Stamp of approval Many Linwood residents still get their mail the old-fashioned way

June 24, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

MILDRED Pittinger, who has written an informal history of the village of Linwood in Carroll County, says the village has lost much of its tradition and bustle.

The old stores and the school she attended as a girl in 1917 are gone, turned into houses for people who didn't come from around here.

And the lindens and maples shade the main street in vain. Most people are far away at work in the heat of the day, she said, no longer available for visiting.

One institution that has remained, however, is the local post office.

Pittinger, 80, is one of 34 Linwood villagers who still choose to walk or drive to the post office for their mail, rather than have it delivered.

"Getting our mail is the only tradition that doesn't change," she said.

Like most small rural post offices, the Linwood station has long been part of an endangered species, as technology consolidates service in big branch offices. But villagers have managed to make a case for keeping it.

"They tried to close it when my mother retired, and everybody fought it," said Charlotte Keefer, the current postmaster, who succeeded her mother, Bessie Roop, in the job in 1963. Many villagers continue to pick up their mail at the post office, Keefer said, for several reasons -- they've always done it, their mail is secure in the Post Office while they are at work and renting boxes at the Post Office helps guarantee its continued existence.

"It kind of holds the town together," said Keefer.

Three is a crowd at the little post office nestled behind a traditional grated window in Keefer's home. But even today, people who check their post boxes before or after work get a brief immersion in community spirit.

"For a lot of people, that's the only time they get to see each other," said the postmaster.

Keefer, 60, is the latest and longest-serving postmaster in a distinguished line that goes back to Josiah Englar.

Englar also built the working feed mill, and his family built houses that still stand in the Carroll County hamlet between New Windsor and Union Bridge.

Englar became the first postmaster in 1867 and was succeeded by two of his sons, a daughter and a grandson. He originally located the post office in his grain mill, and after that it moved among various locations, including the old train station, where it operated until Keefer's mother moved it to her home in 1950. Two years later, the station was torn down.

The railroad line came through in 1862, when the Western Maryland Railway ran from Baltimore to Hagerstown. It gave Linwood a train station and a downtown that supported, at various times, the feed mill, a general store, an ice cream factory, a canning factory and other businesses.

Not since the early 1950s has the postmaster hung mail sacks from a pole next to the railroad tracks to be snatched by trains from Baltimore or Union Bridge.

Keefer used to help her mother with that job, hanging the mailbags twice a day and picking up those that train workers threw off the train.

"Sometimes it didn't land by the track," Keefer said. In those cases, she had to go farther up the line to hunt for the mailbags.

L None of her six grown children could pitch in like that now.

"Now, you have to be a 'postmaster's replacement,'" she said, "and go through all kinds of physicals and drug tests and what-not."

At one time, when the post office was located in the train station, it served as place of discourse and gossip. Villagers gathered in the evening to talk, warmed in winter by a potbellied stove.

"One of the gentlemen was a strict Democrat, and everybody would kind of pick on him, whether they were Democrat or Republican," Keefer remembered. "But he'd come right back."

The community, which encompasses about 500 people, is more far-flung now. People have moved in from all over. And they don't all know each other well enough to gossip. Talk around the post office is pretty straightforward these days.

"Not too much gossip," Keefer said, "mostly on the weather and what they did yesterday and what they're going to do today."

What remains of the hamlet are the railroad tracks, which still bear freight traffic, the feed mill, the post office, the Linwood Brethren Church and various homes that old-timers can remember as the old school house or a store.

The church, built in 1905, is the other conveyor of local tradition. Women have been sewing quilts to raise money for the church since 1918, according to Elizabeth Myers, who should know.

"I'll have you know I'm 84. I've been quilting since 1918," she said, while working with six other women on a quilt stretched across a wooden frame in the basement. "I joined the church when I was 12."

The quilting circle used to rival the post office as a source of local news.

"Before our husbands died they called us the gossip club," Myers said. "As soon as we got home, they would ask us, 'What did you hear at the gossip club?' "

Now, when Mildred Pittinger comes for her mail and asks what Keefer has heard, Keefer has little local news to tell.

But Pittinger keeps coming for her mail and a chat, as her father did before her, when he joined the others around the stove in the train station to pick up his mail and a bit of political chatter.

Pittinger says the mail gets her out for exercise and conversation.

"There are very few people around in the daytime," she said. "If I didn't have the Post Office, I wouldn't see anybody."

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