For 13 years, Chester Bailey brought the young and old at Lexington Terrace pocket-sized pieces of the outside world.
Now the mailman has almost nothing left to bring.
He arrives each day with a smaller stack of change-of-address forms, letters and bills as families continue to vanish from the Baltimore housing project that will be torn down in July.
The residents of all but six of the 270 homes on his route have moved out of the northern end of the desolate high-rise complex. The rest will be gone within a few days, and Bailey's daily trek though that West Baltimore neighborhood, less than a mile from the Inner Harbor, will come to an end.
As he walks through eerily empty, overgrown courtyards, Bailey, 49, recalls a time not long ago when the place was bustling with the rhythms of daily life, with children playing ball, mothers pushing strollers and elderly men pruning bushes.
"What I liked best here were the people," he says. "I'll miss them."
He heads past the deserted brick townhouses with the green metal doors and remembers the Kings, who always chatted with him, and Delores Millings, who gave him a heaping bag of home-baked chocolate chip cookies every Christmas.
At a worn high-rise building, now vacant and boarded,
he reminisces about a group of teen-agers who used to organize regular cleanup parties.
With its five towers and 23 low-rise buildings set amid grassy courtyards, Lexington Terrace is so large that it used to take three postal carriers several hours every day to deliver the mail. Now that fewer than 40 of the 677 apartments remain occupied, Bailey and his two colleagues carry light pouches and finish their routes in minutes.
When Bailey began his noontime delivery to the north side in 1983, Lexington Terrace was a decent place to live. But as the years passed, Bailey watched big and little signs of decay, from overturned garbage bins to open drug dealing, as it deteriorated into one of Baltimore's most miserable public housing developments.
"I've seen quite a bit," Bailey says. "The drug dealing. I've heard shots in the neighborhood. The best thing to do is to just get on the next bus."
By 1993, the high-rise building on Bailey's route had become so decrepit that the city closed it. It marked the start of years of lobbying and planning by tenants and city officials to tear down and rebuild Lexington Terrace.
Like the families leaving, Bailey has mixed emotions about the overhaul.
He hopes the smaller, better-kept neighborhood of townhouses that will replace the huge high-rise complex will fare better. Yet Bailey, a 30-year veteran of the Postal Service, is sad as he watches the families he knew so well scatter to neighborhoods across the city.
He saw Lexington Terrace's chronic problems, but he also saw elderly couples planting tulips. He was friendly with many longtime tenants who always stopped to chat. Those closest to Bailey, a father of two who grew up in Baltimore, called him "Tank," a nickname he got while playing football for City College High School.
On his last days on the route, the people he knows well are waving goodbye instead of hello. One of them is Joe Miller, 43, who grew up in Lexington Terrace and is moving to a house in Sandtown-Winchester.
Bidding Bailey farewell, Miller says with a crooked grin, "You're the mailman everyone knows. I don't know if I'll know another mailman like you."
Pub Date: 5/09/96