EUGENE, Ore. — Take a drive outside of Eugene to the Western Lane Country region of rural farms, and you will note several “village post offices” that have had a long history of “local” service here in the Eugene area.
Thus, people who live in this rural regions “really depend upon our local post office for not just mail, but friendship too,” says Linda who retired as a Eugene teacher and is now living with her son’s family near Triangle Lake.
Linda said “it would be a real shame if some business doesn’t come to our rescue and run a local post office like the one’s were now said to be loosing. I don’t want to have to drive into Eugene just to get my mail,” she quips.
Post offices in rural areas closing, loss of Americana at 3,700 locations
Rural post offices – that have existed for more than 100 years as a unique part of Americana – will begin closing, stated the U.S. Postal Service July 25 as it draws down 3,700 of its smaller postal service locations nationwide.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the U.S. Postal Service is eyeing the closure of 3,700 rural and village post offices in a July 25 statement. Meanwhile, the postal service has eluded to taking this action — of putting its small operations on the chopping block – due to postal service losses that are reported to be in the billions of dollars.
Americana refers to those artifacts related to history, geography, folklore and cultural heritage of the U.S. In turn, rural or “Village Post Offices” are considered to be one of the last bastions of the old Americana; via a place where everyone in the community goes to touch base with one another. Stopping in at a rural post office is unlike Facebook and other social networking because people actually come face-to-face with one another, and are able to speak to each other and shake hands or do what humans do when they meet and exchange greetings.
“That’s what (Americana) we will be losing,” states one local farmer who also added how “stopping at the post office to check my mail is my only real chance to see anyone.”
Closing village post offices means cutting more “human” connections
At the same time, other rural dwellers in rural locations — such as the Blachly area outside of Eugene — say they still “depended upon” the local post office as not only a place to get their mail but “for community interactions” as well.
Also, many of these “country folk” say they’re suspicious of Facebook and other social media, or are not “wired” into the vast machine that is the Internet simply because they’re too busy farming, or feeding their horses, cattle or other live stock.
“Facebook. I don’t really trust something that I can’t look in the eye or touch and read on paper. I’m 78 and I’m not going to change now,” says “Spence” a retired logger who still keeps busy on his Blachly farm by “working 12 hour days.” He adds: “I don’t have time to mess with computers,” but he does take a noon-hour break to “go into town and see if there’s mail.”
Moreover, locals here at the Blachly Post Office in this suburb of Eugene, “say it’s a crying shame that we won’t have that place to run into neighbors and put flyers up about local happenings,” says Herb who also lives on a farm and dreads the day when his local post office closes down.
While the U.S. Postal Service is still in the closure announcement stage – of more than 3,700 village post offices nationwide – a postal clerk here said “the writings on the wall. They will close us down for budgetary reasons.”
Americans getting their “mail” via computer more than “snail mail”
Ask most American kids if they’ve either sent or received a “snail mail” – a term used for mail in paper and envelope form – and they will say “heck no” because they e-mail, tweet or post their lives on Facebook for family, friends and “hackers” to see.
Thus, it’s no surprise given this struggling economy where postage stamp prices keep going up and up, that the U.S. Postal Service has decided to “drawdown it’s smaller operations,” explained a postal clerk in Eugene recently.
The plan to shrink the size of U.S. post offices was announced July 25.
“Today, more than 35 percent of the Postal Service’s retail revenue comes from expanded access locations such as grocery stores, drug stores, office supply stores, retail chains, self-service kiosks, ATMs and usps.com, open 24/7,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in a statement. “Our customer’s habits have made it clear that they no longer require a physical post office to conduct most of their postal business,” stated a NBC News TV report July 25.
In turn, the U.S. Postal Service stated in a new release that it has a complete state-by-state list of the post offices around the country that it’s “studying for closure or conversion.” Go to the postal service website at https://www.usps.com/welcome.htm for more information, stated U.S. Post Office officials.
“The list of post offices targeted for “expanded access,” as the USPS is describing the possible closures, includes big-city outlets and remote retail locations,” reported NBC News during a TV broadcast July 25.
