Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Postal Summary

This is the fourth year of the Going Postal annual postal summary. Dang, I've been at this a while now, huh? 2013 brought adventures up and down the east coast from Boston to Florida. I completed a few geographic postal milestones. And, of course, here are the summaries for 2010, 2011, and 2012. This year I visited 837 post offices and other postal facilities across 15 states and the District of Columbia, for a grand total of 5,758 offices. The longest trip I took this summer lasted 29 days, and though I only drove from New York as far as Georgia, my mileage could have taken me across the country twice. Below is my counties-visited map at the end of 2013. Counties visited for the first time -- namely in Appalachia and the Southeast -- are colored dark gray:

The overall count does not include former and discontinued post office locations, such as what is now the Municipal Building in Toccoa, Georgia:

I also make efforts to find and document freestanding mail processing facilities, such as the Logistics and Distribution Facility in Tampa, Florida:

I finally finished visiting every post office on Long Island, in May:

And just this past week I quit procrastinating and completed my visits to every single post office [plus carrier annex, Contract Postal Unit, and other mail processing facility] in New York City:

I visited as many as 30 post offices in one day. State by state, counting only distinct active postal locations:

New Jersey: 112 post offices
Focus/Foci: Northern New Jersey, central shore
(I have now visited more than 75% of the nearly 800 postal facilities in New Jersey.)

Massachusetts: 94
Worcester, southeast Massachusetts

Tennessee: 75
Eastern Tennessee: Bristol to Knoxville

Virginia: 68
I-81 corridor, south-central tier

North Carolina: 63
Southwest N.C., Greensboro

South Carolina: 61
Northwest S.C., southern shore to Charleston

Florida: 59
Tampa / Saint Petersburg

West Virginia: 55
Northeast panhandle, Beckley

Maryland: 54
Baltimore and D.C. suburbs

New York: 49
The South Fork of Long Island

Georgia: 46
Very southeast and northeast corners

Connecticut: 39
Hartford area

Pennsylvania: 29

District of Columbia: 16

Rhode Island: 11

Delaware: 6

The year also brought milestones 5,000 and 5,500...
#5,500: Petersburg, Virginia: Fort Lee Branch post office

Wishing you all a great 2014!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Post Office? Yeah, We've Got That.

Postal Service Counters Replace UPS Services at 82 Staples Locations;
Chain Offers Rewards on USPS Shipping Services

A new partnership between USPS and Staples Inc. offers a promising opportunity for the Postal Service to expand access to its services. A recently announced pilot program, the first such agreement under what USPS terms its Retail Partner Expansion Program, calls for the opening of 82 Contract Postal Units (CPUs) in Staples stores. If successful the program could be expanded to the remainder of Staples's 1,500+ domestic locations, and partnerships between USPS and other large retailers may soon follow. Contract Postal Units involve postal counters that are placed in, and operated by the employees of, other businesses. The operations offer most postal retail products, and do so at standard USPS prices.

Shrewsbury, MA: Staples #59 CPU:

The pilot's 82 locations are clustered in several markets: the San Francisco Bay area (with 29 CPUs); Atlanta (28 CPUs); Pittsburgh (16); San Diego (3); and Worcester, MA (6) -- near Staples's headquarters. The first CPUs opened mid-October, and as of November 15 all 82 are operational. The Postal Service provided Going Postal with a full list of all pilot locations and their respective opening dates. The list can be found at the end of this article.

USPS and Staples held ribbon-cutting ceremonies in various markets to celebrate the pilot venture. At the CPU ribbon-cutting ceremony in Shrewsbury, MA, Staples District Manager Steve Lemieux -- whose father was a Postmaster -- predicted that the new program would be highly effective at serving its small business customers' needs. Mr. Lemieux stated that Staples is always looking to provide the "best value for its customers" and that the USPS counters would help the store "take care of their needs and get them back to their jobs." At the same event USPS's Greater Boston District Manager Charles Lynch declared that the Postal Service had "great expectations" for the project. USPS media releases declare that the program was designed to provide "convenience and options to customers." Reached via email, Postal Service spokeswoman Darleen Reid called the program "win-win for all parties: USPS, Staples, and our customers."

The two organizations will initiate a joint television advertising campaign in the program's test markets beginning November 18. Going Postal has been informed that the program will also be supported with Direct Mail mailings to customers in these areas.

The pilot program ends September 30, 2014, at which point the program will be evaluated and may be expanded or discontinued.

