Standing before the post office boxes in Schenectady

schenectady post office box closeupWe stopped into the downtown Schenectady post office this week and had to take a moment to admire the banks of old-school post office boxes. We imagine the brass doors swing open with a meaningful weight and close with a satisfying click. (Sadly, the user experience of AOA's P.O. box at 12203 is rather less notable.)

The Schenectady post office is a grand building that's on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally constructed in 1912 for $125,000 -- about $2.7 million in today's dollars (which seems like a steal). It was later expanded in 1933, and renovated in the 1960s.

One of the great things about standing before these rows of boxes is that they feel like the tangible interface to a fantastic system.

People get all excited these days about Twitter, Facebook, texts and email -- they're remarkable in their own ways, but not really by choice. They're computers following instructions.

But the postal system really is amazing. It's boxes and chutes and bags and carts and trucks and machines and computers and people all working together to accomplish what has become a totally mundane thing only because it's worked so well for so long: you can drop an envelope bearing just a few (sometimes not so) legible marks into a box anywhere in the country and with great confidence expect that envelope will arrive just a few days later exactly where you intended it to go.

That's way more fantastic than a few computers following a protocol.

Earlier on AOA: Owney, postal dog and Albany ambassador

schenectady post office exterior

schenectady post office box lineup

schenectady post office boxes wide

schenectady post office boxes medium

schenectady post office box closeup

schenectady post office box eagle closeup

Bonus bit: The early email application Eudora was named after author Eudora Welty, because of her short story Why I live at the P.O. Box.

Find It

Schenectady Post Office
29 Jay Street
Schenectady, NY 12305


Thanks for this. I agree-- the postal service does a phenomenal and often unheralded job, providing universal service with astonishing efficiency.

I detest, and would love to see retired, the snotty pejorative "snail mail."

That is so cool!

Needs more eagles.

I had Box #241 at the Schenectady Post Office for many years back in the 70s. Your admiration to an old beauty is warranted!

An interesting architectural tidbit: the Schenectady Post Office was constructed in "neoclassical civic design", to stress the importance of government permanency (I love that phrase).

Neoclassical signaled a return to rationality, after decades of fooling around with frivolous design styles like Baroque and Rococo.

The US Capitol building is another example of neoclassical design. Government permanency, indeed.

What always depresses me about seeing great old buildings is that we don't do it any more. (Well, maybe Apple does!) Could you imagine the uproar that would ensue if the USPS was to construct a new building and wanted to spend money building columns or eagle-adorned PO Boxes?

We've lost appreciation for the grand and ostentatious. I worry that as a society we will no longer create great things solely because we can, rather than because it enhances the bottom line.

@Jay - I'm sure we have lost appreciation for that, but I also think the USPS would be more successful building something like that now if they didn't have such a tarnished reputation for fiscal responsibility.

Sponsoring a professional bicycle racing team (with the ancillary perks like flights on the Concorde to France, fancy apartments, etc for VIPs - and I'm a huge bike racing fan), millions of bad real estate investments (see 60 Minutes a couple years back) all the while running huge deficits, make people suspect to what they're capable of doing responsibly.

But here's to the workers who get the mail out. They definitely need to be singled out from whatever the management's up to, for the service they provide.

@Jay -- Let's remember, though, how much great civic and public art was created during the Great Depression to put artists to work. Scores of murals were created for post offices around the country depicting American life (the style of the era being more proletarian hero than patriotic eagles). We need a similar stimulus spending plan now for the arts.

i love that Post Office. i had a PO box there for years while i taught at linton High.......its a Treasure Post Office within the National System and should be regarded and never abridged....william desadora

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