In Uniontown, residents gather to mark passing of post office -- and a way of life Family provided mail service for 101 years


With the advent of free rural delivery mail service in 1899, the Uniontown post office was technically closed. Tomorrow it will close for good.

Yesterday was a day to give thanks to postmaster Caroline Devilbiss and her brother, Bob, who will shut down the one-window counter operating as a postal station in the front corner of Devilbiss' General Store. The store will remain open.

Their family has provided postal service for 101 years, since grandfather Frank Eckard was commissioned postmaster in June 1897. But Caroline has had enough. "I'm just tired of handling the mail," she said recently.

About 200 friends and relatives attended yesterday's celebration, billed simply as "A Reception for Caroline and Bob," in the basement of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in the east end of town. The church was founded in 1870, some 60 to 70 years after the town.

Barbara and Roland Childs, along with neighbors Dottie and Melvin Fritz and Judy Lockard, arrived early to decorate the hall with tiny American flags and red, white and blue stars before mixing gallons of punch and putting out homemade cookies donated by the dozens.

Caroline, 78, received a sparkling garnet necklace. "Oh, my soul!" she said when she saw it. Bob, 76, received a flashy silver watch and, in the name of all the donors, Barbara Childs presented a check "for a trip, or a shopping spree."

Kathleen Schultz, postmaster in Westminster, hand-delivered a letter from William J. Henderson, postmaster general of the U.S. Postal Service, thanking Caroline and her family for "serving the postal needs of your community."

The reception was a chance to remember meeting some of those needs. Like Grandfather Eckard traveling four miles south by horse and buggy to pick up the mail at the Linwood train station. Or Hilda Eckard Devilbiss, Caroline and Bob's mother, selling first-class stamps for 3 cents.

Lockard recalled her late father, Clarence, always wanting to pick up the mail at the same time every day. "That's when the men of the town gathered at the general store to discuss politics and the news," she said.

The Uniontown post office has been run as a contract site since the U.S. Post Office introduced free rural mail service and consolidated regional operations in Westminster in 1899. Caroline confirmed the closing in April and attracted national attention. Since then, she has received dozens of letters from well-wishers from as far as Texas and Canada.

A couple from Toronto stopped by on motorcycles Saturday "to say hello," she said.

Rural delivery mailboxes have been sprouting up in town in anticipation of tomorrow's closing. Residents can install their own mailbox or use one of the cluster boxes installed behind the town bank on Uniontown Road.

Yesterday's happiness won't turn to tomorrow's sadness, however.

"It will be strange, not stopping to pick up the mail every day," said Esther Reese. "It will still be convenient to stop for bread, or milk. Closing the post office won't end the friendships."

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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