Thursday, July 11, 2019

30,000: the Ultimate Post Office Photo Collection Keeps Growing

Three years ago I introduced readers of this blog to the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC)'s Online Post Office Photo Project. The Post Mark Collectors Club operates the National Postmark Museum in Bellevue, Ohio, and among its unparalleled collections is a catalogued cabinet with 60,000 printed post office photographs. The images span all 50 states, and even all U.S. counties.

As I detailed in this thorough write-up three years ago, the PMCC's digital collection of post office photographs has been expanding at an unprecedented clip. With 30,000 catalogued photos, there is no comparable collection anywhere in the world. No other institution—neither the U.S. Postal Service, National Postal Museum, Library of Congress, National Archives, nor Smithsonian Institution, manages anything like it. As of this writing images in our collection have garnered more than 3.7 million hits.

All 50 states are represented by more than 100 post office photographs; 21 states feature at least 500 photos; and five states (NY, IL, PA, TX, CA) boast more than 1,000 images. Additionally, each of the 55 darkest green counties on this heat map is represented by at least 50 photos.

Post office photograph heat map

Photo #30,000 was this photo of the Community Post Office in Nanwalek, Alaska. I was fortunate to visit all the post offices on the Kenai Peninsula back in 2016, and wrote about the adventures on this blog in this four-part series.

Nanwalek, AK Community Post Office

Please refer to this post for FAR more additional information about the project, as well as contributing new images.

Viewing the Collection
The PMCC Online Post Office Photo Collection homepage is:
http://www.postmarks.org/photos/

Here is the link to our primary Flickr page, at which you can view all our uploads chronologically, starting with the most recent:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/postoffices/

Note: © All rights reserved. We are pleased to present these photos online, but most of these images are under copyright and may not be re-used without the respective photographers' consent. Commercial usage is prohibited without the purchase of an image license. Contact me (email address in left sidebar) and I can help sort things out for you if you're interested.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Postal Tour: Champaign–Urbana, IL

Champaign–Urbana, a.k.a. Urbana–Champaign, a.k.a. Chambana, in eastern Illinois, is a twin city with a population of roughly 140,000, 125 miles from downtown Chicago. The first question that comes to mind: which came first—the Champaign or the Urbana? It was, in fact, the latter: first settled in 1822, the Urbana post office was established in 1836. It likely would have remained the only city in the area, but you can blame the railroad:

Wikipedia: "Urbana suffered a setback when the Chicago branch of the Illinois Central Railroad, which had been expected to pass through town, was instead laid down two miles west, where the land was flatter. The town of West Urbana grew up around the train depot built there in 1854, and in 1861 its name was changed to Champaign. The competition between the two cities provoked Urbana to tear down the ten-year-old County Courthouse and replace it with a much larger and fancier structure, to ensure that the county seat would remain in Urbana."

ChampaignIL.gov: "Champaign was founded in 1855, when the Illinois Central Railroad placed its tracks two miles west of downtown Urbana. Originally called “West Urbana”, it was renamed “Champaign” when it acquired a city charter in 1860. Both the city and county name were derived from Champaign County, Ohio."

The Champaign post office was established in 1860. Okay, now that we've got the basics, we can get a look at the landscape of the cities, which mutually support the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Champaign-Urbana postal map

Postally speaking, the cities are still divided: Champaign to the west, Urbana to the east. We'll start with Champaign, which has a General Mail Facility that is still used for mail processing, two stations around the city center, and a Contract Postal Unit (CPU) in the form of a Meijer. Next we'll move on to Urbana, which also has two stations around the city center and a Meijer CPU. Each also city has a beautiful old post office building from the early 20th century, and a main post office for each city has moved away from the urban core toward the extreme side of the area... which reminds me of the metaphase and anaphase stages of mitosis (cell division), wherein the cellular spindle pulls the genetic material away from the center in advance of the final division of the cells (visuals here); but I digress.

