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The Helen Post Office is closing its doors on Friday, Aug. 17, nearly 109 years after it was established, in what the postal service is calling “an emergency suspension.”

Karen Guy Reynolds retired Tuesday after 17 years as postmaster. She was the third consecutive member of her family to hold the job. Her mother, Doris L. Griffin, was Helen’s postmaster for 20 years. Her grandmother, Aleatha I. Latham, was postmaster for 36 years.

Reynolds said she chose to retire because July 31 was the deadline to take the incentivized retirement program offered by the U.S. Postal Service. The annual lease for the building that houses the Helen Post Office, owned by Dana Russell and Mary Lisa Estevez, isn’t being renewed either.

The Helen ZIP code (20635) is not going away just yet. The emergency suspension “gives us time to look around to give us options,” said Laura Dvorak, regional spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service.

Even if the lease was to be renewed, the U.S. Postal Service was planning to drastically limit the operating hours at Helen. “This office would have gone to two hours a day,” Reynolds said.

Throughout the postal service, postmasters at small, rural post offices are being encouraged to retire early and are being replaced by part-time workers.

Reynolds said she was already working for her husband’s bathroom and window wholesale business in the evenings. Now she’ll be doing that work in the daytime instead.

The Helen Post Office doesn’t deliver mail. Its customers have post office boxes. Its largest customer was Margaret Brent Middle School, which has now switched to a Mechanicsville address.

Mechanicsville already handles home mail deliveries in the Helen area. That post office covers northern St. Mary’s from the Wicomico Shores neighborhood, to slivers of southern Charles County, to the Golden Beach neighborhood on the Patuxent River.

Many of Helen’s 40 customers are now in the process of switching over the boxes at the nearby post offices of Morganza or Loveville, Reynolds said. At its peak, Helen had 75 post office boxes.

Several post offices got their names from the last name of their postmasters like Loveville, Morganza, Dameron, Callaway, Pearson (now gone), Jarboesville (now gone) and Hermanville (now gone).

Helen got its name from one of Joseph Hancock’s daughters. He became postmaster on Oct. 14, 1903. There was already a Hancock Post Office in Western Maryland so he couldn’t use that name in St. Mary’s County.

“It was cute that he named it after little Helen,” said Latham, Reynolds’ grandmother, in a feature on the post office in The (Baltimore) Sun on Nov. 5, 1961. She served as the postmaster from 1939 to 1975.

“Helen married and moved to Washington; she is now dead,” Latham said then. “This post office keeps her name alive because her father was so fond of her.”

Some years ago, the post office was visited by “The Riderwood Helens” from a retirement village in Silver Spring, who made a group outing of it. Other Helens sometime stop to get their picture taken in front of the post office.

“I have a few people stop once in a while,” Reynolds said.

The Helen Post Office was at first part of a general store, where most post offices got started. The building dates back to 1900 and was a general store along with many other uses over the years.

“This was a store and bar at one time,” Reynolds said.

Her grandmother’s house is behind the post office and Reynolds would play in front of the building as a child.

For now unknown reasons the Helen Post Office was closed between 1928 and 1933, when it resumed operations.

Early on Easter Sunday in 1982, a young man driving a 1947 Dodge crashed into the post office, pushing the one-ton iron safe through the building into the field out back. The driver was not hurt.

The safe is still at the post office, with only a small dent in it.

Helen was one of four post offices in St. Mary’s considered for closure last year. Charlotte Hall, Abell and Drayden were removed from the list and are operating under normal hours. “Those won’t close unless the community would want that,” Dvorak said. There is a proposal to limit the hours open at Drayden and Abell to four hours a day, she said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com