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The Loss Of Its Post Office Changes W.Va. Town

The old Hacker Valley Post Office building.
Noah Adams
The old Hacker Valley Post Office building.

Part of a series on the U.S. Postal Service

The 600 people who live in the West Virginia mountain community of Hacker Valley are facing a second winter of icy, treacherous driving just to get to a post office. It can be a 40-mile round trip.

Hacker Valley's post office was shut down in the summer of 2009. A lease on a dilapidated structure expired and the U.S. Postal Service moved quickly to put Hacker Valley under what it calls "emergency suspension." A spokesman for the Postal Regulatory Commission explained, "The office is not closed, but as far as customers are concerned it's not open."

Bill Lake of Sun Lumber Co. led a group of residents who offered to build a new post office for the USPS to lease, using donated land, materials and labor. At first, it seemed the Postal Service was interested, but soon the phone calls from Hacker Valley were going unreturned.

The traditional economy of Hacker Valley depends to a large part on postal money orders. You pay cash for a money order to be sent away, and you get a written receipt. "Many people here don't trust banks," says Donna Boggs, a former part-time postal employee. "They order their shoes from catalogs, they order clothes, they order books, they do all their seed orders and they do it all with money orders."

Former postal employee Donna  Boggs is leading the fight for a new post office in Hacker Valley.
Noah Adams / NPR
Former postal employee Donna Boggs is leading the fight for a new post office in Hacker Valley.

Boggs knows six people nearby who used to walk to the Hacker Valley Post Office every day. Now they must hire someone to drive them if they have a money order to buy or a package to mail. The closest post office is in Diana, W.Va., a nearly 20-mile round-trip drive over two mountains. Rock Cave, the post office carriers for Hacker Valley work out of, is a 40-mile round-trip commute.

Mail is delivered throughout Hacker Valley. It comes right to your box out at the road. But many people had a P.O. box; they would go inside, wave to the postmaster and open their box with a key. For one thing, it kept prescriptions very safe.

And that worries Kennetha Parker-Howes, the town's elementary school principal. Parker-Howes is married to a disabled veteran, who gets his medications mailed to him.

"He would hate for some child to get into the box or have someone steal the prescription. He waits over by the mailbox when he thinks it should be here. He waits until the carrier puts it in his hand," Parker-Howes says.

Hacker Valley has a growing arts and craft community, and potter Brian Van Nostrand led the way, setting up his studio in 1965. He's given up most of his mail order business, finding it too troublesome to get the packages to a post office.

Van Nostrand speaks fondly of the old, faded green cinder block Hacker Valley Post Office. "It was a very humble structure, but it was very functional for the community and it was also a meeting place. People would come and we'd bump into each other and have long conversations in the parking lot."

The Postal Service may soon issue a proposal for Hacker Valley, and a permanent closure is an option. Comments will be invited. The announcement will show up on the bulletin boards at the two nearest out-of-town post offices.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Noah Adams, long-time co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, brings more than three decades of radio experience to his current job as a contributing correspondent for NPR's National Desk., focusing on the low-wage workforce, farm issues, and the Katrina aftermath. Now based in Ohio, he travels extensively for his reporting assignments, a position he's held since 2003.