The Post Offices of Eastern Kentucky's Unincorporated Communities
A collection of photographs from 1984 document USPS outposts from Beauty to Fisty that are still going strong today.
When running your finger over a list of unincorporated communities in Central and Eastern Kentucky, it quickly becomes crystal clear—somewhere between Marrowbone and Monkey’s Eyebrow—that our region has a way with words, right down to the designations we give out towns.
Some unincorporated communities sound like nu-metal bands (Black Snake in Bell County and Black Gnat in Green County), others could be straight out of a Beatrix Potter story (Mousie and Bearville in Knott County). Even more seem destined to be places where “turning up” is not just accepted, but encouraged, like Rowdy and Dice, both in Perry County.
Unincorporated communities are a distinctly American phenomenon and, moreover, a sharply rural occurrence. Given the hard-to-reach nature of many mountain communities—even from other spots within the same county—hamlets, hollers or handfuls of families living near one another wanted their own unique designation and, in turn, identity. Unincorporated communities don’t have any form of local government or oversight, but are provided with a sense of shared goals and oneness through their naming, which is—perhaps—even more powerful than any mayor.
Child in the Window, Beauty, Kentucky Post Office, 1984
Approached from a certain angle, unincorporated communities are to rural areas what subdivision names are to the ‘burbs. Developers love to label their collected tracts of measured-out-just-so property lines and ticky-tacky houses something like “Golden Oak Woods” or “Fig Leaf Estates” in order to create a sense of unity (and, less appealing, exclusivity). Personally, I’d rather live in a place called Crab Orchard.
But without a board of governance, it has historically come down to the United States Postal Service (USPS) to give these unincorporated communities an actual address you can scribble down on an envelope and a (postage) stamp of approval. And while many of the post offices have closed in recent years—as Graham Ambrose discussed last year for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting—many unincorporated community post offices are still going strong, albeit with slightly reduced hours.
In 1984, a series of photos were taken of post office buildings in unincorporated communities across Eastern Kentucky, and I have—somehow—fumbled my way into them.
The ingenuity in placement of these local Appalachian post offices—as well as the wide variety of architectural forms these mailing hubs take—is a true grab bag of questionable roof pitches, patriotic color schemes and accidentally Brutalist beauty, as if one of those arcade claw games reached down, picked out a few building design elements and threw them all together into a mish-mashed single structure. Some look like whitewashed one-room schoolhouses, others are attached directly to gas stations so folks can run two errands with one stop. There are lots of hand-painted signs that could be folk art and even a few double-wide-trailers-turned-official-government-buildings.
Today, we’re taking a look at some of the 1984 snapshots of unincorporated community post offices where the USPS still has a presence. Of course, no matter where you live in Eastern Kentucky, rural carriers are still going to go the “last mile” (yes, even for other delivery companies) to reach all houses, even the built-into-the-side-of-a-mountain mailboxes and past the most washed-out river bottoms. But to have an actual post office—where you can chat with neighbors in line while mailing out your Christmas cards?—that’s still something special.
Ashcamp Post Office (Pike County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 11:00-3:00; Saturday: 10:00-12:00
Beauty Post Office (Martin County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 11:00-3:00; Saturday: 8:00-11:30
Bulan Post Office (Perry County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 9:00-12:00, 12:30-3:30; Saturday: 9:00-12:00
Mayking Post Office (Letcher County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 7:30-12:00, 12:30-3:30; Saturday: 8:30-12:00
Martha Post Office (Lawrence County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Saturday: 11:00-1:00
Fisty Post Office (Knott County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 8:30-12:30; Saturday: 8:00-10:30
Majestic Post Office (Pike County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:00-2:00; Saturday: 11:00-1:30
Eastern Post Office (Floyd County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 9:30-1:30; Saturday: 9:30-12:00
Regina Post Office (Pike County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 9:30-12:30, 1:00-4:00; Saturday: 9:00-12:00
(Ed. Note: Please notice—and properly appreciate—the “NUKE UM” vanity plate)
Deane Post Office (Letcher County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:00-1:00; Saturday: 10:00-12:00
Rockhouse Post Office (Pike County), 1984
Current Hours: Monday-Friday: 11:00-3:00; Saturday: 9:00-11:30
If you appreciate the United States Postal Service—and its unwavering commitment to serving rural areas—as much as we do, why don’t you share this article with a pal?