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Getting a letter or newspaper in the mail was once one of the chief ways to hear of the affairs of the outside world. Now, the role of mail is greatly diminished.

Rather than close the post offices that are left, the United States Postal Service is reducing hours at smaller, rural post offices to try to save money. The postal service just reported a loss of $15.9 billion.

Southern Maryland is still home to several very old — and some very small — post offices. At one point, Calvert County held the record for the smallest in the United States. Another post office in St. Mary’s was once busted for making liquor during Prohibition.

The rural post offices that remain help retain the identity of their towns.

“Post offices are touchstones. They’re part of the fabric of communities,” said Kirsti Uunila, historic preservation planner for Calvert County.

There was a push in 2007 to close the Broomes Island Post Office in Calvert County. The post office was saved, but its hours are being reduced in the USPS’ extensive effort to save money without closing post offices.

About 13,000 post offices across the country were reviewed or will be reviewed to evaluate their hours, according to the website Save the Post Office.

The Broomes Island post office is the last of its kind in Calvert County.

“Aside from Broomes Island, most of the little ones have closed,” Uunila said.

First established on June 29, 1889, the post office served what was then a watermen and farming community on the Patuxent River. There was once an oyster packing house at Broomes Island. Today, it is a suburban community, Uunila said, with vacation homes, a marina and a seafood restaurant.

The location and the postmasters of Broomes Island changed frequently in its first decades. The post office came to its current location in 1947, when it was a one-room building. The post office was enlarged in 1964 to its current, though still small, size. It has one carrier route and 98 post office boxes.

The officer in charge is Darlene Burke. She was “not available for an interview,” said Freda Sauter with corporate communications for the USPS.

Hours at Broomes Island and at the Dowell Post Office, established in 1926, will be reduced.

“It’s a sign of the times,” Uunila said, “because communication has changed.”

With the advent of the Internet, most people pay their bills online, write emails or send text messages on their phones instead of writing a personal letter. More people get their news online than from newspapers or magazines.

“We’re not dependent on the U.S. Postal Service as in the way we were,” Uunila said.

The closest post office to Broomes Island is seven miles away in Port Republic. The rest of Calvert County’s post offices are in modern buildings or part of commercial centers. “They look different. They feel different, and I’m sure they’re more efficient,” Uunila said.

In 1926, Calvert County had the country’s smallest post office, at Randle Cliff, a waterfront community between Chesapeake Beach and a U.S. naval research lab.

Gilbert Frazier, the postmaster at the time, built the 8-foot-by-10-foot structure in two days.

“There just isn’t that much mail,” he said in the Oct. 17, 1926, edition of The (Baltimore) Sun. “I just keep it all in a lump and hand it out as the people come in.”

At the time, there were only about 75 houses there, with all but four vacant from October to May, the article said. Of the mail volume, Frazier said, “The most of it goes during the summer, when there are about 400 people down for the season. The rest of the time, there is little business.” The post office closed in 1932.

The first post offices established in Calvert County came in 1796 at Huntingtown, Lower Marlboro and St. Leonard. Lower Marlboro’s closed in 1965, according to the Calvert County Historical Society. Today, the Huntingtown Post Office has the largest delivery area in Calvert County, Sauter said.

In Charles County, the Ironsides Post Office, which opened in 1897, closed on June 30 this year. Marbury, Faulkner, Benedict, Bel Alton and Mount Victoria are scheduled to have their hours reduced.

Port Tobacco has the oldest post office in Southern Maryland still in operation. It started on June 2, 1792, according to the Historical Society of Charles County.

Port Tobacco was once the seat of Charles County and is now the smallest incorporated town in Maryland, said Jerry Volman, the town treasurer. The U.S. Census showed its latest population at 13.

Originally called Charlestown, Port Tobacco was founded as a port in 1684 and designated Charles County seat in 1727, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

For hundreds of years, Port Tobacco was a bustling town. Now, it’s just eight houses around a reconstructed courthouse.

“This was quite a metropolis in its day,” said Kay Volman, board member of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. “The archaeologists love it.”

There were once two newspapers, including the Maryland Independent, and three hotels there.

