Henry Lester Long Jr., 74, postmaster, helped implement cluster mailboxes

September 10, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Henry Lester Long Jr., a longtime Ellicott City postmaster who helped develop and implement the placement of cluster mailboxes in Columbia, died Friday at Howard County General Hospital of a lung disease. He was 74.

A resident of Ellicott City and its postmaster from 1947 to 1977, Mr. Long helped revise the county's mail system in the mid-1960s, when Columbia was in its infancy and expecting a population boom.

Mr. Long believed that cluster mailboxes -- in which the mail for a dozen or more homes is placed in separate boxes of a large, centrally located mailbox -- would allow neighbors to mingle and become friendly with each other as they retrieved their mail, said his son, Henry Long III of Columbia.

"It seems to work," he said. "He had the challenge for setting up the mail delivery for an entire new city."

While devising the system, he was amused at the creative, poetic and often zany names given to Columbia streets. "He was amazed at how they came up with all of those names," his son said. "Then he realized that there was a lady who worked with Rouse that had the job of nothing to do but think up those names."

The idea of cluster boxes was a new U.S. Postal Service concept, one that would later spread nationwide. "But before the boxes were used, he had to convince the powers [in Columbia] that this was a good concept, that this is what [James] Rouse had in mind when he started Columbia," Mr. Long said.

At least one cluster box was placed on each of Columbia's streets. The mail system remains in use today.

Gerald Otten, a former postal worker who worked closely with Mr. Long, said there were initial problems with cluster boxes -- such as people losing their keys. "People didn't want to walk to the boxes; they wanted to have it [mail] brought to their door."

A native of Howard County, Mr. Long was a 1940 graduate of the old Ellicott City High School and attended the University of Maryland for two years before enlisting in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

He went to work for the post office after his discharge in 1945, and was named postmaster two years later.

Mr. Long was active in Masonic organizations and the Ellicott City chapter of the Kiwanis Club.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Rockland United Methodist Church, 8971 Chapel Ave. in Ellicott City.

Also surviving are his wife of 53 years, the former Margaret R. Turner; a daughter, Deborah Ann Baity of Woodbine; a sister, Geraldine Schaaf of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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