In addition to its network of nearly 32,000 post offices, USPS manages about 3,500 CPUs, most of which are located in locally owned businesses such as pharmacies and gas stations. The Postal Service has previously attempted, though not succeeded with, large-scale Contract Postal Unit programs with national retailers: Sears, Hallmark and (before the chain was bought out by UPS) Mail Boxes Etc. The arrangement with Staples represents USPS's first CPU partnership with a national chain in nearly a decade. This program appears more likely to succeed than its predecessors; USPS's arrangement with Staples appears to be better conceived, better publicized, and better integrated with partner stores.

Staples CPUs are integrated with each store's respective Copy & Print Services center. Store designs vary, and Staples installs the postal counter to mesh with its surroundings. The implementations appear modern, clean, and inviting. Three examples of the integration follow:

Shrewsbury, MA: Staples #59 CPU:

Sturbridge, MA: Staples #1193 CPU:

Westborough, MA: Staples #1216 CPU:

The CPUs are staffed by Copy & Print Center personnel who have received training from USPS employees.

Staples CPUs are operational during all store hours, including Sundays. This means that customers will have the opportunity to purchase stamps and mail packages until [typically] 7-9 P.M. during weekdays, 6-7 P.M. on Saturdays, and 6 P.M. on Sundays. The stores, and thus postal services, are open during most federal holidays as well. (Note: This mail will not necessarily be picked up and processed the day it is entered into the mailstream.)

These Contract Postal Units operations offer most, though not all, standard postal products. The operations, at least at their inception, are offering a variety of stamps including several issues of commemorative Forever and Global Forever stamps. They accept Priority, Priority Express, Standard Mail, and large first-class packages. Most additional services, including Certified Mail, are available.

The following services are not offered at these Contract Postal Units: P.O. Boxes; money orders; Registered Mail; Certificates of Mailing; Library Mail; and (interestingly enough) Media Mail. Furthermore, Staples CPUs do not sell postal stationery such as stamped envelopes and stamped postal cards. According to an official USPS statement, the services provided at Staples CPUs represent a "simplified product portfolio containing our most popular products and services." A Postal Service official stated that Media Mail volumes "are low and [thus] not considered one of our most popular products." USPS has been de-emphasizing Media Mail and some other cheaper services as it promotes Priority Mail and recently rebranded Priority Mail Express. While the omission would affect a relatively small number of transactions, USPS may be nudging customers into utilizing more expensive postal products. (All omitted services are still available at all 'standard' post offices.)

In a unique move among USPS partners, Staples will offer 5% Staples Rewards for the postage on packages paid for and shipped at its Contract Postal Unit locations. Thus, if one ships a $20 Priority Express Mail package and pays for the metered postage at Staples, one would receive $1 in Staples Rewards. "This is our killer app," declared one Staples staffer, suggesting that this aspect of the program would make customers' postal experience noticeably superior to that at other post offices. However, the Staples Rewards offer does not apply to stamps purchased at Staples CPUs.

5% Staples Rewards sign

While the provisions of the Retail Partner Expansion Program have not been publicly disclosed, most individual Contract Postal Units earn a commission of 6% to 10% on postal services rendered. Thus, even if 5% of all package purchases were redeemed as Staples Rewards the company comes out well ahead.

(Customers can receive discounts directly from the Postal Service by utilizing some of its online prepaid services.)

An initial media story -- a local Patch interpretation of USPS's Bay Area news release -- wrongly declared that USPS is paying rent to Staples as part of the pilot arrangement. Such a provision is not part of any standard Contract Postal Unit agreement, and Ms. Reid has confirmed that the precedent holds in USPS's contract with Staples.

This is not the first service arrangement between USPS and Staples Inc. Staples stores have offered booklets of Forever stamps at its checkout counters for several years under as part of USPS's "Alternative Access" program. The Postal Service has similar arrangements with most large retailers, and Staples stores not impacted by the USPS pilot program continue to offer this modest service.

Prior to the pilot program, each Staples store maintained a full-service UPS shipping counter. These services are still offered at all non-pilot program stores. At the 82 CPU locations, UPS computers were disconnected and its services ceased to be offered the moment when Postal Service machines became functional. This step occurs toward the end of the one-to-two-day, four-hour training session that postal staff (including some from Postal Headquarters and other District retail personnel) conduct with Copy & Print Services staff. All Staples locations continue to serve as drop-off points for prepaid UPS parcels. Thus, UPS's arrangement with the 82 USPS pilot sites is similar to that of USPS with its "Village Post Offices," whose counters accept only domestic prepaid [primarily Priority Mail Flat-Rate] packages.

