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.