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In many rural areas, post offices aren't just about mail. They are community centers. Appalachian Trail thru-hikers prepare lunch outside the post office in Caratunk, Maine. Many hikers rely on this office for vital supply drops. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

'Where Are We Going To Get Together And Talk?'

by Priska Neely
Aug 14, 2011

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Our show about life in rural America Thursday prompted many calls from listeners concerned about the post offices slated to close in their areas. A rural postal carrier called in to clarify that even if the post offices close, the mail will still get delivered, just through a different office. But to so many people in these areas, post offices are about more than just mail. Michael called in from Wisconsin and asked, "Where are we going to get together and talk?"

For many people in rural America, post offices aren't just a necessity or a convenience, but there are certain emotions connected to the sense of connectivity they provide. We talked a bit about the historical and cultural significance of the post office on TOTN last week.

While producing the show about rural America, I talked at length with Dee Davis, the president of the Center for Rural Strategies. He shared a passage from oral historian Stud Terkel's book American Dreams: Lost and Found. Gaynell Begley ran a country store with her husband in Blackey, Ky. She spoke about the changes in her area in the 1970s.

This is America to an awful lot of people who don't really realize it's bein' pulled out from under 'em. That's the only time I get scared. I'm not really pessimistic at all, but I do hate to see certain things go. I got a letter from my sister who lives in Eddyville, but it's got a Paducah postmark. It's such a small thing, but it just tears me up. It's typical of the thinkin' of big government. What does the Eddyville postmark mean to them? Or Blackey?

American Dream was first published in 1980, but for a lot of people in rural America that sentiment rings truer than ever today.

In early U.S. history, post offices were essential and were a reflection of expansion and growth. Derek Watkins runs a blog all about cartography and neogeography, and he put together a visualization of how "formal U.S. territorial control expanded in North America from 1700 to 1900, as seen through changes in the spatial distribution of post offices."

Post office development mirrors the westward expansion and correlates with the end of wars, and the creation of railroads and state borders.

Read more about how Watkins did it here. Check out other rural art and design projects on the cool blog Art of the Rural.

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