The CPUs operated by Staples are equipped with USPS's new, modern blue-atop-faux-wood counter arrangements that appear in many CPUs and in recently remodeled/relocated post offices. In addition to the primary retail counter, other counter units house Priority Mail Flat-Rate packaging and forms for services such as Certified Mail.

A courtesy letter collection box is located in one of the secondary counter units. It is subtle and, if not marked appropriately, could easily be mistaken for the slot for a garbage can. The Postal Service is looking to install blue collection boxes outside most (if not all) of its Staples CPU locations.

Staples: Internal Mail Collection Point:

The operations utilize a specially developed version of the Postal Service's Contract Access Retail System (CARS) -- a two-monitor, touch-screen arrangement that enables customers to view their transaction as it is processed by a CPU operator.

A large Sonic Eagle sign has been installed on the façade of each Staples CPU location. The sign states "Approved Postal Provider" in place of Contract Postal Unit. The signs light up at night except where prohibited by local zoning ordinances. A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that a similar (though possibly smaller) backlit sign installed at a Village Post Office costs about $2,300.

Worcester, MA: Staples #1218 CPU:

Beyond the pre-opening training seminar, local Postal Service managers are available to answer any Staples's staff questions regarding products, services, or technical computer issues. Postal staff appeared to be engaged with, and supportive of, their Staples counterparts.

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) has yet to comment on the pilot program. Save the Post Office (STPO) has detailed previous opposition to the CPU pilot program involving Sears stores in 1989. The APWU, which counts as members thousands of full-time post office window clerks, has frequently taken a negative stance on Contract Postal Units. CPUs are perceived as siphoning business from union-staffed post offices, which could result in reduced staffing at -- or the closure of -- nearby post offices. The STPO piece also discusses concerns that such CPU programs might provide a step toward USPS's outsourcing of more operations, which could ultimately result in the privatization of the Postal Service.

Postmasters tasked with managing local Staples operations took a by-and-large positive view of the new outlets during informal discussions. When asked whether the proximity of a new Staples CPU in northeast Worcester might prompt the closure of the small retail post office in the shopping plaza across the street, a Postmaster replied that s/he can't imagine that being the case, especially because local low-income residents are heavy users of money orders (which are not provided at the counters at Staples). Another Postmaster suspected that while the Staples might usurp a bit of the revenue from his/her office, most of the nearby CPU's business would stem from customers who would have otherwise shipped their packages using other carriers. S/he expected that the result would be a "net positive" for the Postal Service.

Two hours after one of the Massachusetts CPUs opened, a large rolling postal hamper was piled high with parcels. Staples staff informed me that the mailing was entered by a local business owner who'd always used the UPS counter at the store to ship his packages. Instead the Postal Service became the recipient of nearly $200 in revenue.

The postal specialist who'd conducted the CPU training called the local post office to request an additional mail collection. Within ten minutes a local carrier had pulled in and rolled the mail hamper out of the Staples and to his truck. At least in central Massachusetts, the program was off to a promising start.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Postal Tour: Mankato, Minnesota

Mankato, MN -- state map

Mankato is a little city with a rich history, located in south central Minnesota about 75 miles southwest of the Twin Cities. It lies along the Minnesota River, a tributary of the Mississippi that merges with said by Saint Paul. The river serves as a county border and separates Mankato (population 40,000) from North Mankato (13,000). This situation inspired Mankato's motto: "A Little Twin Cities, A Lot Minnesota." The river propelled much of Mankato's early development, and the City of Mankato's website notes that "by 1854, U.S. mail was delivered regularly to Mankato due to the efforts of General Store owner George Marsh."

Local sources claim that the town's name was originally Mahkato, meaning "greenish blue earth to [the area's] first inhabitants, the Dakota Indians". Indeed, Mankato is the county seat of Blue Earth County. According to a currently unavailable link referenced by Wikipedia, "a typographical error by a clerk established the name as Mankato" instead of Mahkato.

Here's a local post office map that shows the sites discussed in this story:
Mankato, MN post office map

At the end of the 19th century Mankato was among the largest cities in Minnesota, and the city needed a post office that met its stature. That building still serves as the Mankato main post office today, and an analysis of USPS's Owned Facilities Report reveals that this is among the oldest post office buildings anywhere in the country that is still in operation today. The City of Mankato has published a thorough walking tour of the city and states the following about the post office: "This building was built in 1895 and remodeled in 1933 to the structure seen today. It is constructed of Mankato Kasota stone. Since it blends seamlessly, you can’t tell the difference between additions. The second floor was used for Federal offices and courts. Those who served our country during the last great wars left from here."

