On the corner of...

Post Office box
Fri, 05/12/2017 - 12:15pm
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Ed. note: The Block Island Historical Society was founded in 1942. To help celebrate its 75th year, the Society’s Diamond Anniversary, The Block Island Times will be publishing sketches and photographs of items in its collection. For those interested in joining or donating to The Block Island Historical Society, please visit blockislandhistorical.org.

Today's difficulty in finding a delivery address for online ordering pales when one reads the history penned by Rev. Livermore in 1877: “No part of the United States, probably, has suffered more inconvenience from a want of mails than Block Island. For one hundred and seventy years it had none at all...” Correspondence went through mainland offices, and was sporadically brought over the water.

The first mail was established in 1832, with a contract of $412 for weekly delivery, leaving the island on a Wednesday morning and returning from Newport a day later in a “middling sized open boat.” Mail call followed, with residents gathered as names were read; early distributions were from the first Postmaster's bedroom. 

Carrying the mail became a matter of honor. In 1869, one four-year contract was bid down to four cents, a penny a year for weekly runs. When Livermore arrived, the trip had been increased to tri-weekly.

Commerce was increasing in the 1870s, and with it the need for communication, for “businessmen in these times cannot remain quietly long at any place” without news of the world and reports of their businesses. When the “mails” came more regularly and the proposed signal station was built, Livermore predicated there would be among islanders no more talk of “going to America” for “they will be in it.” 

An updated edition of his history published in 1882 carries a full-page ad for the George W. Danielson, a steamboat “11 years without an accident” and the boast of “Carrying the United States Mail.” 

The little box door shown here is from the latter part of the 20th century, from the Bridge Gate Square facility, one in a chain of locations of the Block Island Post Office. It was a plain, utilitarian building, with a brick façade, lacking the warm wood interior of its immediate predecessor on Water Street. These little mailbox doors were the last vestige of fading grandeur in public spaces, with their details and combination locks and numbers painted in gold with red shadowing. 

It resides now, across the street, on the corner of Past and Present.