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Woodinville Post Office joins nationwide celebration

100 Years of Rural Free Delivery

postal workers

Lydia Ray (left) and Bob Leach, Jr. have worked at the Woodinville Post Office the longest, 16 years and 20 years, respectively.
Photo by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.

Rural Free Delivery by Jeff Switzer
WOODINVILLE--Neither wind nor rain nor sleet nor snow has kept the couriers from their routes--and this week marks 100 years of that celebrated Rural Free Delivery.
   On Thursday, Oct. 10, the Woodinville Post Office will be serving refreshments in the lobby between 1 and 5 p.m. in conjunction with a nationwide celebration of the centennial of rural free delivery, which includes the issue of a new commemorative 32-cent stamp honoring the tradition.
   While many postal workers have come and gone, Woodinville's Lydia Ray has been delivering for more than 16 years, and supervisor Robert Leach, Jr. has been with Woodinville for 20 years.
   "When I first got to Woodinville, it was small enough that you felt like you knew everyone in town," Leach said. He's worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 29 years. When he started here, there were only four routes in the area, delivering to about 2,200 customers daily.
   Today, there are 30 routes in the area, and couriers must drive 605 miles daily to deliver to just under 12,000 customers, with the longest rural route at 34 miles and the most daily deliveries at 652. Of the 25 regular carriers, 16 are women, and of the 47 total carriers, including the temporary ones, 27 are women.
   "They do an outstanding job. Most work six days a week," said Postmaster Keith Parkins. "My carriers care very much about their deliveries. Some have been on the same route for more than 10 years. Even with the option to change routes, they choose to stay with their customers and take pride in giving excellent service to them."
   Rural Free Delivery began experimentally on Oct. 1, 1896 in select areas of West Virginia. Prior to that point, farmers had to leave their farms and travel to the nearest post office to collect their mail.
   The first rural route in Washington State was established in north Yakima on Apr. 1, 1897. Today, Woodinville is one of 57,000 rural routes in the United States.
   According to Gladys Berry, president of the Woodinville Historical Society, the first Woodinville Post Office was in Susan and Ira Woodin's home in 1871. After that, it moved to the Tea Garden Store, and when John DeYoung bought the store in 1925, the Post Office remained.
   Until the 1940s, there was only one letter carrier, Milt Lindgren. After the area began to grow, Bob DeYoung was hired for a second route. According to Berry, a man just out of the service opened a print shop in his garage offering to print mailing labels for $1, and orders for the labels contributed to the growth.
   From the '60s until 1985, the Post Office sat where the Armadillo Barbecue is now, and Wayne Gibbs was the postmaster, serving for 30 years from 1954 to 1984. A new post office was then built at the present location; it may be there for another 20 years, based on projected growth.
   Berry's experience with mail delivery to her home since 1949 is a unique one. "I've lived in the same house for 47 years and have changed addresses five times," she said.
   Gibbs said the area was very rural when he started, "a lot of mom and pop chicken farms, vegetable farms, and dairies; people lived and worked pretty closely together." He said right-hand drives on delivery vehicles were "pretty much unheard of. You had to sit in the middle and reach across. Woodinville has become more of a suburban, community rather than country/rural."
   Gibbs added, "You drive around and see house after house after house. We've got more space than Seattle, but we pay dearly with our taxes for it, though! Back in those days, there was much more of a neighborhood, community atmosphere. I think we lost that in our growth."