From Gazette post office files:
What splashes of color RFD mailboxes add to the landscape today. There are red mailboxes, blue, lion-yellow. There are mailboxes with whale’s tails painted whimsically on them, with lobster decorations, adorned with a smiling sun. There are mailboxes painted to resemble houses, striped mailboxes and mailboxes that look like the American flag.
Of course, old-fashioned silver mailboxes can still be found too — and rusted mailboxes with a forgotten air. But the gay ones seem to predominate, and their owners, more and more, as houses proliferate deep in up-Island woods, use their mailboxes as a way of providing directions as well as a depository for the post. “Turn left at the blue mailbox,” or the pink mailbox or the purple one is commonly heard when one is trying to find one’s way. And it’s rather cozy and comfortable on a dark day tracing such a cheery route.
The subject of post office movings recalls the transmutations of post office names. There are more names used at various times to identify various Island post offices than are dreamt of in most modern philosophies — so many, in fact, that a complete inventory will not be attempted here.
Probably the most decisive and influential change of name by the postal department so far as the Vineyard is concerned came when Holmes Hole was translated by popular request into Vineyard Haven, for in this way the name of a town, although not of the township itself, was altered. The name Vineyard Haven exists officially only by virtue of the post office department — but this is sufficient; even if the post office department should change its mind, the town would hardly now revert to being Holmes Hole.
The greatest variety of old names belong to what is now Oak Bluffs. The most recent change, in 1907, from Cottage City likewise went with a change in the name of the town; but in this case the post office department merely followed suit. Prior to Cottage City — a name thought of by a Fitchburg railroad man — there were post offices named Vineyard Grove and Weslyan Grove.
Who could deliver a letter or package addressed to Noepe, Mass.? That designation flourished briefly and was apparently brought about for the convenience of the old striped bass club, members of which were too far from existing post offices. It was only a summer name. The Chilmark post office became known as Squibnocket in 1883 but was changed back to Chilmark again in 1898. In all, five names have been used.
Gay Head was served through Chilmark until 1873 when a Gay Head post office was established and maintained for many years. West Tisbury was known as a post office for long decades before it became a town, and North Tisbury had a kind of separate regional existence until the R.F.D. came and eliminated the post office of that name.
It is good to know that some eternal verities remain. For instance, a post office doorway is still the best place to meet old friends on an active day in summer. Observation confirms the fact.
Well, maybe statistics can supply an explanation of a sort. The great numbers of vacationers from the far scattered towns and cities of America and elsewhere arrive at a mailtime confluence at the post office as nowhere else. Occasionally someone who dives at an Island beach will come to the surface and find himself face to face with a cousin from Seattle he has not seen in 30 years, but he is more likely to meet this cousin, and others, at mailtime in the post office doorway.
The greetings, the chatting, the total conviviality, do somewhat interfere with traffic in and out of the post office, and this requires a weighing of values. Mail delivery is important, but so are fugitive meetings that happen by summer chance. Perhaps the best solution would be to provide all post offices with three doorways, one for patrons bound inward, one for patrons bound outward, and one for greetings and conversation.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner