Personalized Mailboxes

Disappearing Down a Lane Near You


| May/June 2007


Before interstates, blue highways and global overnight delivery, the Rural Federal Delivery brought correspondence and packages to rural mailboxes that were as individual as each resident. Now, as more and more mass-produced Cluster Box Units (CBUs) replace the quirky, personalized mailboxes of our back roads, some say we’re in danger of losing a beloved part of Americana. Others say rural Americans are, like the rest of the country, simply looking to upgrade their service, access and security.

 

In a world that thrives on cultural icons, mailboxes are peculiarly American expressions of identity. Just take a drive in any area of the country to view the care and creativity that go into designing a mailbox to complement the homeowner’s lifestyle. For example, fiberglass dolphins and manatees or wooden lighthouses are popular in shell-lined coastal areas. Whirligigs, anchors and nautical ropes are also big for ocean-side bungalows. Miniature McMansions with cedar shingles and slate roofs grace the paved drives of gated communities. And small, hollow yurts and geodesic domes stand as sentinels on the dirt roads of Rocky Mountain skiers and backcountry hippies.

 

Urban apartment dwellers retrieve mail from rows of mailboxes on the first floor, juggling groceries and backpacks as they search for mailbox keys. And then there are those small post offices in places like Tesuque, New Mexico; Moneta, Virginia; and Palisades, New York, where people gathering to socialize and retrieve mail from P.O. boxes can create a tailgate party on a moment’s notice.

 

Perhaps most interesting are rural mailboxes, as distinctive as the owners at the end of the driveway. While some rural mailboxes boast down-home folk art created in former tobacco barns and meat-curing sheds, others focus on the utilitarian need to withstand the demands of time and weather, feed and seed catalogs, and teenagers cruising the back roads with bats and an urge to use them. There are weathervanes, miniaturized outhouses and birdhouses, farm implements and all manner of patriotic colors and shapes. And it’s common to see clematis, morning glories or roses climbing the mailbox poles or hanging from specially created planting areas around the mailbox.

 

But lately, more and more residents of American back roads are replacing those family-specific, custom-designed mailboxes with Cluster Box Units (CBUs), which are mass-produced, lockable units that focus not on individual passions and values, but instead on increased security against theft and vandalism; safe, easy access; and an opportunity to modernize.

 

Is the trend toward CBUs a loss of a major expression of rural personality and a beloved Americana? Or are rural Americans, like the rest of the country, simply looking to upgrade their service, access and security?





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