In July, it was announced that the US Postal Service was evaluating the closing of almost 4,000 of the nation’s post offices due to budgetary issues. USPS says it’s their attempt at “right-sizing its expansive retail network” and perhaps it’s necessary to help right the ship over there. Unfortunately, one of the sites that may close down is the B. Free Franklin Post Office in Old City at 316 Market St.
William Penn established the very first post office in Philadelphia in 1683 after almost 30 years of relying on taverns and grocery shops to handle the mail. In 1737, Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia at the age of 31, and under his direction, mail service delivery time between major cities in the colonies was quickly cut in half. He also developed the first standardized rate pricing based on weight and distance.
B. Free Franklin Post Office is not a historic site, but a commemoration of Ben Franklin’s successes and improvements to the postal system. As a part of the USPS 200th anniversary, the site was dedicated and opened in July of 1975 in the the middle of a row of buildings once owned by Franklin himself. Since it symbolizes an original post office from 1775, it’s the only one in the country that doesn’t fly an American flag- the flag didn’t exist until 1777. The US Postal Service pays the National Parks Service $1.00 a month (yes, one dollar a month) to rent the space.
This post office is not a convenient one: you can’t mail packages, only letters, and there’s a 3pm deadline for limited special
services even though it’s open until 5pm. It is, however, one of the only post offices that offers hand stamped cancellation of letters. The clerks sometimes see lines of up to 60 people on particularly busy days, and a steady line of customers on most other days. While the majority of customers are tourists, there’s something to be said for visitors bringing this experience home and sharing this living historical memory of Philadelphia.
Ben Franklin knew the importance of communication. Correspondence has drastically changed since his time, but B. Free Franklin serves as an important symbol of where it started in this country. It would be a loss to have it merely serve as an idle museum. USPS is scheduled to be make and announce decisions by January 2012; here’s hoping that this post office is able to avoid the axe.
— Lauren Summers