Sunday, January 13, 2019

Holcomb, Kansas

This is a modest entry, one that occurred to me only a year after I visited the town of Holcomb, Kansas and, somewhere along the same road trip that took me there, listened to This American Life: Our Town. If you've heard this episode you'll understand. Finney County, Kansas, has seen a sizable influx of Latino workers to this rural, stereotypically deep red pocket of a deep red state. But as KHI reports, "the Hispanic population has continued to grow steadily. Latinos make up nearly half of the total population in Finney County." Driving into Holcomb from the west I noticed a huge (perhaps 85-acre) meat processing facility owned by Tyson Fresh Meats... again, this is not commentary; if you're heard those episodes of This American Life, you'll understand why I bring this up.

What brought me to Holcomb originally was, well, two things: 1. When I'm in an area I visit all the post offices in said area; and I was in southwest Kansas to begin with (see previous post); and 2. Holcomb, specifically, I wanted to visit because I'd read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood back in 2015, as subway reading fodder. Thanks to the MTA you know you'll probably have some extra time on your hands. Anyway, I'd wanted to visit Holcomb and Garden City ever since I read the book.

So: just a map of what's going on in town. I've missed making some Postlandia maps!

Holcomb, KS map with Clutter farm and post offices

Coming in to town from U.S. 50, you pass the schools on the way to the current post office, a generic 3,200-square-foot facility that's been in use since 1998. The entrance to the parking lot is smack-dab off the inside of a huge curve in the road. I recall it being slightly awkward.

Holcomb, Kansas post office Holcomb, Kansas post office

From here I headed toward the Clutter farm, which you can see takes me straight through North Main Street. I instantly picked out the building, on the east side of the road, that had previously served as the post office. But let's save that for a bit later. My primary destination was the Clutter farm. To get there you need to drive on an unpaved road: Oak Avenue, 1150 feet until its end. While the road curves north a dirt driveway continues on straight another third of a mile; the end of the driveway is the closest you can get to the home (alas, no trespassing signs)—gotta respect folks' privacy! I was able to snag a couple of photos at this point: 1, the driveway, with alternating trees; you can see the farm and house. Next, a telephoto of the house (this is why I love my 50x optical zoom lens!). For those who've read the book, I'll just leave these here for you to ponder.

Old Clutter farm / driveway:
Old Clutter farm, driveway, Holcomb, KS

Old Clutter house:
Old Clutter house, Holcomb, KS

Back on North Main Street, I got a couple of photos of the La Popular Grocery Store (a.k.a. the old post office). I love it; it's got character, a sign of an evolving community; of renewal. First, here is the building as it appears as the grocery store in 2018. Second, here is the building back when it served as Holcomb's post office (a photo by Postlandia friend John Gallagher), taken back in 1994. Again, even without having seen that image beforehand the building was instantly recognizable as a standard post office design.

La Popular Grocery Store, 2018:
La Popular Grocery Store, 2018

(Old) Holcomb post office, 1994:
Old Holcomb, Kansas post office

You can notice a couple of changes to the front of the building, notably that the brick is now exposed whereas it had previously been covered. I like the new, bare appearance better. This comparison made possible thanks to the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC) Online Post Office Photograph Collection! It's currently up to 441 photos from Kansas.

'Til next time,

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Panhandling in Oklahoma (or, Visiting Post Offices in Five States in One Day)

Using Albuquerque as a base, last January I was able to do something I hadn't even considered you could reasonably do outside the northeast United States: visit post offices in five states in one day, all while driving less than 200 miles. It's like the Four Corners on steroids! (Actually, the feat can be accomplished in less than 150 miles, but I went philatelically all-out.) Let me explain...

Cimarron County, Oklahoma is way out at the west end of the 166-mile-long, 34-mile-wide Oklahoma Panhandle. Just looking at the state I want to cook popcorn on the stove. Cimarron County makes up the western third of the region. With 1.3 people per square mile, and half the county's population residing in the seat, Boise City, the region is rather sparse.

Here is a typical landscape along Highway 325, west of Boise City.
Highway 325, Cimarron County, Boise City to Kenton

Cimarron County is home to Oklahoma's highest point (Black Mesa) and the only community in Oklahoma that observes Mountain Time (Kenton). Google considers it so low-priority that the area hasn't been visited by Street View in nearly a decade; so if you're itching to see the latest developments—like the new interchange of U.S. 287 and U.S. 412 east of Boise City—at ground level, you're straight out of luck.