Champaign


Old Champaign Post Office:
I'll let Wiki have the honors: "The U.S. Post Office, now known as the Springer Cultural Center, is a historic government building located at Randolph and Church Streets in Champaign, Illinois. Built in 1905, the building originally served as Champaign's post office. The office of Supervising Architect James Knox Taylor designed the Beaux-Arts building. The brick building features extensive limestone and terra cotta ornamentation. The front facade has four pairs of Ionic pilasters separating the entrance and two sets of windows. A frieze reading "UNITED STATES POST OFFICE" and a dentillated cornice run above the pilasters. A balustrade runs along the front edge of the roof; a large scrolled cartouche marks the center of the balustrade."

The building received additions in 1929 (that was razed seven years later; a larger addition was built in 1936), and was converted into a what was known as the Springer Federal Building in 1966. Listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 [nomination form / even more history here], the building was deeded to the Champaign Park District in 1991.

Springer Cultural Center (Old Post Office), 2017:
Springer Cultural Center (Old Post Office), Champaign, IL

You can find amazing images of the building at various points in its history at ChampaignHistory.com, here.

Neil Street Station:
The post office on Neil Street, located near the Springer Cultural Center, opened in 1966 (replacing the old federal building); I believe this acted as the main post office until the opening of the General Mail Facility in 1991. The Postal Service owns both properties.

Neil Street Station post office, Champaign, IL

General Mail Facility:
This 191,000-square-foot facility, located in the far northwest of Champaign near I-74, opened in 1991. It continues to process outgoing mail.

As seen in (a) 2008 and (b) 2017:
Champaign General Mail Facility
Champaign General Mail Facility

Station A:
The Postal Service also owns this 4,000-square-foot operation, located on the east side of Champaign, in 'Campustown' near Urbana. The building, which opened in 2000, bears a design common to USPS-owned facilities built at the time.

Station A post office, Champaign, IL

Meijer CPU:
Meijer #146, Champaign, IL

Meijer #146 is found on Prospect Avenue, north of I-74. Like other Meijer stores, it has a Contract Postal Unit (CPU).

Urbana


Downtown Station / Old Main Post Office:
Downtown post office, Urbana, IL

Built in 1914-5 with an addition dating to 1935, the old post office was constructed in downtown Urbana, right by the Champaign County Courthouse. The building bears a 1914 cornerstone. It housed Urbana's primary postal services until the main office relocated in 1998.

Downtown Urbana, IL post office cornerstone

Articles seem to suggest that the building was vacant for some time before IMC, an "independent media group," "closed on the building on Thursday in a deal with the federal government for $218,320." News-Gazette reporting continues:

"The 1914 structure just north of Lincoln Square was replaced by a new facility near the corner of U.S. 150 and Illinois 130 in east Urbana. A decade earlier, in 1986, it had undergone a $1 million renovation. The solid, brick edifice has three floors, each more than 9,000 square feet, as well as a 6,000-square-foot lobby."

As part of the sale arrangement, the Postal Service is allowed to retain a presence in the building, leasing back 3,000 square feet for Downtown Station for $1 a year. (The building houses several other tenants as well, not for that cost.) The post office is located to the right when entering by the building's main entrance. It has a P.O. Box Section external to the retail lobby, and features a display of old images from the time of the building's original construction and 1935 extension. Here is an image of the outer lobby, and one of the historic images:

Downtown Urbana, IL post office

Downtown Urbana, IL post office construction, 1935

University Station:
Aside from finding parking, this was an enjoyable visit. Urbana's University Station post office is located on the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign campus, on the first floor at historic Altgeld Hall, south of W. Green Street. The post office is located inside the south entrance to the building that faces S. Wright Street. The inside is not much to look at, but the Richardsonian Romanesque-style building, which dates to 1897, certainly is!

Altgeld Hall, from the SW (postal entrance behind the bikes): Altgeld Hall

University Station post office, Altgeld Hall: University Station post office in Altgeld Hall, Urbana, IL

Main Post Office:
Located at the eastern extreme of developed Urbana, this 27,544-square-foot USPS-owned facility opened in 1998. Its design is par for its vintage.

Urbana, IL main post office

Meijer CPU:
Meijer #247, Urbana, IL

Meijer #247 is off Philo Road in the southeast part of the city. Like other Meijer stores, it has a Contract Postal Unit (CPU).

Hope you enjoyed this thorough accounting of this corner of the country. 'Til next time,
Evan

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,
Evan

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).

Kansas


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.


Colorado


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

Texas


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!