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Monday February 20, 2012
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Resident calls for closure of one of Rye's two post offices

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One of Rye's two U.S. Post Offices is located at 301 Central Road and the other is located a relatively short distance away at 830 Central Road in Rye Beach.Rich Beauchesne photo

RYE — In an era of unprecedented U.S. Postal Service contraction, a resident would like to see his town do its part by giving up one of its two post offices.

“It's silly that we have two post offices while the postal service is closing so many across the country,” said Steven Borne, a Rye resident since 2002. Borne filed an article on the town warrant for selectman to send a letter to Postal Service officials and the state's Congressional delegation suggesting one of the two Central Road post offices be closed. “It's doesn't make fiscal sense,” said Borne, who admits being surprised when he discovered a few years ago that the town had two post offices.

Rye has had two post offices for around 140 years when, according to USPS records, the second location at Rye Beach was authorized by Congress in 1872 but it was not fully operational until 1875. According to a town history published in 1905, the first postmaster for Rye was appointed in 1840. By the 1960s when zip codes were introduced, the postal locations were given separate zip codes — 03870 for the town center post office and 03871 for the Rye Beach location.

Alex Herlihy, director of the Rye Town Museum, said the popularity of the town as a summer ocean destination for the wealthy and upper middle classes in the post-Civil War era was a reason why the Rye Beach post office was established. By the early 20th century, Herlihy said, there were four major resort hotels and as many as 22 boarding houses in the area that later was officially designated as the Rye Beach Precinct.

“During the warm weather months, the population density was great,” he said. “They wanted a post office within walking distance.” Rye was a relative latecomer to securing its own post office in the region. Portsmouth was established as a major Colonial American postal hub in 1773 and Exeter was granted a postmaster in 1791. Hampton and Stratham followed suit in 1805 and 1822, respectively.

Last July, the U.S. Postal Service announced it was studying the closing of more than 3,600 small and rural post office locations across the country including five in New Hampshire. When Borne saw that one of the Rye locations was not on the closure list, he decided to ask the town to act. “I assumed it would be on the list,” he said. “When it wasn't, I thought it was time for the town to make a statement.”

Thomas Rizzo, a spokesperson for the USPS, said it was not uncommon in some parts of the country “for two to three to four post offices to be located within a short distance from each other.” Because of political, economic and demographic factors, Rizzo said “you couldn't predict where these offices would be. It was sort of an evolutionary process.”

He said the post office closure list was part of “a very thoughtful and involved process.” If the warrant does pass and a letter is sent to the USPS, Rizzo said it will be “carefully considered.” One of the Rye locations could also come under closer inspection in the near future. “If present (consolidation) trends continue, there will likely be more proposals in the future,” Rizzo said. The USPS will not begin closing and consolidating operations from the current list until May 15.

Borne is unsure how his proposal will play out when Rye voters consider the town warrant March 13. As an example of the split sentiment in town, he said selectmen revised language from the original version. Rather than a more definitive declaration that Rye voters and residents support the petition, Borne said the final version reads that “some” of the voters and residents support only one post office in town.

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