Most interesting for our purposes, however, is a bit of trivia that cannot be said for any of the 3,000+ other counties in the U.S.: Cimarron County, Oklahoma borders four other states. New Mexico lies to the west; Texas to the south; [more Oklahoma to the east;] and Colorado to the north—for 53 of the 54 miles of the county's northern border, anyway... For less than a mile the county also touches the very southwestern corner of Morton County, Kansas! Which means, it's rather possible to visit post offices in five states in a comparatively compact space, particularly out west. Here's a map of the situation:

Cimarron County, OK map

For my drive last year I started the day in Sublette, Kansas, and ended in Raton, New Mexico. I took U.S. 56 down through Elkhart, Kansas; visited the post office in Keyes, Oklahoma; diverted north to Campo, Colorado; came back to Boise City; drove the 36 miles one way to Kenton; found my way to Felt, OK; visited the P.O. in Texline, Texas; and finally headed west through Clayton, New Mexico, toward Raton. This post will focus on the four POs in Cimarron County and the aforementioned other POs (Elkhart to Clayton).


Elkhart: Elkhart is the seat of Morton County. This standard box of a post office has been in service since 1961.
Elkhart, Kansas post office

Oklahoma: Cimarron County

Keyes: This 2,600-square-foot post office has been occupied since 1996.
Keyes, Oklahoma post office

Boise City: A standard design for this region of the country, in use since 1991.
Boise City, Oklahoma post office

Kenton: This trailer of a post office feels the most interesting because of its site-specific sign, and the wonderful background.
Kenton, Oklahoma post office

Felt: This cute 495-square-foot post office has been in service since 1977.


Campo: This nicely lit post office was built in 1967.
Campo, Colorado post office


Texline: Since 1991 the post office has been at this long'n'low structure (immediately below). Prior to that it had been at a building on E Market St., west of U.S. 87. Google Street View shows the building still had its flagpole as of 2012; as of my 2018 visit the building showed no signs of occupation.

Texline, Texas post office

Old post office, Texline, Texas

New Mexico

Clayton: This generic 4,342-square-foot post office has been in service since 1965.
Clayton, New Mexico post office

So, there you have it! Post offices in five (non-northeastern) states, in half a day. Hope you enjoyed!

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Postal Summary

It's that time of the year again... the end of it! This blog has been around since 2010, and every year I've posted a year-end summary of all the post offices I've visited that year. So, welcome to our ninth annual summary!

(As always, my prior summaries can be found at these links: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018. Let's go!)

2018 was a comparatively modest year. I visited a hearty 565 new, active postal operations this year, my lowest new count since 2015. My grand total is now 9,287 post offices.

This year's travels included two sizable voyages out west: a weeklong jaunt beginning and ending in Albuquerque, a 2,400-mile round trip that netted 114 post offices across five states. A two-week adventure began in Phoenix and culminated at LAX, and resulted in 157 new post offices. I dedicated nearly a full day of that trip to visiting just one new office: North Rim, Arizona. (Fun fact, I was its first customer of the year!)

Thank you to the dozens of people who purchased the 2019 Postlandia calendar, and/or postcards! Your support is always greatly appreciated. This has always been a passion project, and I don't get paid a dime to do any of this.

Postlandia also has a popular, growing Instagram feed. Check it out!

As always, the counts in this post include active 'standard' post offices, Contract Postal Units (CPUs), carrier annexes, and mail processing plants. They do not include former sites (e.g. historic post office buildings), places I've previously been to but revisited (say, to take a better photo), or previously discontinued operations. Here are some assorted photos from various operations I've visited this year:

Middlsex-Essex Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC), North Reading, Mass.
Middlesex-Essex P&DC, North Reading, MA

Liberal, Kansas former post office—a New Deal beaut!
Old post office, Liberal, KS

Easton, PA: Lafayette College CPU
Lafayette College post office, Easton, PA

Yeso, NM former post office
Old post office, Yeso, NM

I continued documenting the U.S. Postal Service's New Deal treasures as well, for example:

Northampton, PA: "Physical Changes of the Postman through the Ages", a cast stone relief by Maurice Glickman, 1939

2018 By the Numbers

I visited as many as 35 post offices in one day this year (in southern California), and post offices in as many as five states (specifically, KS, OK, CO, TX, and NM) in one day. State by state:

New York: 117 post offices
Focus/Foci: Western Hudson Valley, the Catskills

Pennsylvania: 83 post offices
Northeast corner

Arizona: 83 post offices
Eastern Phoenix area, I-40 from Kingman to Winslow, the Grand Canyon, and Flagstaff to Page

California: 50 post offices
I-15 from Baker to San Bernardino, San Bernardino Mountains, Route 91 around Anaheim

Massachusetts: 44 post offices
Western Worcester County; Salem/Beverly; Reading

Texas: 42 post offices
Western half of the northern panhandle, incl. Amarillo

New Mexico: 35 post offices
Northeast New Mexico: Clovis to Clayton

Utah: 25 post offices
Southern Utah: St. George area to Big Water

Kansas: 24 post offices
Southwest corner

New Hampshire: 24 post offices
Southeast New Hampshire

Maine: 16 post offices
Southwest Maine; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

