You’ve got mail – How we ended up in a Postal Zone No-Man’s Land

You would think that a house that has been in existence for 230 years in what is now a suburban neighborhood would have home mail delivery, particularly since all of the homes in the surrounding neighborhood were provided such service. But that is not to be, at least not in this century. We’ve had to instead settle for a post office box.

We first noticed that the Neebor Lee didn’t have a mailbox in the front yard when we were looking at photographs of the house that were posted online on one of the popular Real Estate websites. This was after our first visit to the house with the Realtor, when we were busy performing our due diligence to determine whether we would consider placing a bid on the house.  Having had home mail delivery all my life, I took it for granted that the Neebor Lee would have home delivery.  A quick search of the front yard using Google’s Street View, however, confirmed that a mailbox was not present.  No matter, we thought. After we moved in, we would put up a mailbox and arrange for home mail delivery with the local post office.

My wife immediately began making phone calls to local post offices soon after we moved into the house. First, she called the Phoenixville post office since Phoenixville had been identified to us as the home’s address. This seemed a little bit odd since Phoenixville was actually located on the other side of the Schuylkill River in a completely different county. Nonetheless, my wife was told by the Phoenixville postmaster that, yes, his drivers did deliver mail to our neighborhood. He added to her surprise, however, that they did not and could not deliver mail to our home. It would appear that the Phoenixville postal trucks are permitted to travel only as far as an intersection that is located a scant 150 feet east of our property line but no further.  They could and did deliver mail to the homes located on that intersection’s cross-street, which wraps around the Neebor Lee property, from east to west, but could not travel that short 150 feet past the intersection to service the Neebor Lee. Five homes that border the Neebor Lee, on three sides, were all served by the Phoenixville post office. The Neebor Lee, however, was not eligible because it was one house too far.

The Phoenixville postmaster referred my wife to the Collegeville postmaster.  The Collegeville post office, he said, would deliver mail to our house. All we needed to do, he added, was to put up a mailbox and the mail will automatically arrive courtesy of the Collegeville post office.  Collegeville seemed to a more logical choice anyway since it was located in the county within which we resided. It is also one of the boroughs that forms our broader township, Upper Providence.  It seemed that having a Collegeville address would be less confusing geographically than having a Phoenixville address. However, that was not to be either. When my wife called the postmaster of the Collegeville post office to confirm that his driver would deliver mail to our house, she was informed that they would not. The Neebor Lee was not on the Collegeville route either. That route ended at the intersection located on the other side of our house.

Thus, my wife and I found ourselves in a no man’s land situated between two postal delivery zones, one which terminated at the intersection to the east of our house, the other at the intersection to the west of our house. In between was our house and one other, a beautiful 19th century Victorian Italianate home locally known as “Rose Lawn”.  It would seem that these two beautiful old structures, the two oldest in the neighborhood, were not getting any respect from the local post offices. They had become the Rodney Dangerfields of Upper Providence Township.

This presented a dilemma. First, we had no address for the delivery of our mail. Second, we had no address to provide to the utility companies that would have allowed them to set up our services. At one point I thought that I would be sly and call the electric company to ask a customer service representative for the address that was used by the prior homeowner. I did this with the intent of activating our electric service, thinking that the electric company only needed to replace the prior owner’s name with mine in its database. Thus, I provided the name of the previous owner to the customer service representative and instructed her to use the same address that was already on record. The ploy seemed to be working. She took the name and found the address. I then requested the customer service representative to repeat the address to me. It was then that my plan fell apart. The customer service representative promptly turned my request down. It would appear that the electric company considers all personal information, including addresses, confidential, even when its your own address.  It probably didn’t help the situation by admitting, under duress, that I didn’t know my own address. I’m sure that made me look suspect.

That sent us back to square one: we did not know the address of the house we just purchased. Fortunately, with a little more snooping, my wife identified a small post office located within one quarter mile of the house. This post office served the small hamlet of Oaks, which is also located in Upper Providence Township. Unlike the other post offices serving our township, however, the Oaks post office did not make home mail deliveries. That made it a perfect match for us considering that no other post office would to deliver mail to our home anyway. Although we were officially outside the political boundaries of Oaks, we signed up for a post office box and adopted “Oaks” as our address. Despite not having home delivery, this post office is within walking distance of our house and was an easy stop on my way home from work and the grocery store, thereby making it relatively convenient for a post office box.

There are several drawbacks to our “Oaks” address, however. One is that our street number in combination with “Oaks” creates an address that is not recognized in national address databases. As a result, it can be difficult to set up services or accounts with business entities.  I often find myself pleading with customer representatives to ignore their computer databases and manually enter the address as I was providing it.  Its amazing to find so many customer service representatives who resist, overly trusting their databases rather than listening to the information being provided by their customer. Online forms can be even more difficult because there are no service representatives with whom to argue.  Instead, we find ourselves dealing with quite a few “cannot find address” error messages.  Having a P.O. Box number doesn’t make that situation any easier.

This problem also applies to GPS databases.  We’ve found that entering the town of “Oaks” into a GPS will not deliver our guests to our house. We instead have to provide alternative addresses, not all of which work with the specific GPS unit or software that our visitors may be using. For example, “Collegeville” sometimes works, as does “Upper Providence”. On rare occasions, “Phoenixville” will work, but more often than not will send our visitors that alternate location five miles away in the adjacent county. Its interesting that Google Map accepts “Phoenixville”, thereby providing a false sense of security to those who rely on Google Maps to find our home. On a positive note, UPS correctly delivers to our house when we specify “Oaks” in our address. Thus, I happily do not lose packages.

Ironically, we did eventually find the Neebor Lee’s mailbox. It isn’t the conventional 20th or 21st Century mailbox that you often see at the end of a driveway. In fact, its not perceptible from the exterior of the house at all. It is only visible from the inside of the house.  It is an old vintage mailbox located adjacent to an exterior side door that is attached to our house’s sun porch. The exterior portion of the mailbox is presently covered with a metal plate that contains a circular grate design. I have yet to determine whether this metal plate was originally a part of the mailbox. I suspect not. Rather, it was more likely used to cover the mail slot after home delivery was terminated.  It is the interior part of the mailbox, however, that is interesting.  It consists of wooden box with a hinged door that opens inward from the top, thereby allowing the home’s residents to retrieve the mail from the enclosed sun porch without having to step outside. It is a reflection of a long ago era when mail was delivered to the Neebor Lee house on foot. In today’s time, we now have to travel by foot ourselves to retrieve our mail.

 

20150401_180528
The interior portion of the vintage mailbox is wooden box with a hinged door at the top. Note the early 20th Century push-button light switch is located to the right of the mailbox. Push-button switches are found throughout in the old section of the house.

 

20150401_180207
A vintage mailbox is located adjacent to an exterior side door that is attached to the house’s sun porch. The mailbox is located behind the circular patterned structure located to the right of the door.

 

 

 

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