In the waning years of the 19th century Steilacoom’s Post Office was located inside a General Store (the Bair Store). Today that Post Office, that’s moved two more times, includes an art gallery.
From Monday through Friday (10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2:30-5:00 p.m.) the business on the corner of Wilkes and Lafayette streets continues to be a popular “meet and greet” spot for long-time residents as well as newcomers to the area.
Although postal service hours have been adjusted to accommodate service cutbacks, Steilacoom’s postal clerk, “Arnie” Richard, faithfully mans the counter throughout the week. John I., Shelly S., Jerry D. and Chris L. were just a few of the “locals” among the steady stream of patrons queuing during the before-noon hour on a recent Friday.
Currently, “Arnie” says, there are not quite 1,000 boxes in the present station. Besides traditional postal services, the station also features an expanding art gallery of familiar scenes, including the view down Wilkes Street, the ferry terminal, Rainier Avenue; even an approaching BNSF engine.
A Tacoma native, “Arnie” has worked for the Postal Service since 1983. The 10 paintings hanging in the post office are a small sampling of his work. Copies of those prints are available.
While the local station’s future is unknown—it’s hoped that it will remain at the same location—that’s yet to be determined, but people “still come in to just talk,” he adds. Most days he’s usually the only clerk there, since all mail is routed through Lakewood, but he says he enjoys the view and the station’s central location.
Besides keeping track of stamp and package sales, “Arnie” also keeps a supply of suckers behind the counter for little kids who visit with their parents. There’s also a small sack of doggy treats for four-footed patrons, such as “Angel” who wore Seahawk colors in her ears, when she visited with her owner that day.
Speaking about the Hawks, “Arnie” prognosticated about the upcoming Bowl game, praising the team’s defense and offense. He was confident about the team’s win.
Throughout the morning, his friendly conversation often sounded like a stand-up comedy routine.
No matter the time of year, “Arnie” remains pleasant and goes with the flow.
As a reminder: The busiest times usually are before noon, and before 5 p.m. Outgoing mail is picked up shortly before noon. Please plan your trip to the post office accordingly, and bring the correct change whenever possible. The USPS is no longer a US Government business; it became a privately held business in 1976. First Class postage rates increased on Jan. 26, 2014.
Other local mail trivia:
Steilacoom Post Office was first served by Mr. John Chapman as mail carrier from Olympia, while Olympia was still part of Lewis County, Oregon Territory. He made one round trip per week, with compensation not to exceed $2.70 per week, a total distance of 28 miles one way.
According to a Lakewood Log article from the 1930s, James Hall was one of Steilacoom’s earliest postmasters. He was appointed by President Fillmore on July 6, 1852.
Department records indicate the office was officially established as Steilacoom City in June 14, 1854, and changed to Steilacoom Sept. 5, 1895. It was advanced to Presidential Grade on Jan. 1, 1921.
Steilacoom’s Post Office was once located at 1617 Lafayette Street in the Bair Store. Warren L. Bair, store proprietor, served as postmaster for three terms; son-in-law Wm. I. Leech and his wife, Eudocia, also served in that capacity, from 1922-1939. The Post Office next moved into the building occupied by the recently-closed Key Bank. In the 60s the Post Office was relocated to its present location in the Steilacoom Center at Wilkes and Lafayette streets.
On April 22, 2004, the day when Steilacoom commemorated its 150th anniversary, the U.S. Post Office issued a special Sesquicentennial Cancellation stamp, designed by resident Jim Dyer, that was used to cancel letters that day only.
Former Steilacoom postmistress Ruth Grant, who succeeded Eudocia Leech, presided over the stamping that day, conducted at the Bair Store. Eudocia’s grandson, John Leech, displayed several books of stamps that day.
This year marks the Town’s 160th anniversary.