Oklahoma: 12 post offices
Western panhandle

Nevada: 11 post offices
I-15 corridor, excluding Las Vegas; new Vegas CPUs

New Jersey: 11 post offices
Northwest Bergen County

Rhode Island: 2 post offices
Naval Station Newport

Colorado: 1 post office

Here's the Campo, Colorado post office (southeastern-most in Colorado):
Campo, Colorado post office


9,000th post office: Wittmann, Arizona
Me at the Wittman, AZ post office
Last year I finished visiting all publicly accessible post offices in Rhode Island...

Actually completing Rhode Island:

Last year WNPR's Colin McEnroe Show (listen to the full episode here) invited me to speak about some post offices across Connecticut and the U.S., and I mentioned for the sake of accuracy that I'd visited all *publicly accessible* post offices in Connecticut, although I had not been able to visit the operation located on the Naval Submarine Base New London, in Groton. Thanks to a very generous listener, and U.S. Navy officers and officials at base, not only was I able to complete my Connecticut postal collection, but this year I got to visit the Naval Station post office of Newport, Rhode Island (the one P.O. in the Ocean State I had not been able to visit), as well as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard post office in Kittery, Maine! Thank you all!!!

Here I am at the Naval Station Newport post office:

Special thanks to Navalog (the base's magazine) for highlighting my visit in its April 19 issue, and for "A Time and a Place" magazine from the Catskills for featuring my travels in their December 2018 edition!


A Time and a Place:

Counting Counties:
I visited 43 new counties in 2018. They are shown in dark blue on this travel map:

Dear readers, thank you for your continued support! I'm hoping to share many more new post office stories and photos with you in 2019.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Beautiful Post Office: Dubuque, Iowa

Dubuque holds a special place in history: It is, per its website, "Iowa's oldest city and is among the oldest settlements west of the Mississippi River. The first permanent settler to the area was French-Canadian fur trader Julien Dubuque." The region contained rich deposits of lead, and Mr. Dubuque worked with the native Mesquakie to mine it until the time of his death in 1810. Dubuque is also home of what was the first post office in Iowa! Per The Annals of Iowa: "The postal system in Iowa dates from 1833 the first postoffice being established in Dubuque (then called Dubuque's Mines) on May 27th." The City of Dubuque was chartered in 1837 and has had a post office by that name since that time (replacing the Dubuque's Mines P.O.). By 1837 two dozen post offices had been established in the territory, and by the time of Iowa's 1846 statehood there were dozens throughout the territory.

A great early history of the Dubuque post office, particularly during its early years, can be found at Encyclopedia Dubuque!

First, let's have a look at the former Custom House and Post Office building. Long gone, it was located at W 9th Street and Locust Streets. This image was taken ca. 1902:

Old Dubuque post office

Here is the current post office as of last year:
Dubuque post office

Dubuque's current post office is stately, located at West 6th Street across from Washington Park. I'll let Wikipedia tell the tale:
As Dubuque expanded during the 1920s, the post office was not large enough to handle the increasing volume of mail. Rather than enlarge the existing building, city officials decided to construct a new post office. Congressman Thomas J. B. Robinson led the effort to secure a more appropriate postal facility. Officials determined that the new building would function as both a post office and courthouse, and the building continues to serve these purposes today [author's note: I find no direct evidence that the courtroom is still in use by the Northern District of Iowa; the building does, however, serve other Federal functions].

The building was constructed with funding from the 1926 Public Buildings Act, in which Congress appropriated substantial resources for Federal buildings throughout the United States. Dubuque received approximately $650,000 for site acquisition and construction costs. Renowned city planner John Nolen intended for the building to be part of his civic design, "Administrative Center at Washington Park," which he developed in 1931. City officials hoped to construct a city hall, courthouse, and park adjacent to the post office, but these plans were never realized.

The Courthouse was designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect under James A. Wetmore, who received input from Iowa architects. Among the local designers was the office of Proudfoot, Rawson, Souers & Thomas, a highly respected Des Moines firm. This venerable firm (including earlier variations of the founding office) had a long of history of designing high-profile public buildings in Iowa, including the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines and buildings for Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Although little is known about the Dubuque architect involved in the project, Herbert Kennison, he likely served as an onsite consultant and provided the valued contribution of a designer who was also a local resident.

