America's Quirkiest Post Offices
The U.S. Postal Service champions delivery in spite of snow or rain, but the Peach Springs, AZ, office goes to more extraordinary lengths—involving a mule—to bring mail down to a village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Among thousands of ho-hum post offices nationwide, we uncovered fascinating quirks, some in the kinds of services provided and others in the design or history of a particular office building. They’re especially worth highlighting at a time when the postal service is under threat, with mounting debt, declining customers, and the prospect of shuttered offices.
The uproar in reaction to the possibility of ending Saturday delivery suggests the tradition of mail is still ingrained, even if Americans enjoy griping about long lines and surly workers (recall Newman, from Seinfeld). As Johnny Carson quipped: “Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.” But the reality is that post offices have long had a presence in our communities, serving as gathering points for news and gossip.
In many cases, post offices literally gave towns their identity, explains Evan Kalish, editor of Going Postal. Back in the day, the name a community submitted in applying for a post office often became the name of the town. Kalish appreciates the allure of post offices better than most, having already visited more than 5,000 across the U.S., in every state except Alaska.
“I like to take the slow route when I travel, and explore places I would have otherwise overlooked, and there’s no better way to get a feel for a community than by visiting its post office, which has no doubt been around for a couple of hundred years,” he says.
On the edge of the Florida Everglades, the Ochopee Post Office is one such unusual example—and the smallest in the country at just seven by eight feet. Then there’s the novelty of the Texarkana Post Office, which straddles the state line between Texas and Arkansas. In Portland, OR, you’ll find the last operating U.S. railroad that still offers mail service and hand-cancels letters (making the black ink lines that mar a stamp to prevent its reuse).
On your next trip, forgo a passport stamp for a postmark from a one-of-a-kind American institution, before it may be gone for good.
Peach Springs Post Office, Peach Springs, AZ
Since at least the 1960s, the Peach Springs Post Office (outfitted with a 10-by-12-foot walk-in refrigerator) has gone to great lengths to deliver packages to a tiny Native American village, Supai, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Here’s how: five days a week, a contractor picks up letters and supplies from the post office and drives 67 miles to the rim of the canyon. The goods are then packed onto a mule that carries it all down eight precipitous miles. 877 Highway 66; (928) 769-2300; uspspostoffices.com
Appraisers Stores Post Office, New York, NY
You must submit to heavy security (an ID scan and fingerprinting) before being allowed into Manhattan’s Appraisers Store post office, on the fourth floor of an Art Deco building in the Diamond District. You also have to know the office is here to begin with, because there are no signs save for the one on the door. Why? Most of the goods here can be quantified in carats, and are steeply and privately insured. 580 5th Ave. Ste 407; (212) 768-0435; uspspostoffices.com
Ochopee Post Office, Ochopee, FL
At seven by eight feet, this post office is the smallest in America. Located on the edge of the Everglades, the building used to be an irrigation pipe shed until it was enlisted in the 1950s. Today, just one person, Shannon Mitchell, helms the desk, which is really all that fits inside. Ochopee’s population was 11 at last count, but the mailperson delivers daily to three counties. 38000 Tamiami Trail E.; (239) 695-2099
J. W. Westcott II, Detroit
The pioneering J. W. Westcott Company has been delivering mail to ships since 1874, and in 1948, J. W. Westcott became an official U.S. Postal Service mail boat and was given the world’s first floating postal zip code (48222). It still operates along the Detroit River using a time-tested system called “mail in the pail”: a diesel motor ship glides up to a larger vessel, then a bucket attached to a rope is lowered to collect letters and packages. Marine Post Office; (313) 496-0555; jwwestcott.com
B Free Franklin Post Office, Philadelphia
Benjamin Franklin became the postmaster of Philly in 1737—when the British still oversaw mail delivery—and for all 13 colonies a few years later. He went on to be the first U.S. postmaster general when the U.S. Post Office was formed in 1775 and once lived in this building, which eventually became a post office. Fun fact: unlike other post offices, B Free doesn’t fly the American flag because it pre-dates the American Revolution. Get a letter hand-canceled with the signature of Benjamin Franklin; cancellation stamps make the black ink lines that mar a stamp to prevent its reuse. Then head upstairs to the United States Postal Service Museum (reopening July 4, 2013, after renovations). 316 Market St.; (215) 592-1292; postalmuseum.si.edu
