Lately, many communities are concerned with disappearing post offices: the federal government is shutting down many post offices and cutting hours in order to save money and decrease the deficit. Smaller communities are most often those who desperately want to keep the post office, because it is a meeting place for residents. While the issue of hours and the amount of operating post offices has been discussed, there is one issue that has not entered the conversation – one that relates to historic preservation: the building stock of post offices.
Post office in The Plains, VA, located in the historic village. September 2008.
Where is your post office located? Is it still in the center of town or perhaps at a crossroads? Is it located in a historic building? Is it a place to which you enjoy going? Lately I’ve noticed that many post offices are located in strip malls or nondescript buildings on the edges of town. Few are located in the centers of towns or in their original locations.
Rural post offices are reported in the media as meeting places for towns where there are no other such places. Some post offices operate out of the front of the postmaster’s house. If that is the case and residents want the post office, then there is no sense (in terms of community) in relocating it to another town. Everyone community deserves a gathering place.
But, in too many towns – in Vermont and beyond – post offices have been relocated to strip malls. There is nothing fun about strip malls. The post offices are generic, without any architectural character, making long lines seems even longer. This could be a stretch for some to say; however, imagine your post office was located in a beautiful building in your neighborhood or town. Wouldn’t you enjoy waiting in line if there were architectural details to admire? Wouldn’t the atmosphere be better?
A small post office in a historic building (a former bank) in Avilla, MO. August 2006.
Of course, post offices have not always had their own buildings and the history of mail is more than just the buildings. However, the issue of moving post offices from existing buildings in towns to the outskirts in strip malls or generic stand-alone buildings is as much about proper adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of historic structures as it about the importance of a post office to a community. Any time that a vital public service is removed from the center of activity, the community patterns will change. Perhaps it is less foot traffic for other businesses or more cars on the road because no one can walk to the new post office.
What do you think? I’d be much more inclined to visit the post office if it were in a historic building in the center of my town, rather than on the edge. An errand in a historic building seems less like an errand to me. Maybe other people feel the same way (even subconsciously), and that is just a small part as to why our postal service is suffering. Maybe a good experiment for the USPS would be to move post offices to historic buildings in walkable communities.
If you have a nice post office, let me know. What do you like or dislike about your post office?