Blachly Post Office celebrates 93 years of serving the community
When the Blachly Post Office first opened its doors in 1918, the domestic postage rate was just 3 cents. As this rural post office celebrates its 93th anniversary this year, the cost for a first class letter has only risen 41 cents, but given this weak economy – where most Oregon communities are still in double digit unemployment – it’s still an issue.
“That rise in postage is not bad considering the inflation rate of other public services after nine decades of service,” said Ron Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service’s regional district headquarters in Portland during an interview a few years ago when the postal service was still trying to compete with e-mail and various forms of social networking.
However, most “younger people” don’t know what it is to write a real letter on paper and then place a stamp on it and mail it, explains Martha, a grandmother who admits that “I could get a letter from my kids or grandkids like in the old days. I tease my dog that ‘nobody loves us’ when there’s no mail to be collected at our Blachly Post Office.”
Paper mail now mostly bills and advertisements
According to a recent report by the Postal Regulatory Commission — a internal watchdog arm of the U.S. Postal Service — the United States has gone from a peak of 77,000 post offices in 1900 to about 38,000 facilities today.
In turn, the postal service had been closing rural post offices each year until it imposed a moratorium on closings in 1998.
At issue for the postal service is the change in how people receive information and mail these days.
Anderson said there has been “dramatic changes” in recent years with e-mail and private package delivery that’s taking an ever bigger chunk of the postal service’s business.
“The problem is many rural post offices are having fewer transactions, and there’s always a chance that the moratorium on closings may be lifted,” he said.
A few years ago, Anderson did not think rural post offices in West Lane County – Blachly, Deadwood, Elmira, Lorane, Noti, Veneta and Walton – will go on the chopping block anytime soon because they provide both a “vital postal delivery service and also a unique social service.”
However, that’s now changed with many of these rural post offices on the new postal service hit list of places that may close over the next year.
For Pam Hites, Blachly’s postmaster this past 20 years, it was “business as usual” a few years ago when the Blachly Post Office had a big 90th anniversary celebration.
“We’ve been here since 1918, and we’re now a contract site with 220 customers who receive mail from this location.”
Rural post offices have a long and proud tradition
Hites said she’s proud of the original Blachly Post Office sign that still swings outside her window and dates back to 1918. “What’s really special about this post office is the people who meet and greet each other as they collect their mail, and go about their day.”
The Blachly Post Office came into being after the U.S. Post Office instituted a service dubbed “Rural Free Delivery” in 1902. The first R.F.D. post offices in the state started to open shortly after that, but many in Western Lane County did not open until after World War I in 1918.
“For the first time families living in the various farms surrounding Eugene did not have to venture into town or send or pick up their mail — it came to them. The rural post offices were the first connection to the county for people who moved here,” stated a Lane County history record of the R.F.D.’s.
The history also states how immigrants arriving at the rail station in Eugene would have the P.O. box number of their Blachly relatives written on a tag attached to their coats. After the mail had been distributed to the boxes, postal workers would escort these foreigners to his or her proper destination.
The initial R.F.D. route for West Lane County was only 22 miles long, and later became a horse-drawn route that extended to over 60 miles.
The Blachly Post Office was part of that original mail route, and is still housed in the same white wooden structure that first opened in 1918. Today, the Blachly Post Office can best be described as a simple, non-descript building near Highway 36 in Triangle Lake in a rural location just outside of Eugene, Oregon.
Traditionally, rural post offices in Oregon were located in proximity to nearby rivers, creeks and postal routes. Thus, it’s no surprise to find many of West Lane County rural post offices located near the highway or the Siuslaw River.
“Mail routes refer to the path mail travels between post offices or the path taken by letter and rural carriers. For Blachly, and those along Highway 126 and Highway 36, the mail route is to and from Eugene each and every day,” said Bob Galvan, a senior postal clerk at the main Lane County post office in Eugene.
Galvan, who’s processed mail for local rural post offices these past 25 years, said the “Eugene Corridor is very efficient and our rural customers should know that they get their mail as quickly as possible.”