By Wendy O. Dixon
Since 1775, when the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster general, the U.S. Postal Service has played an essential role in American society.
And even with email and online bill payment services, it is still a vital part of any town. But few post offices are as distinctive and friendly as the Seaside Post Office. You’ll be sure to hear, “Hi. How ya doin’?” as customers enter and exit the quaint building. Seaside residents pick up their daily mail, greeted by the friendly Pat Day, postmistress since shortly after the opening of the post office 30 years ago, as well as one of the most recognized people in Seaside.
Conspicuously located in the bustling town center, the post office was the second civic building to be built in Seaside, after Ernesto Buch’s Tupelo Street Beach Pavilion, according to “Visions of Seaside” by Dhiru A. Thadani. “Having a physical post office at Seaside established a sense of place and gave the town credibility and the perception of being real,” Thadani writes. “Subliminally this convinced potential home buyers that a town would emerge over time.”
Seaside founder Robert Davis designed the building, which instantly became a landmark for the town when it opened June 3, 1985, marking the town center.
“It did seem to me that having a post office would be an important symbolic element in establishing Seaside as a town,” he says. “And … it has become an important civic and social element for Seaside.”
Davis designed the post office with the help of Robert Lamar, an interior designer from Pensacola, and the American Vignola and the Builders Companion, two of a number of handbooks and manuals of the 19th and early 20th centuries that were used by carpenters and masons to build competent classical buildings. Master carpenter Terry Londeree built the post office.
“He wanted it to be visible,” says longtime resident Glenn Seawell, recalling Davis’ vision for the town more than three decades ago. “And the flag pole, post office and the chapel’s steeple were built on an axis that splits Seaside in half. When he told me his plans for Seaside, it convinced me that he was serious about building a town.”
Day, who manages the postal functions so important to local residents, began her career in Seaside 30 years ago, holding many part-time jobs. She started working at the post office while also working in housekeeping and at the Sip ’N’ Dip. In 1986, Day became postmistress. At that time, one end of the counter was a community book swap, inviting locals and guests to share stories, information and books.
“There was so little mail then that I could carry all mail for Seaside in a basket on my arm,” she says, “delivering business mail to the Seaside office on Tupelo in the morning and picking it up in the afternoon.”
Since the early days of Seaside, the post office has become a cherished civic icon, gathering place and information center. It is the most photographed building in Seaside, and likely one of the most photographed post offices in the world. On any given day, Day sees 20 to 50 photos taken at the post office. “People have always come here to have pictures made,” she says. “At times, there is a constant stream of picture takers, making it difficult for customers to get in and out.” (Share your photos of the Seaside Post Office on our Instagram page at seaside_newtownoldways.)
Stellar Snail-mail Service
In addition to the architecturally distinctive design, customer service is a key part of the post office’s charm. Day and Manny Chavez are the only two employees, and each offers friendly and hospitable service.
“I love meeting people and talking to them,” Day says. “Learning about them, and giving them all the help I can.”
Seawell, better known as the unofficial mayor of Seaside by many, says Day’s customer service at the post office is unparalleled, noting that once he received a letter with simply, “Glenn, Seaside” written on the envelope. Day knew exactly who the intended recipient was.
Robert Rogers, a Seaside resident since 1991, says it’s a great place. “We love Pat,” he says.
The post office has no computer, only a scale and adding machine to determine postage fees. “We do it the old fashioned way,” Day says.
“It’s probably more accurate,” Rogers adds, leaning against the counter.
Business has picked up significantly since the early days. With a constant stream of customers coming and going, some ask to get a postmark as a souvenir, to no avail since the Seaside office is a branch of the Santa Rosa Beach Post Office, as the postmark reads. “But in the wintertime it slows down enough that you can have a conversation,” Day says as an exchange student from Turkey conducts some post office business. “And you can find out about people. I do unofficial surveys to find out where people are coming from.”
New this summer, the Seaside Post Office celebrates its 30th anniversary with commemorative stamps, available for sale at the post office.
The Seaside office provides nearly the same postal services as its parent post office in Santa Rosa Beach. There are 294 boxes, some of which have been occupied for all of its 30 years. “The only thing I can’t do is international packages for homeland security reasons,” Day says.
Tiffany Rubi has lived here part-time since 1991, when her mother, Barbie Borlaug, purchased a post box, now used by three generations of Rubis. “My parents bought the house as it was being built in 1991,” she recalls. “My little sister was 11 when we got the house here and loved checking the mailbox, too. Now my kids fight over who gets to climb up on the stool and unlock the box to check the mail.”
Day and Chavez know most of the locals and their kids, and try to accommodate a box to fit the height of the customer when they can. “The faces I may not know now because people can apply for a box online. But back then they had to fill out a paper application,” Day explains as she greets another customer. “So you’d come in, I’d see a person, I’d size you up to see how tall you are to find the right box for your height. Now there’s a wait list.”
Day adds that Davis’ aim to give the town a common gathering place in
the form of a post office is part of Seaside’s charm. “His good vision
has come to fruition. All in all, it’s a wonderful place,” she says.
“It’s been a wonderful place for me to enjoy people from the U.S. and
Ann Lewis contributed to this article.