Town of Washington loses bid to keep its historic Post Office

Jimmy DeBergh: ‘If it’s got to be out of the town we are glad we got it’

John McCaslin | Rappahannock News
The Washington Post Office, a fixture in the historic town since 1804, is slated to move to a site off Highway 211, outside of the town limits.

The U.S. Postal Service says a final decision has been issued to relocate the Washington Post Office into a new 3,000 square foot facility to be built two miles south of the county seat on Bank Road, just across from Union Bank & Trust.

USPS real estate specialist Rick Hancock, who is based in North Carolina, told the Rappahannock News Friday that a decision previously announced Sept. 1 by Jeffrey Becker, USPS Northern Virginia District Manager, to move the post office to Bank Road off Route 211 will stand.

Hancock said for the last two months Becker’s decision was “put on hold” to allow “for due diligence” of a last-minute proposal by Washington town officials to keep the post office in the county seat, where it’s been located for 215 years.

That said, it’s now been decided that the new post office will be built on what is officially “Lot 5 of the Rappahannock Commons Professional Center.” The property is owned by longtime Harris Hollow resident Jimmy DeBergh.

“If it’s got to be out of the town we are glad we got it,” DeBergh told the News. He said he was officially notified by the USPS on Wednesday that they would move the post office to his location, an area of Rappahannock earlier approved by the county government for future commercial development.

Out of respect for all parties, DeBergh said he “laid low” during the USPS site selection process — which he pointed out “had a lot of oxygen” — and he stressed that he would have “felt fine” if the post office were to have remained in the county seat.

“My grandmother was postmistress in the fifties,” he observed. “I used to walk to the post office and get the mail and walk back to Harris Hollow — shooting rabbits along the way.”

DeBergh acknowledged that he was somewhat surprised last year when the USPS informed him that his Bank Road site suited their requirements after all, as Hancock had mentioned to him during an on-site inspection of the lot that “this is probably a waste of your time. We want something in town that is an existing structure, so you have two strikes against you.”

What changed the USPS minds has yet to be determined.

DeBergh said the agreement with the USPS calls for him to build “the shell” or exterior of the post office, and then postal contractors will complete the rest. “They have their own crews and contractors who come in and do the guts — put in the boxes, the drawers, the bathrooms. We don’t even frame the walls,” he said.

That said, DeBergh said his preference is the post office be of brick construction, to complement the adjacent brick bank building and county’s history. Steve Ellis of Amissville will be his contractor, DeBergh said.

“We’re going to make this look as nice as we can,” said DeBergh, understanding that the county will also weigh in on final construction designs and specifications.

Hancock said because the project was earlier on hold “no timeline” is yet set for construction.

“We’re working on it, and I could give you a ballpark date, but I’d rather not. That’s one of those horse-cart type things,” he said. “Maintaining a post office operation [in the interim], that’s the most important thing.”

Becker wrote in his decision that postal operations will “continue at the existing location until the new facility is open and fully functional. Delivery service will not be impacted.”

That said, USPS officials told this newspaper last year that daily mail delivery will not begin for residents in the town of Washington as a result of the move.

“There are no changes in the current modes of delivery for Rappahannock County residents,” Freda Sauter, a USPS corporate communications official, told the News. She said the new highway location “provides easy access for our customers.”

Former Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan, who spearheaded the town’s efforts to keep its post office, told the News that he is obviously very disappointed.

“All along, throughout this process, Hancock said it would be a matter of cost and operations,” said Sullivan. “And that’s apparently what it came down to, cost and operations.”

Becker wrote as much in September, saying “Postal Service operations are not supported by tax dollars. To be self-sustaining, the Postal Service must make decisions that ensure it provides adequate and affordable postal services in a manner that is as efficient and economical as possible.”

The district manager added there were “other possibilities, but the Bank Road location is the preferred site. The new building will offer more space, more P.O. Boxes, and more parking. The new location provides easy access for our customers and employees.

“The Post Office is an integral part of any community, and having it located in a convenient and safe location is important,” he said.

Sullivan said he met Friday morning with Washington Mayor Fred Catlin and Vice Mayor Mary Ann Kuhn to discuss the USPS decision and any next steps the town might take. Catlin could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Only two months ago the Town Council was upbeat when announcing the proposed acceptance of a $135,000 contract for the purchase of a town-owned parcel of land on Warren Avenue at Leggett Lane, allowing for a specialized developer to construct a post office and lease it to the U.S. Postal Service, as DeBergh will now be doing.

Sullivan informed the town that Kim Tedrick, of Mid-Atlantic Postal Service, which is in the business of building postal facilities throughout greater Washington D.C., had agreed to buy the Warren Avenue property, while at the same time continuing negotiations with the USPS to keep the facility in the bounds of the town.

“He [Tedrick] has a lot of experience in putting up — I’m forgetting the number, 25 or 35 post offices in Northern Virginia,” Sullivan said at the November meeting. “He has a good reputation, he knows how government works. He believes we have a very good site.”

Tedrick was informed Thursday of the USPS decision to move ahead with the Bank Road property.

All that said, for however much longer the Washington Post Office will remain one of the oldest in the country, established 29 years after the Continental Congress assumed control of postal operations in America in 1775.

About John McCaslin 375 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.

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