The building's cornerstone was laid in 1932, and a dedication ceremony was held the following year. The building was occupied in early 1934. In 1985, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource within the Cathedral Historic District, which encompasses historically significant residences and public buildings.
Building cornerstone:
Dubuque post office cornerstone

Beyond the fact that the structure was built by Chiabi & Garriup Construction Co., Wikipedia actually seems a more reliable source than the National Register of Historic Places nomination form that includes this federal building, which wrongfully states that the building was built in 1930; was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—which wasn't around at the time of its construction; and featured artwork by just one artist. A URL on the GSA cited by Wikipedia is no longer valid, so let's continue our discussion of the two Treasury Section (New Deal) murals with the Wiki text!

The interior features ... important murals in the lobby vestibule. The murals were funded with $2,000 of the original money allotted for construction of the building. Although a competition to select an artist was held, officials intended to select Grant Wood, the famous Iowa painter of "American Gothic," to complete the murals. When Wood did not enter the competition, William E. L. Bunn was selected. The selection was subsequently overturned in favor of a painter named Bertrand Adams. As a compromise, both Bunn and Adams, who each studied and worked with Wood and were friends from the University of Iowa, were allowed to paint murals. Adams painted "Early Settlers of Dubuque" in 1936 and 1937. The painting depicts several symbols of the city's pioneering days, such as the Julien Dubuque Monument and the Mesquakie Native American village. Adams also represented impending industrialization by painting the Dubuque Shot Tower and a bridge. Bunn painted "Early Mississippi Packet 'Dubuque III'" (also referred to as "Early Mississippi Steamboats") at the same time. His mural illustrates life in Dubuque in 1870, when steamboats were a primary method of transportation in the Midwest. The two murals show a harmony of scale and color use.
Bertrand Adams: "Early Settlers of Dubuque"

William E.L. Bund: "Early Mississippi Steamboats"

I am totally digging those radiator grilles at the bottom; aren't you?

Postlandia bonus: Compare the final artwork with an initial "cartoon" by the artist! (Note: The perspective on the modern image is a bit warped, and thus not exactly to vertical scale.)

My favorite part of the vestibule is the plaque describing the murals; specifically:
Commissioned for the American people by the United States government

Imagine that.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The 2019 Calendar of Post Offices and Places

Welcome, welcome, welcome! It's that time of the year again—time for a brand-new iteration of the Postlandia Calendar of Post Offices and Places! I'm super-excited for the 2019 edition, which features 12 all-new images of wonderful post office buildings from across the country. I've taken most of these images during the course of my travels spanning all 50 states, and I'm delighted share them with you now.

The 2019 edition takes us thousands of miles: from Hawaii to New England, Utah to Appalachia, and the Northwest to the Heartland, we'll visit a dozen new post offices large and small, urban and remote, each with a distinctive story.

The images are printed in high-resolution on high-quality paper. The dates include not only U.S. holidays but dates significant to American postal history. And, yes, you can write on it! Your ink will not bleed through to next month's organic / fair trade / hand-crafted / barrel-aged post office photo.

Postlandia Calendar cover:

With Postlandia I've always brought you the stories behind the post offices and communities of America, and here you can explore another wide-ranging cross-section of the nation. These photos take you not just from time zone to time zone, but span history as you explore photos from two centuries (from more than 100 years ago to the present).

Where else can you find the post office with ten-minute parking—only for bicycles? Or the post office with a block-long light fixture? How about the 1870 Gothic P.O. that's now a restored event space? There's an archival image of a post office that Franklin D. Roosevelt had a hand in designing, as well as some New Deal artwork. There are also great images of some of the nation's smallest post offices! And more. As always, here you don't just get photos, you get the story behind what makes them unique.

Rhode Island: the post office with its own postage stamp

Kentucky: Lost Americana

Crossroads of America: Postal Gothic

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

Dozens of calendars have already been sold so far this year, and I thank everyone for their support! (It really does make a dent in my gas money bills!)

This is the perfect gift for the special USPS employee 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 secure website of the high-quality printer Lulu. Everyone I know who's purchased either the 2017 or 2018 Postlandia post office calendar has loved it!


Do you love those historic 1930s post offices, more than 1,000 of which house beautiful examples of New Deal artwork? This year I'm introducing a second Lulu calendar: New Deal Legacy! It starts with a bit of postal goodness from the FDR era, but goes way beyond to highlight some of the myriad of accomplishments put forth by various New Deal agencies across the country, including: the Works Progress Administration (WPA); Public Works Administration (PWA); and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

2019 New Deal Legacy Calendar cover:
The projects range from massive developments, to magnificent artwork, to minor local projects that have stood the test of time.

Michigan: Art Deco goodness

Utah: State Capitol grandeur:

The high-resolution images—which range from the 1930s to the present—include the stories that make each one image significant. They are printed on thick, high-quality paper and will hold up to all of your writing-on-your-calendar needs. Again, here is the link for the New Deal Legacy 2019 calendar.

Thank you for your continued support!!