When you think about it, the concept of a postal system is actually pretty amazing. For the price of a stamp, one can send a get-well card to an aunt on the other side of the country, a few thousand miles away. The fuel costs alone exceed the $0.45 of a first-class stamp–think about the cost to deliver a letter–just across town–if you did it yourself. With the United States Postal Service looking to make hard decisions regarding their operating budges, many local libraries are stepping in to become “Village Post Offices.” Library staff are being cross-trained to perform simple postal tasks such as selling stamps and mailing flat-rate packages. In addition to checking out books and media, library patrons can also mail holiday cards and birthday packages at one central location. Village post offices allow smaller communities to keep their unique zipcodes, rather than adopting the zipcode of a larger, nearby community with a central post office. Libraries in smaller communities are exploring the responsibilities and benefits of establishing Village Post Office services inside their facilities.
This innovative approach to providing mail service brings to mind another creative solution to a pervasive problem–the Pony Express. Though it provided service for only 18 months in 1860 and 1861, it help to connect the various and widely spaced settlements of the West with the news and events occurring in the East–and which affected Western territories and newly-fledged states. The Pony Express line began in St. Joseph, Missouri and traveled to San Francisco, CA and took an average of 10 days. The cost to send a letter (limited to a half ounce so that riders could still travel swiftly) was originally $5, but was eventually reduced to just $1. Still, the reduced cost remained an extravagance for average Americans. Nonetheless, for urgent news that needed to cross the country quickly, it was a vast improvement over the existing delivery times.
Continuing with our theme of postal history, you might enjoy a few images from our collections that show a few historic post offices in Wyoming.
This photograph was taken at Lenore, Wyoming, a town in Fremont County. The post office here was established in 1907 and operated until February 1942 when it was taken out of service. “Lenore,” the town’s namesake, was the postmaster’s daughter.
The following photo was taken at the Post Office in Alcova, Wyoming in 1910. Alcova, a town in Natrona County, was so named because of the “cove” formations in the nearby hills. The area has naturally occurring hot springs, as well as a dam along the North Platte River. In addition, the post office in Alcova still operates to this day–though probably not in the same building as it did back in 1910!
Mail was a connecting force for ranchers and ranch hands isolated from other communication methods. This photo was taken sometime between 1908 and 1940, and even then, receiving radio and television signals out on the range was an uncertain possibility.
With typical American ingenuity, our communities are likely to discover a way to minimize the impact of post office closures–from the Pony Express days to this new area of Village Post Offices, “the mail must go through!”
–Rachael Dreyer, Reference Archivist