The Federal Judicial Center has made available an image from the National Archives taken in 1900. I've edited the photo and made it available on the PMCC's Minnesota Post Office Photos page as well as here.

Mankato, MN post office in 1900

The building was and is still stunning. The local stone is a modest yet distinct orange, and though the clock tower (a common sight for 19th-century federal buildings) was removed during the building's extension to the south (toward where the photographer stood with respect to the above image), the grandeur of the building is evident. The chimney remains and the setbacks above the main building entrances are unique. The signage winds perfectly above the arched doorways. The length of the building doubled during its extension, but the consistency of the architecture makes the front of the building appear seamless.

112 years after the above photograph was taken, I stood at roughly the same spot and snapped this view of the post office as it now stands:
Mankato, MN post office in 2012

According to USPS documents the "Mankato MPO is a USPS-owned 69,839 square-foot facility that houses 42 [carrier] routes, Postmaster and staff, the Area-2 Manager of Post Office Operations and staff, retail and post office box operations."

Across the river North Mankato possesses a more modest post office, albeit one with part of the local art walking tour in front of it:
North Mankato, MN branch post office, 2012

According to the most recent USPS Leased Facilities Report available, the North Mankato post office lease calls for a mere 667 square feet of leased space at $6,160 per year. (That particular contract expired in July; the current cost isn't available.) The post office is a finance unit, housing retail operations and PO Boxes but no carriers.

Mankato's Processing and Distribution Facility (P&DF) was the mail processing hub for southwest Minnesota until implementation of USPS's Area Mail Processing plan took (or will soon take) those operations to Minneapolis. According to USPS documents posted prior to consolidation, "the existing 78,734 square-foot facility on an 8.0 acre site was originally occupied in 1992. The Mankato [P&DF] currently processes all originating and destinating letters and flats, and incoming Priority/FCM parcels for the 560 and 561 offices. In addition to processing operations, the facility houses a Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU)."

Mankato, MN P&DF:
Mankato P&DF

The facility held more than 100 jobs until what will be the consolidation of both originating (incoming, to-be-cancelled) and destinating (processed, to-be-delivered) mail operations; the facility continues to be used for a handful of postal operations. Originally slated to occur in 2014, cancelling operations were moved to Minneapolis on June 1. An April 11 article in The Mankato Free Press states: "The facility's larger operation is the sorting of mail coming in from other processing centers around the country and sending it on to the proper post offices in a region that stretches from Hills (just east of the South Dakota line) to Albert Lea to Waseca to Belle Plaine. That work is anticipated to be transferred to Minneapolis in just under a year." Local APWU president Paul Rodgers said he expected those consolidations to occur this coming February. Finally, the massive Minneapolis/St. Paul Network Distribution Center (NDC) will absorb a few other operations from Mankato.

Like the North Mankato branch post office, Mankato's Madison East Station is a non-carrier finance facility with retail operations and PO Boxes. Located in the back of a sizable shopping plaza, the 1,326-square-foot facility is leased until 2017 for $16,170 per year.

Mankato, MN: Madison East Station post office:
Mankato, MN: Madison East Station post office Finally, there Mankato's Hy-Vee supermarket has a Contract Postal Unit at the customer service counter in the front of the store.

Mankato, MN: Hy-Vee CPU
Mankato, MN: Hy-Vee CPU

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Old Post Office Restaurant; Edisto Island, SC

If you're looking to get away from the hustle of Charleston, Edisto Island is a photogenic and relaxed community within an hour of the city. It's not commercialized and not heavily trafficked as is Hilton Head Island. I visited both areas in April during a brief jaunt to the South. Of course my mission on Edisto was to photograph the post office, which lies 17 miles down from its nearest, and smaller, (and not to mention highly photogenic) neighbor in Adams Run. The present post office building, a mid-'80s model, is a rather standard structure. The former post office site, however, which I first noticed as a seemingly extraneous dot on the Google Maps app on my phone, is definitely worth a look. It's now the Old Post Office Restaurant, and they've got the old postal window to prove it! But first, a photo of the location.

Edisto Island: Old Post Office Restaurant

Here's a general map of the area.

Edisto Island

The present post office has been occupied by USPS since June 1985, and its current lease is for $18,500 per year -- $13.21 per interior square foot.

