Sunday, March 6, 2011

Another post about post offices

Others have blogged recently (here and here) about the trend to close small, rural U.S. Post Offices around the country. A much older post about the topic is here. Not surprisingly, I am very sympathetic to communities' desire--even need-- to keep their post offices for more reasons than the opportunity to buy stamps and dispatch packages. These post offices are community gathering places, especially where local schools, grocery stores, and gas stations have closed.

I was somewhat surprised to read in a recent issue of the Newton County Times that Newton County, my home county, (still) has (just) 11 post offices. (This item is part of the paper's series: 52 Reasons We Love Newton County). S0, 11 rural post offices serve a county with a population of 8,330 (in the 2010 Census, down about 3% from the 2000 Census, when it was 8,608) and a population density of 10.5 persons per square mile. That is one U.S. Post Office for about every 760 residents. That may may seem like a lot of post offices for not very many folks, but bear in mind that the county covers 823 square miles, leaving a lot of territory for some patrons to cover to reach a post office.

The communities of Compton, Deer, Hasty, Jasper, Marble Falls (previously Dogpatch!), Mount Judea, Parthenon, Pelsor, Ponca, Vendor and Western Grove currently have post offices. Four of these communities also have schools: Jasper, Western Grove, Deer, and Mount Judea. Only Jasper and Western Grove are incorporated entities; none of the other post offices is linked even to a Census Designated Place. Sadly, some of these 11 post offices may soon disappear under the U.S. Postal Service's 10-year plan to respond to declines in mail volume.

One of the most interesting things about this little feature in the Newton County Times is its mention that the county has had as many as 50 post offices since the first was established in 1827. That's right: 50! I don't believe the county's population has ever been significantly greater than it is now, which suggests that the per capita rate of post offices has been higher in the past. To be clear, not all of these post offices were ever open at one time.

In any event, reading through the history of which communities had post offices during what years sheds light on when the various communities waxed and waned. Jasper, the county seat, has had a post office since 1843. Some post offices were open only for a few years during the the 1880s, e.g., Cold Mountain (1879-1881); Beech Woods (1867-1881); and Cave Creek (1855-1895). Some places went from having a post office to having a "Rur. Sta."--whatever that is. One of these was Boxley, home to the famous Boxley church, which had the Boxley Post Office from 1883 to 1955 but then the "Boxley Rur. Sta." from 1955 to 1969. There was a post office at Pruitt from 1925-1975, when it became Pruitt Rur. Sta. and survived another five years. Pruitt is on the Buffalo National River, and I remember when the old post office building by the Hwy. 7 bridge there became the Pruitt Ranger Station--and the "town" itself dried up. I was intrigued to see that Ryker, a wide spot in the road (with an extensive junk yard on either side) on Cave Mountain, which I stumbled upon last year, once had a post office: 1891-1937.

Some of the more recent closures of county post offices include these:

Bass: 1902-1998
Ben Hur: 1908-1975
Cavecreek: 1895-1973 (presumably the successor to Cave Creek, noted above)
Cowell: 1902-1955
Fallsville: 1883-1955
Low Gap: 1952-1970
Lurton: 1916-1967
Mossville: 1889-1981
Mount Sherman: 1934-1955
Murray: 1884-1961 (followed by Murray Rur. Sta. 1961-1963)
Nail: 1915-1989
Piercetown: 1946-1955
Redrock: 1884-1955 (preceded by Red Rock: 1875-1882)

I've included a photo of the post office at Ponca. I also have one of the post office at Parthenon, but it looks just like the one at Ponca, so there's no reason to post both. Presumably like some others in the county, they are relatively recent, government-issue, modular buildings that replaced the earlier ones with local character and charm. My personal favorite was the old post office on the square in Jasper, where Scenic Hwy. 7 bends. The building was made of massive stones, just like the courthouse across the street. It featured a huge window that separated the room with the postal counter from the sidewalk outside. Sadly, that historic building was destroyed when a new brown brick post office was built in the 1970s, a few blocks away.


Caitlin said...

I think one of the saddest aspects of the possibility of losing post offices is that many are historical landmarks in their own right. Many were built with the blood and sweat of local people, and many compose the most architecturally diverse and interesting facades along the main drags of rural towns. Closing the post offices would not be only eliminating a cultural and community center, but it seems clear that closing them would be doing a disservice to the ideas of historical preservation. Buildings that are not used quickly fall into disarray and begin falling apart, which the postal service should be far more concerned about than it seems to be.

Bob Briggs and/or Kim Corrette said...

There is looming deadline of September 26, 2011 for public comment on proposed closings of most of the rural post offices in Newton County that you mention in the blog. The USPS announced on July 26, 2011 closure of more than3,000 post offices countrywide, including 179 in Arkansas, even the ones at Ponca and Parthenon. The press release called the effort "right-sizing." Interestingly, they dangle the prospect of a contractor-run, store-front associated, "village" post office like those of decades past, meaning the contractor pays the PO's electric and heating costs, and provides the benefits for the postal workers. Really it is an effort to union-bust. Congressman Womack wrote in reply to my comment that less than 1% of the USPS budget is spent on rural post offices, so the savings will be minimal. I read from other sources that the real culprit of the USPS financial "woes" is the 2006 Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) which requires the USPS to front-fund for benefits for future employees to the tune of $75 billion annually. This really has been an engineered financial problem. It is bunk that the Internet age has killed the USPS, they had their largest mail transport year ever in 2006, well into the Internet age. As one commenter noted, it is pretty hard to send a shirt through the computer. Democrats have introduced a bill, H.R. 1351, that would revise the PAEA; the bill has gained many Republican co-sponsors including Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), but only one from Arkansas (Rep. Ross - D). Can you publish an updated blog on USPS closures? Ssee for more facts. thanks, Bob Briggs, Parthenon, AR