Colorado, Fine Art Photography, Heartland, Illinois, Iowa, Midwest, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Photo, Photography, Post Offices, Postal Service, Road Trip, small town, Travel, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin
Traveling through all the small towns around the country, I was trying to pay attention to the things that seemed to be the same and yet different. I would always look for a unique building or something that seemed to be common in every town. Why it took me several days into the trip to notice, I don’t know, but almost every town had a post office. Maybe it is just so easy to take them for granted, a service we depend on–less now than maybe in earlier times–but maybe just exists on the periphery of our consciousness. I am not sure why or where I first started to notice them, but one day I just realized that they were everywhere and that they could be almost anywhere in the town, even stuck in the oddest places or buildings. Possibly that was it, generally post offices are pretty “expected”, but out there they just became more noticeable because of the differences each presented. In any case, it was several days into my trip that I did take notice and decided to start photographing them.
I believe I mentioned in an earlier post here that it seemed almost every town had a bar or three, another observation that came to me after several days. But what I found was that even when there wasn’t a bar, there was likely to be a post office. In one case, the post office shared the same building with the local tavern! But in many places, the only commercial building operating was the post office. Because so many were in such small places, it is not hard to believe that there are almost 33,000 post offices in the US.
As I said, these post offices came in so many sizes and shapes. Many were found at the end of town or even a ways out of town, standing alone in a field along the road. Others were in prefab buildings stuck between buildings from an earlier era, probably where one of the older ones had once been. In some cases, it actually appeared as if a hole was cut into a building and a post office “cube” was slid in. Sometimes the buildings would have a very classical feel with the more grand ones being in the larger towns. But even the prefab buildings or those that seemed recently built just seemed to have their own identity.
Some of the more curious included one that was in a turn of the century (1900) schoolhouse where the upper floors had no windows and seemed to be just asking for the elements to take it away. Another had apparently been fitted into what must have once been a truck or tractor repair bay.
I also ran across a few abandoned post offices, ones that served an earlier time and which also served as a residence. One of these buildings appeared to have had a fairly sizable operation inside and had many of its furnishings and beautiful woodwork still in place. With open doors and missing windows, the beautiful finishes, fabrics and wall coverings were being ravaged by the severe local weather.
Depending upon the time of day that I came upon these post offices, I would find different levels of activity. It seemed as if there were times when the mail “was in” and there would be a bustle of activity with cars and trucks blocking a clear shot. Sometimes I would wait, ending up meeting several locals, or maybe I would just go look around the rest of the town. But almost always, just 15 minutes or so would render things back to a fairly quiet, if not abandoned, state. In some of the smaller towns, I could get off a shot between folks coming and going and got a sense that these post offices acted a bit like the local gathering spot.
In one town, I met a gentleman on his way to the post office. He saw me and my strange clothes, hat and car and decided to find out who I was and what I was up to. He had left the house to go mail a letter, walking downtown from a nice residential area that merged into the end of the main street. He said I looked like an “Aussie on Safari”. (In this area, brim hats, other than farm related branded baseball caps, weren’t common nor were cargo pants–and a foreign truck?!?) After giving me an informative history of the town, he related that his wife was going to wonder where he was as he had laundry he was supposed to be doing and should have been home already. I left and wandered around town a bit more and while I was driving away, noticed he was still inside the post office visiting with the other locals inside.
As the trip progressed, post offices weren’t the only thing that started to catch my eye and which seemed to appear in most towns, but we can talk about those another time.
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