Edisto Island, SC post office
Edisto Island post office

Edisto Island has had a post office since 1832, though USPS's Postmaster Finder does not currently maintain Postmaster information for the office prior to 1950. Edisto Beach, a community about seven miles southwest of the Old Post Office, maintained a short-lived post office that was in operation between 1950 and 1953. (The current Edisto Island post office lies three miles closer to the latter.)

The old Edisto post office [and general store and gas station] was a central meeting point for locals and visitors alike. But the site's significance dates to the late 18th century. According to a story in a Charleston historical magazine, the site "encompasses the restored Bailey House ca. 1799, and Bailey's Store, a pre-war relic from Edingsville Beach, once a thriving, antebellum seaside resort and one of the last, if not the last, surviving commercial building on Edisto Island." [Edingsville Beach lies along the Atlantic, about three miles south of the Old Post Office.]

The present Old Post Office Restaurant is the second such institution to reside at this location. The first O.P.O. Restaurant opened in 1988, three years after the post office moved out. It closed in 2006, but not after having received press coverage in such publications as USA Today and Gourmet Magazine.

The husband-and-wife team of Adam and Toniann Morris picked up the gauntlet soon after the original O.P.O. Restaurant closed. They devoted extensive effort into renovating the property and restaurant facilities -- both while teaching full-time. The present Old Post Office Restaurant opened April 2009, and part of what makes this a fun stop for the postal buff are the little details the couple has worked in to maintain the restaurant's connection to its past. To wit:

The mailbox is beautifully decorated with a stamp and giant Edisto Island postmark.
Edisto Island Old Post Office Restaurant mailbox

The old postal window, just inside the entrance.
Edisto Island old post office window

I love signs on the bathroom doors, highly stylized postmarks in London Underground form:
Old Post Office Restaurant bathroom doors

The Morrises are impeccably friendly. The diners I witnessed while I was in town appeared to be enjoying their meals. With more post office buildings being either sold or shuttered, one can only hope that more owners will recognize and maintain the heritage of these sites, much as the Morrises have.

Other points of interest nearby include the With These Hands Gallery, which is right next door; and the Edisto Island Serpentarium, a few hundred feet down the road.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Beautiful [Former] Post Office: Reidsville, NC

USPS has been on a tear in its recent effort to dispose of historic properties by selling off -- "right-sizing" -- its operations, largely by moving its carriers to facilities built on cheaper land and calling the historic structures too large for its needs. However, the trend of moving from historic buildings to new (and architecturally dull-as-dishwater) structures is not new: previously this was an organic process that resulted when the increasing population of the community caused the Postal Service to outgrow the building, resulting in a larger one somewhere else in town. This is what presumably occurred during the late '70s in Reidsville, NC, a community of 14,000 north of Greensboro and a few miles south of the Virginia border.

(Evan's tip: you can easily calculate when the new post office building was built with this equation: year built = relative distance from center of community; the newer the building, the further away the Postal Service is from the historic or downtown part of the community. It might seem funny, but this formula rarely fails.)

While today most of the historic post office buildings being sold nowadays are given to the highest bidder through real estate corporation CBRE, in the past the buildings were offered to other federal agencies (which had the right of first refusal), then to state agencies, then county officials and the cities themselves before being sold. Through this process the old Reidsville post office became the modern Reidsville City Hall, and the city has retained and maintained the building itself, its fantastic Art Deco architectural details, and the New Deal mural still hanging inside beautifully. This is one of the most effective reuses of an old post office building that I have ever seen.

As always, let's give you a geographic fix.

And now, onto the photos!

Here is the grand building along with a photo of its cornerstone. This is a 1936 structure.

Reidsville City Hall / old Reidsville post office

Reidsville City Hall / old Reidsville post office cornerstone

Here is one of the two main entrances, and insets of a lighting fixture, and Art Deco metal detail, and the eagle, all of which are (I believe) original and in impeccable shape.

Reidsville, NC Art Deco door

Reidsville, NC Art Deco eagle

Reidsville, NC Art Deco light fixture

From the other entrance:

Reidsville, NC Art Deco door detail

Inside the New Deal mural titled "Tobacco", painted 1938 by Gordon Samstag, resides at its original spot in what is now the Reidsville Finance Office. Here is a photo of the mural and its setting. Note the marble counters, foyer details, and original light fixture.

