In Rural America, the Fight for the USPS Continues
Nathrop, Colorado: In 2014, Nathrop’s post office joined thousands of other rural United States Postal Service locations with reduced hours, a cost-cutting strategy that disproportionately affected rural and low-income areas to save revenue as the USPS faced severe financial strain.
From July to August 2020, visual storytellers Alicia Carter and Haley France traveled from Texas to North Carolina, looping through New Mexico and Colorado, before heading east across the country. Along their route, they safely met with retired USPS letter carriers, clerks, and postmasters; active rural highway contractors; and local residents and activists in communities with less than 1,500 people. Their goal was to highlight the importance of rural post offices, which communities rely on to receive lifesaving medicines, to vote, and to meet basic needs. The closure of these post offices in some cases could mean the last breath of a dying economy with dire consequences, especially for those below the poverty line.
According to uspsoig.gov, in 1901 the USPS reached 76,945 total post offices nationwide—the highest number in its history. But, after the introduction of home delivery, many rural communities opted to close their local post office in exchange for free home delivery, sending the number of outposts plunging by nearly one-third over 20 years. Today, only 40,000 remain. Carter and France visited 45 on their trip.
The survival of a community is dependent on its ability to engage and communicate with the world around it. Without a post office, those foundations start to crumble. The USPS’s legacy is not only an example of the equality our country set out to achieve, but a reminder of its persistent gaps. Still, what remains evident is that many local residents will never give up on their post offices.
Driving through Abiquiú, New Mexico: population 246.
San Jose, New Mexico: Local resident Pete Rivera pulls in to the post office’s parking lot. From the early Pecos indigenous groups to Spanish settlers and travelers along Route 66, the area’s long history speaks to the importance and diversity of rural communities across America.
San Jose, New Mexico: Rural communities rely on their post office as a lifeline to the outside world. In San Jose, New Mexico, a town with a population of 137 people, the community includes a post office, a historic Catholic church, and a school.
An evening in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
Lometa, Texas: population 845.
Hye, Texas: An hour west of Austin, Texas, is the unincorporated community of Hye. The post office is located in the center of town and boasts several historical plaques on its porch detailing its establishment in 1886 and the fun fact that Lyndon B. Johnson mailed his first letter there when he was only four years old. According to the Hye Market website, in 2011 local residents and business owners rallied to save the historical post office from closure. Today, the post office is still a market, but has also expanded to serve as a restaurant, tasting room, and event center. The unincorporated town is home to 458 people.
Longwood, North Carolina: USPS highway contractor Sharon Long, 76, drives her car down a long stretch of road on her route to over 250 mailboxes in Longwood, North Carolina. Longwood is an unincorporated town that once contained several stores and businesses and was part of the local logging industry. Its post office is open four hours a day.
Placerville, Colorado: Placerville has a population of 669 people and was originally established as a small mining camp, named after the placer gold mines located on the San Miguel River and Leopard Creek.
A day in Sweetwater, Texas.
Lizard Head Pass, Colorado, a small town in the San Juan Mountains.
Lizard Head Pass, Colorado: Colorado’s mountainous post offices endure a long winter at high altitude that speaks to the USPS’s unofficial motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Wilson, Kansas: Wilson’s post office serves 736 people. The town claims it is the “Czech capital of Kansas” on its website.
Ramona, Kansas: The post office in Ramona has fought to stay open for over a decade. “They held hearings—they were all, in my view, bogus, because they already had made up their mind what they’re gonna do,” said Jessica Gilbert, 70, one of the town’s activists. “And about the only thing that maybe wasn’t bogus is that 100 of us showed up down here and said, ‘We don’t want the post office to go.’ And they saw enough of a reaction that they said, ‘Well, we’ll just put it to half days.’ Otherwise, I’m convinced they would have just wiped it out.”
Ramona, Kansas: Gilbert recalled the dedication of Ramona’s former postmaster, who would even pay for the post office’s sign to be repainted on her own dime. “She was so passionate about keeping our post office here that when there would be repairs needed, she would pay for them personally, because the building was owned by some dude down in Texas. He didn’t care two hoots what the repair was of the building,” said Gilbert.
Lometa, Texas: Lometa’s post office sits adjacent to the historic Santa Fe Railway (now the BNSF Railway), which cuts through this small town of approximately 856 people. Historically, this was a strategic move, as the Postal Service has used everything from trains to mules to deliver mail.