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In the News - Friday, May 14, 2010

Kaweah Post Office

threatened with closure


By Brian Rothhammer


  Sandy Norris informed postal officials Friday, May 7, of her decision not to renew a second three-year contract as postmistress of the historic Kaweah Post Office. It was not an easy decision as she has treasured her time serving Kaweah and visitors from around the world.

  Earlier this week, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) decided that on May 31, 2010 , the Kaweah Post Office would be closed permanently. On Tuesday, postal auditors were at the North Fork site to take inventory.

  During the time of the auditors' unannounced visit, postal patrons were greeted by a handwritten “closed” sign at the window where mail has been faithfully received for 100 years.

Sandy Norris manages the Kaweah Post Office.


  The building is a treasured landmark, a reminder of simpler times, and a popular stop for tourists and photographers. For the past century, the quaint post office has been a vital center of the tiny community of Kaweah.

  Although the North Fork had an ad hoc post office from October 1879 through May 1890, the official charter for a U.S. Post Office was granted on May 17, 1890 . Originally called Advance, the name was changed to Kaweah on December 22, 1890 .

  The acting superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks referred to the area as “Kaweah Post Office” as early as 1900, but the mail was handled in those early days first at the tent and later at the home of the local resident serving as postmaster. It was in the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors that the venerable Kaweah Post Office was built.

  In 1910, six ranchers chipped in $2.50 each for materials and built the 8-by-10-foot structure to provide a consistent place to receive mail. The small, yet sturdy post office has been moved at least three times to better accommodate residents. Old photographs indicate that its original location was nearer Mankin Creek.

  Milton Savage (1926-2008), who was born on the Savage Ranch in Kaweah, recounted in a 2000 interview that his father, Ken Savage, had pulled the post office by tractor to move it about 700 yards closer to the home of Ida Purdy when she became the postmaster in 1926. It has remained at its present site since.

  Neither Rain, Sleet, Snow— For the past century, a succession of dedicated postal employees and contractors has provided exemplary service to their community. Even the devastating flood of December 1955 could not stop the local mail delivery.

  Even though all bridges were washed away, on Christmas Day, Martha Warren brought mail over to stranded North Fork patrons by helicopter.

  For the next several weeks, Martha and other postal workers, including Muriel Barton and Postmaster Pauline Farris, transported the mail across the raging river via a wooden box strung on a cable to ensure the mail could be delivered.

  Now the USPS seeks to discontinue mail service to Kaweah, even though this is not the first time that one of the smallest functioning post offices in the U.S. has been threatened with closure. Service was discontinued to Kaweah on November 30, 1925 , but resumed May 15, 1926 , when Ida Purdy took control. In November 1974, the USPS abandoned Kaweah as a fourth-class post office.

  A page on the USPS website currently lists the Kaweah Post Office as inactive since April 26, 1974 , and shows no zip code. On May 1, 1975 , it reopened as a contract postal unit and has since operated on that basis.

  Newspaper articles over the decades tell of a recurring pattern of closure attempts going back at least to 1953. Each time closure has been averted when protests were received from around the world.

  In 1973, the USPS opened bids for a new facility, claiming that the 1910 building was condemned. Tulare County building authorities confirmed that this was not the case. Kaweah and Three Rivers residents circulated petitions and the Kaweah Post Office was saved.

  In 1975 postal officials wanted it closed as it was deemed “too primitive.” In 1991, “poor revenue” was cited as the reason, as is the case now. Postmistress Roberta Yardley responded by encouraging local residents to buy their stamps at Kaweah.

  Postal patrons from as far as Southern California responded by buying stamps via mail. Currently, the USPS is limiting the supply of stamps available at Kaweah. It the USPS continues on its present course, the Kaweah Post Office will be lost forever.


THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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