual town. For a community with only 200 residents the landscape is dominated by one surprisingly tall structure: Begich Towers, which houses most of the community's residents as well as the city offices, police department, and (of course) the post office! The contracted Community Post Office (CPO), to be precise.

Begich Towers, Whittier

The 14-story building was originally constructed as an army barracks during the 1950s. It was constructed in three phases as three buildings: "east," "middle," and "west". The post office can be found inside the east entrance (at left, above) along Kenai Street. It features a great wooden sign, banks of P.O. Boxes, and an experienced contractor who's got some interesting stories to share.

Whittier, Alaska Community Post Office (CPO):
Whittier Community Post Office

You can see more photos and read more stories from Whittier here.

Hope you enjoyed! That's it for this episode, but don't worry, there are plenty of amazing post offices to be found all over our country. See you next time on Postlandia.