New England is dotted with historic post offices, from simple clapboard buildings to grand Beaux Arts palaces. In the earliest days of European settlement, the mail was delivered to coffeehouses and taverns.
In 1673, mail delivery was improved with the creation of the Boston Post Road, along which post riders carried letters and guided travelers. The Continental Congress established the U.S. Postal Service shortly after declaring independence.
New England is the site of the first post office, the oldest continuously operating post office and the second oldest continuously operating post office.
Many post offices moved from building to building and became something else. Sadly, the first post office in the United States was paved over and built up with modern commercial buildings.
Here are six historic post offices, one for each state. If you know of another, please mention it in the comment box below.
Greenwich Post Office
The historic post office in Greenwich, Conn., is now a luxury retail store that sells items for historic restoration.
It was built in 1915, one of the last of the era when government buildings were designed by private architects and intended to raise the design standards of federal buildings outside of Washington, D.C.
The post office was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places because it is ‘an inspired example of urban design.’ The federal government sold it in 2012 to Peter Malkin, who owns the Empire State Building and chairs the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Malkin rented the building to Restoration Hardware, which describes itself as ‘a curator of the finest historical design the world has to offer.’ The interior of the post office was completely gutted to accommodate the store, proving that historic preservation doesn’t necessarily begin at home.
The Greenwich Post Office is part of the Greenwich Avenue Historic District, which includes 162 structures, mostly commercial and municipal buildings.
310 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, Conn.
Castine Post Office
The Castine Post Office is the second-oldest continuously operated post office in the United States, according to the USPS historian. In 1833, the federal government began leasing the building, built in 1817, and later bought it.
Castine is a picturesque seacoast town listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was settled by Europeans seven years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth. Its public library is the oldest in Maine.
43 Main St., Castine, Maine
Old Fairbanks Tavern
A tavern run by Richard Fairbanks became the first post office in the United States. The Puritans had brought with them the European practice of delivering mail to coffee houses and taverns. On Nov. 6, 1639, the General Court ordered that the Fairbanks tavern was the place ‘for all letters which are brought from beyond the seas.’ Fairbanks was to take care that they be ‘delivered or sent according to their directions.’ He was given a penny for every letter he delivered.
Benjamin Franklin, a Boston native, became the first postmaster in the United States in July 1775 under the Continental Congress. He served for fewer than four months.
The Old Fairbanks Tavern is located approximately at 244 Washington St., Boston, once known as ‘Newspaper Row.’
If you’re looking for a historic post office building in Massachusetts, head to Cape Cod. The Santuit Post Office in Barnstable is a typical seaside cottage except that it served Santuit Village as a post office from 1846 to the 1970s. It’s now a private home on Main Street.
Hinsdale Post Office
The clapboard post office in Hinsdale, N.H., celebrated its 200th birthday in 2016. It’s the oldest continuously operating post office in the United States.
Nathan Babbitt appointed himself Hinsdale’s first postmaster in 1815 and had the building constructed the next year. The post office tucked in a corner of what was then a general store. Eventually the post office took over the entire first floor. The original brass postal boxes date from the 19th century.
In the early 20th century, the post office survived a fire that destroyed Town Hall next door.
It marked its bicentennial with a celebration that included music, a cake, tote bags and T-shirts.
13 Main St., Hinsdale, N.H.
Providence Post Office
As in Greenwich, Conn., the Providence Post Office was designed by an architectural firm. Clarke & Howe of Providence won the design competition. Their Beaux Arts building was considered ‘artistic’ and ‘excellently planned for its purpose.’
Congress authorized $1 million to be spent on the building, which was also a courthouse and customs house. It was finished in 1908 and lauded as one of the finest federal buildings outside Washington, D.C. The post office and customs operations were relocated and the building became the U.S. District Courthouse.
Providence has another historic post office: the oldest automated postal facility. Built in 1960, it was the first to use machines to sort the mail. It’s still in operation.
The ‘first automated post office’ was honored with a stamp in 1960 over the objections of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, which called it ‘obviously self-serving.’ The stamp, however, proved popular.
Kennedy Plaza, Providence, R.I.
Grafton Post Office
The old post office in Grafton, Vt., is part of a small cluster of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1855 for the town’s third postmaster. The little clapboard building was used as a post office for 103 years, until 1958. In 1938, it was lifted from its foundation by flooding caused by the Great New England Hurricane and moved to a new foundation.
The Grafton Historical Society bought the historic post office in 1962 and ran it as a museum until 1978. Now the society leases the building.
205 Main St., Grafton, Vt.
Images: Castine Post Office, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=696891; Santuit Post Office, By Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52892609; By User:Magicpiano – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26869304; Grafton Post Office By Samturgeon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21064003.
Hi! I don’t know if this is rare or just interesting but i have an 1817 copy of the New Hampshire post offices and prices and distances to Washington. Its very cool. Also lots of letters from various folks during the civil war. And an 1817 letter from Ephriam Hathaway! These were kept by my Grandfather and passed to me.
The Old Post Office at 38 North Main Street in Ipswich MA was built in 1763 and became the post office in 1790. https://historicipswich.org/the-old-post-office-38-north-main-street/
The oldest continuously operating post office in the USA is on Nantucket. I should know since I own a home here, and am a mail carrier as well. It was purpose built in 1790 and the post office opened in 1792 and has always been there at 5 Federal St. We just celebrated 225 years in 2017!
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