It may not be the Taj Mahal but residents of Somerset County's tiny Deal Island are ready to boast about their first-ever post office building anyway.
"It's beautiful," said Dr. Everett Sutter, the lower Eastern Shore island's only physician -- not to mention also its grocery store owner. "Most people are glad to see it. I can tell you that."
The one-story brick building is scheduled to open tomorrow for its first full day of service. It will serve about 500 customers in four communities, the towns of Wenona and Deal Island on the island itself and Chance and Dames Quarter on the Somerset County mainland.
Until two years ago, the island maintained two postal facilities, but both operated out of private homes. When the two postmasters chose to retire in March 1989, the U.S. Postal Service decided to consolidate local operations into the post office in Dames Quarter.
That move infuriated residents on Deal Island, many of whom are watermen who work before sun-up on the Chesapeake Bay's Tangier Sound. They would have had difficulty getting to Dames Quarter four to seven miles away before the office's 4 p.m. closing.
At the urging of Maryland's congressional delegation, a rural routedelivery service was started to compensate for the closings. A postal service spokesman said yesterday that home delivery will continue, but the Dames Quarter post office would be closed.
"We're continuing a long tradition of postal service on the island," said Stanley S. Menashes, director of field operations for the U.S. Postal Service's office in Wilmington, Del., which supervises Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. "It will be a small office but we have smaller," he said of the new building.
June Webster, Deal Island's former postmaster and unofficial historian, said the new post office will be the first structure devoted entirely to postal service since the first postmaster opened shop in 1856.
Most of the island's past post offices have been in the back of stores, she said. "Everybody's quite pleased to see it," said Mrs. Webster, a second generation postmaster who retired after 36 years. "Everybody missed the contact with their own post office."
The new post office, a 1,682-square-foot facility, was built by Frall Developers Inc. of Mount Airy. The Frederick County company owns the building but leases it back to the U.S. Postal Service under a 15-year agreement for about $15,000 a year.
A company spokesman said Frall owns 70 post office buildings under similar arrangements in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi.
U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., will be the speaker at the opening tomorrow. Island residents credit her with making sure a post office returned to Deal.
"In a community like this, the post office is your only link with the outside world," said Craig Webster, a neighbor to the new building on the island's main road. "We don't have mayors and things. The postmaster is the only federal official around here."