WPA mural 'Tobacco', Reidsville, NC

Reidsville, NC Finance Office with mural

Let's not show you what the new post office looks like. I'll leave you on a high note. Hope you enjoyed!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Slice of the Fourche La Fave River Valley, Arkansas

The direct route from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Hot Springs National Park takes you about 125 miles. In visiting a couple dozen post offices one steamy August day I managed to double that mileage, in no small part due to a 40-mile detour, two ways, to explore Route 28 between Rover and Waldron (read: visit four remote and possibly-to-close post offices). Here Arkansas Route 28 follows the Fourche La Fave River, which through the eons has helped to carve a winding valley between the Dutch Creek Mountain and Fourche Mountain Ridges and whose damming during the Great Depression led to the creation of the recreational Lake Nimrod south of Plainview. Today a trip along Route 28 reveals a handful of small communities, four active post offices and a couple of abandoned former postal sites that were evident to this passer-through.

The valley (circled) is evident in this terrain map of western Arkansas. Observe that, generally speaking, the ridges of the ancient Ouachita (pronounced "Washitah") Mountains create a formidable barrier to major highway and city development in the region. William Least Heat-Moon explored and vividly described the area in the opening chapters of Roads to Quoz.

Western Arkansas

Fourche La Fave River Valley Post Offices, Arkansas

This sun-worn building is typical for the drive:

As we progress further from the highwaters and toward the mouth of the Fourche La Fave River, our altitude will decrease accordingly. Parks is 646 feet above sea level. Harvey: 600 feet ASL. Gravelly: 463 feet. Bluffton and Briggsville: 440. Rover: 394. You wouldn't consciously observe this during your drive. The road is windy and hilly, and the view is largely tree-lined with occasional modest vistas.

Starting from the east, I visited Parks last. It also happens to be the only modestly interesting post office building in the area. Bluffton, Harvey, and Gravelly each received new bland-box structures in 1995 and 1996 (see USPS's Owned Facilities Report).

Parks is a dispersed community of about 400 people and its post office was first established in the surprisingly early year of 1838. (These dates come courtesy books published by La Posta.) There is no downtown to speak of; only a slightly concentrated cluster of buildings on Route 28. The same can be said for each of the other communities in this post, save Rover. Parks does possess a Volunteer Fire Department, located in a building with no pavement and no tire tracks leading from its garage.

The Parks post office, which was the only commercial entity I noticed in town, has been located at its present site since 1991, the owner being a local resident with P.O. Box 5. The lease was renewed during the frenzied heyday of RAOI during summer 2011, when it was very likely that more than 3,000 small-town post offices could have been closed by the end of the year. The current lease, for $5,100 per year, is in effect until 2016.

Unlike similar bland structures in many other parts of the country, what I call "Arkansas Modular" post offices feature modest roofs covering the customer and Postmaster entrances to the building. Very few offices have the name of the community on the building itself. Rather, they are granted a bland Sonic Eagle, either on the buildings themselves or on signs out front. Occasionally those bear the name of the community in some capacity. Harvey, the next post office east of Parks, possesses inch-tall lettering beneath the blue eagle on its sign.

Harvey houses just shy of 200 souls, and its post office was established 1893.

Next up is Gravelly's post office, which was established 1895. Gravelly's population is in the 100s, and its post office building bears no signage whatsoever.

Gravelly possessed a general store, which I believe has since closed. Across the street was the former site of the post office, which is identifiable by its flagpole and the handicapped parking spot alongside the building. Why the building has a false front, I'll never know.

In case you forgot that you're in the South, you can find a couple of indications in the window of the general store.

Bluffton is home to about 230 people, and it has had a post office since 1854. The general store, which also served as a gas station and which presumably housed the post office at one time is abandoned, its pumps decaying. The town features a branch of the West Fourche Volunteer Fire Department. Here is its post office:

Driving through Briggsville I observed a small emblem in a window on a building along the road, leading to a short stop-and-reverse maneuver to the curiosity of the woman next door. She was friendly and chatty, although her name is lost to the now-non-functioning Notes application on my HTC smartphone. (Thank you, poorly executed firmware update.) [I believe it's her family that] owns what is now effectively a shed for scrap. According to La Posta a post office operated in Briggsville from 1879 to 1974, though given the condition of the postal decals I wouldn't be surprised if the operation lasted into the '90s. The population of Briggsville is now 114.

Photos of the former Briggsville post office:

With about 500 residents Rover is the most developed community in the area, and it houses the local elementary and high school. The Rover post office was established 1854, has been at its present site since 1984 and (*gasp*) features the name of the community on the building! The post office is next to the (fully operational) general store.

I arrived in Rover at sunset, and I'll leave you with a landscape photo taken from the post office parking lot.

Hope you enjoyed.