Acklen Post Office, Nashville
There’s no mistaking you’re in Music City, USA, when you queue up at the Acklen Post Office. The walls are adorned with rows of framed-and-signed photos of country music singers, including Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, and countless other flamboyantly coiffed stars. Evan Kalish, of the blog Going Postal, likes to call Acklen the “Katz’s Deli of Nashville,” because it rivals the iconic New York deli for celebrity photos. 2006 Acklen Ave.; (615) 383-5396; uspspostoffices.com
Texarkana Post Office, AR and TX
Introducing the only post office that straddles two states—not surprisingly, Texas and Arkansas. Built in the early 1930s in response to complaints that Texans were being tried under Arkansas law, the Beaux-Arts building is diplomatically made of both Texas pink granite and gray Arkansas limestone. It also houses two courtrooms: one for Texas residents, the other for those of Arkansas. Get your picture taken at the entrance with one foot in each state, in front of the prominent “State Line” sign. 500 N State Line Ave. Ste 101, Texarkana, AR 71854; uspspostoffices.com and 2211 N Robison Rd., Texarkana, TX 75501; (903) 223-3800; uspspostoffices.com
Hoolehua Post Office, Hoolehua, HI
On the remote island of Molokai, this post office’s Post-a-Nut program provides visitors with a ripe or dried coconut to mail to the folks back home for the price of postage (from $11 to $16). The outfit has mailed more than 50,000 coconuts since 1991—averaging between 2,000 and 3,000 a year—to every state in the U.S. as well as to far-flung destinations such as Namibia, Turkmenistan, and the Antarctic. Remember to bring a magic marker so you can write a message on its shell. 69-2 Puupeelua Ave.; (808) 567-6144; uspspostoffices.com
Washington Park and Zoo Railway, Portland, OR
Most mail was carried on trains until the 1970s. Today, the narrow-gauge recreational railroad in Oregon’s Washington Park, which loops two miles between the Oregon Zoo, the Hoyt Arboretum, the International Rose Test Garden, and the World Forestry Center, still hand-cancels mail deposited in boxes on the zoo grounds or on the railway itself. It’s the last operating U.S. railroad with its own postal cancellation to continuously offer mail service. 4001 SW Canyon Rd.; (503) 226-156; oregonzoo.org
U.S. Capitol Post Office, Washington, D.C.
Set in the basement of the U.S. Capitol building, this tiny post office is listed but difficult to access. Just ask Evan Kalish of the blog Going Postal: when he wanted to take a look, he had to call his local congressman, who then enlisted an intern to escort him there on official business. Once inside the building, the pair had to ride a trolley to get to the office. 0 US Capitol Rm Ht-1; (202) 226-5423
Santa Monica Post Office, Santa Monica, CA
Original light fixtures, classic pilasters with Corinthian capitals, and a honey-hued wood-paneled lobby make this 1938 Depression-era Art Deco building a true architectural gem. The possibility that the U.S. Postal Service might sell the building has preservationists so devastated that they’re waging a small but impassioned campaign to preserve it. Join the cause by liking “Save the Santa Monica Post Office” on Facebook. 1248 5th St.; (310) 576-6786; uspspostoffices.com
Christmas Post Office, Christmas, FL
Each December, droves of people travel long distances to postmark letters from Florida’s sweetly named town Christmas. But it’s not the only one with mass appeal: there’s the ever-popular Valentine, TX; Valentine, NE; and Bridal Veil, OR. 23580 E. Colonial Dr.; (407) 568-2941; uspspostoffices.com
James A. Farley Post Office, New York, NY
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” So goes the inscription on the Eighth Avenue façade of the country’s largest post office, which measures 93,000 square feet and spans eight acres. It was a flourish of the 1913 building’s designer, William Mitchell Kendall, and has become the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service. The NYC landmark is slated to be transformed into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station, which will house Amtrak and NJ Transit, and will continue to run the post office services. 421 8th Ave.; (212) 330-3296; uspspostoffices.com
Point Roberts Post Office, Point Roberts, WA
On a peninsula south of Vancouver, this U.S. post office is accessible by boat, small plane, or by driving through British Columbia. Dating back to at least 1898, the building was once serviced by steamship; these days, trucks are the more common mode of delivery. Employees speculate that it sees the highest volume of any post office in northwest Washington because some Vancouver residents, frustrated with trying to get items shipped into Canada, establish P.O. boxes in Point Roberts instead. 1582 Gulf Rd.; (360) 945-7770; uspspostoffices.com