NEAVITT -- More than four years after Tropical Storm Isabel knocked the props from under the old post office in this Eastern Shore village, a group of won't-take-no-for-an-answer neighbors is poised to get what it has been pestering the U.S. Postal Service for ever since -- a new one.
Frustrated by a drawn-out battle with agency officials who balked at building anew in the tiny unincorporated town, community activists have gone one step farther, raising more than $125,000 and building their own.
"The [Postal Service] finally realized that we were serious about providing a facility if they were willing to restore our service," said G. Rex Kilbourn, a retired naval officer who organized the effort. "We've never given up."
Kilbourn and other activists say a Nov. 7 letter from postal officials all but seals a deal, promising to "reconsider re-establishment of services to the Neavitt community if an adequate location could be provided to house the retail operation."
The 1,120-square-foot gray-shingled building is designed to fit in among the ranchers, bungalows and white-framed houses that line Neavitt's mile-long main street.
Built on a parcel of parkland owned by Talbot County, it should also provide ample space for a lobby and sale of stamps and other supplies and services, said Kilbourn.
Interior work remains unfinished -- no plumbing, electricity, insulation, walls or paint. Postal officials are due to tour the place next week. Members of the nonprofit Friends of Neavitt and the Neavitt Community Association left it that way to be sure they'll get a full outline of specifications necessary to meet the agency's requirements.
The two civic groups raised about half the cost of the new building, with the rest donated by philanthropist Jean Ellen du Pont Shehan, who lives part time in Neavitt. The building was dedicated yesterday in memory of her husband, W. Mason Shehan, who died last year.
Postal Service spokeswoman Deborah Yackley cautioned that the agency hasn't signed off on the project.
"The Postal Service had determined that it wasn't worthwhile to build after Isabel, but there are other options for Neavitt," said Yackley. "One possibility could be a CPU, a Contract Postal Unit, an arrangement where someone works under a contract, running the office. Also, in some cases, a rural carrier provides services."
Most of the scars left by the giant storm that ripped its way up the Chesapeake Bay in September 2003 have long since been fixed.
After Isabel, repairs were made to the old post office, including building a higher foundation. But a new owner wants to sell the building that over time has served as a movie theater and a general store, as well as a post office.
Residents of the town, who have to drive five miles to the nearest post office in Bozman, say that they never got over the loss of their post office and that their new building would be an ideal replacement.
It had always been a focal point in the community of 300, where retirees are rapidly replacing the watermen who used to live here. Nearly surrounded by Balls, Harris and Broad creeks, Neavitt is about a dozen miles south of St. Michaels.
"We're incorporated in spirit at least, and we need that post office as a center of the community," said Forest Bogan, a potter who moved here 20 years ago from western Massachusetts. "The community was missing something, and I think we're getting it back."