Port Tobacco in 1768 was designated one of several post locations in a route established to improve communications between the state capitol and the outlying counties, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

The courthouse burned down on Aug. 3, 1892. Two years earlier, the state legislature passed an act to move the county seat to La Plata, which was a few miles away and had a railroad, but the governor vetoed it.

The fire was intentional, but the county records were saved. It was never determined who started the fire, but newspapers at the time suggested it was done in La Plata interests.

“It wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out,” Kay Volman said, “that it was arson,” Jerry Volman said.

The Charles County electorate voted in June 1895 to move the county seat to La Plata, and Port Tobacco quickly fell into disuse. “The river had silted in, the railroad came through,” La Plata, Kay Volman said.

The Port Tobacco courthouse, which was in use from 1821 to 1892, was reconstructed in 1972 by the Port Tobacco Restoration Society, which rents it out for events like wine tastings and weddings.

The town boundaries are within 60 acres, and there are no businesses there, though some are just outside the limits. The Port Tobacco Post Office used to be nearby in Murphy’s Store but moved to a new location in either 2000 or 2001 further down Route 6, said Terry Schneider, Port Tobacco’s postmaster.

Jerry Volman said the reconstructed courthouse probably serves more as the community hub of Port Tobacco than the post office.

“You do see a lot of people at the post office, though,” Kay Volman said.

The Port Tobacco Post Office serves a much larger area than the incorporated town. It has 375 post office boxes and three delivery routes.

Waldorf has the largest delivery area in Charles County, with more than 13,500 deliveries, Sauter said.

In St. Mary’s County, the seventh post office established was called Head of St. Clement’s Bay in 1807. Today, it is the Clements Post Office.

Clements is a rural crossroads. Budds Creek Road intersects Colton Point Road there.

“It’s rural, but we have a lot of businesses,” said Clements Postmaster Pat Hodges. “Everybody is so friendly; it’s just a nice neighborhood.”

Of the older residents, she said, “some of them come in every day. They like to come in and talk and get their mail.”

Clements has 292 post office boxes, with 285 of them rented, and there are two delivery routes.

The Clements Post Office moved to its current building in January 2001, at the same time the Morganza Post Office moved into a new building, Hodges said. “My revenue has really increased since I’ve been here,” she said.

The post office was in a small brick building off the road behind Guy Implement Co. on the hill toward Leonardtown that also held a grocery store and a nightclub. “It was in bad shape. The roof was leaking,” Hodges said.

Hodges started with the U.S. Postal Service in 1987 at the Mechanicsville Post Office. She became postmaster of Callaway in 1993 and postmaster of Clements in 1996.

Centerville was on the map in central St. Mary’s County in 1865. It was replaced when Jefferson B. Jarboe opened a post office there and renamed it Jarboesville in 1878. Today, it is Lexington Park, the town that sprang up outside Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

The Jarboesville Post Office closed but reopened May 24, 1923, under postmaster Anton Lang, according to “History of St. Mary’s County, 1634-1990,” by the late Regina Combs Hammett.

Southern Maryland was notorious for supplying whiskey to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore during Prohibition. Stills were usually raided by revenue agents on farms, but the Jarboesville Post Office, on the corner of Three Notch Road and Great Mills Road, was raided in 1931.

The raid netted two stills, some rye liquor and almost 200 bottles of beer, reported The Washington Post. Lang was not present for the raid but appeared before a U.S. commissioner in Upper Marlboro for possession of the still and alcohol.

The Jarboesville Post Office was closed Jan. 25, 1932.

The Charlotte Hall Post Office, established in 1797, had a closure scare in 2011, but Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) intervened.

The Helen Post Office, established in 1903, went into an emergency suspension this year when the postmaster retired and the lease expired. It is now operating out of a mobile van in the parking lot of S&L Automotive.

Six post offices in St. Mary’s will see their hours reduced: Compton, Dameron, Park Hall, St. Mary’s City, St. Inigoes and Ridge. The Ridge Post Office now houses the Scotland Post Office, as well.

The oldest two post offices in St. Mary’s are Leonardtown and Chaptico, which were established on the same day: June 12, 1792.

The Mechanicsville Post Office, established in 1870, has the largest delivery in St. Mary’s County, covering 65 square miles with more than 8,250 deliveries, Sauter said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com