Yosemite Post Office has history of service

YOSEMITE VALLEY, Calif. — Bill Carroll was busy putting the outgoing mail through the cancellation machine, when the telephone rang at his office.

He answered the call even though it was the busiest time during his day. He had to have all the outgoing letters and packages ready to dispatch at 2:30 p.m.

“Yosemite National Park? What’s the weather like these days?” the call was from an elderly woman.

“Well, the sun is out, temperature is probably 65 degrees during the day,” he told her as he looked out of the window.

Click to view a slideshow narrated by writer Dongran Sun about the unique Yosemite National Park Post Office.  

During his 18 years as the Yosemite National Park postmaster, Carroll has received numerous calls from people with questions like that caller. He recalled that others include, “how much is the cost to get in,” “how do I get the reservation at Yosemite Lodge,” and so forth.

Carroll explained that in some places when people look up for Yosemite National Park in the Yellow Book, the first listing even the only listing is the post office.

“We answered almost every question that we could. Others, we will help transfer them to the right place.”

However, when people travel to Yosemite, they don’t typically see a post office.

At right, the front of the post office building with backdrop of Yosemite Falls (Photo by Dongran Sun). Below, inside the Post Office (Photo by Bruce Garrison).

That’s part of the reason that he gladly accepted the request to be one of the presenters of the park’s interpretive program at LeConte Memorial Lodge twice a year talking about the post office’s history and how it serves Yosemite’s residents and tourists.

Postal service within the park area began on Aug. 9, 1869, 21 years earlier than the formal establishment of Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Valley’s first tourist and settler James Hutchins was appointed the first postmaster of what was then known as Yo Semite Post Office. The name was changed to Yosemite Post Office in 1908, then to Yosemite National Park Post Office in 1922.

“$12. Can you imagine that’s the pay for the first postmaster per year?” Carroll said.

From 1937, the disbursement that paid the salaries of postmasters, clerks and city deliveries was recorded in cash books before the computer age.

In the cash books, postmasters were required to keep track of all the money that was turned in, including stamps, stock sales and permit mailings.

Like the cash books, the post office kept many records of the old days, application letters for the position of postmaster, correspondence between postmaster and the park’s superintendent, photos of the old days, and brochures of mail delivery truck models.

Upon the establishment of the post office, the Army held a contract to transport mail into Yosemite Valley via mule from Jerseydale up the Merced River Canyon through El Portal and over the old stage road into the valley.

The completion of the Yosemite Valley railroad in 1907 changed the amount of mail that could be transported and its conveyance to El Portal. Once it reached El Portal, the mail was transferred to horse stages.

City-style home delivery was established in 1930 but was discontinued in the late 1940s, due to budget limitations, personnel and housing shortages in the valley.

Right, Yosemite National Park Postmaster Bill Carroll is busy putting the incoming mails through the cancellation machine. Below, 1920s-era mailboxes at the main Yosemite National Park Post Office that are still in daily use (Photo by Dongran Sun).

The current main post office is located at the heart of Yosemite Valley, next door to the Ansel Adams Gallery, with Yosemite Falls as the backdrop. It has one branch at Yosemite Lodge, one all-year contract station at Wawona, and two contract stations at Tuolumne Meadows and Curry Village open only during summer.

“This main building was built in 1924 by the Post Office Department at a cost of $40,000.” Carroll said, pointing to the timeworn bronze-colored mail box, “You can easily tell its age.”

Each of the 760 mail boxes at the main post office are rented to park residents, mainly employees of the National Park Service and park concessionaires.

The postal service of Yosemite National Park is no different from other post offices in the United States. “But we are kind of special.” Carroll said.

Four stamps have ever issued with Yosemite subjects and themes, respectively 1932’s one-cent El Capitan stamp, 1988’s 25-cent Flag over Half Dome, 2006’s 39-cent Yosemite Waterfalls and 2008’s 42-cent stamp of painting of Yosemite Valley by landscape artist Albert Bierstadt.

Because of Yosemite National Park’s particular location, the postal service frequently received petitions from individuals and organizations for special cancellations.

Yosemite Climbing Association once petitioned the post office in 2008 of a special cancellation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of El Capitan.

The special cancellation of the first day sale for stamp of Albert Bierstadt’s painting was issued on Aug. 14, 2008.

In this typical Friday afternoon, only Carroll and Doug Plouhn, another office employee, were working at the main office. Residents continuously came to pick up mail and parcels and visitors frequently came in to buy stamps and send their postcards and letters.

“Can I get two domestic stamps for postcards?” A young man from Nevada talked to Plouhn.

“I’m going to send to two of my friends who planned to come with us, but finally cancelled the flight because of business meeting.” He said.

At right top, Yosemite Post Office in 1925. At right bottom, one of the original mail trucks delivering mail to Yosemite Valley in 1920 (Photos courtesy of Yosemite Post Office).

Been working in the office for four years, Plouhn said that most tourists who came to the post office were sending postcard to their friends as a souvenir.

Yosemite has a visitation of 3.5 million per year.

“Any of those tourists are potential customers for us, but realistically we only see a couple hundred a day at the main office and 25 to 50 at the branches and the contract stations.” Carroll said.

The number of residents that the post office serves varies between summer and winter, with the maximum number of 2,200 in summer. The total drops down to about 800 in February every year.

Delaware North Company, the park’s largest concessionaire, is the office’s biggest client.

Besides the community talk at LeConte Lodge twice a year, Carroll didn’t typically go out to promote the post office.

Left, the cancellation issued in 2008 to commemorate the first ascent of El Capitan. Right, the cancellation for the stamp of Albert Bierstadt’s painting issued in 2008 (Photos courtesy of Yosemite Post Office).

“But I’d love to talk to people when they come to the post office,”  he said.

Carroll told one interesting story he recalled from several years ago. At the time, a young man was supposed to receive an express package before 2 p.m., but it hadn’t arrived.

Carroll talked to the young man and knew that his wedding was scheduled at 2 p.m. at Yosemite’s church and the package he sought contained his tuxedo. To help, Carroll lent the young man his own tuxedo and it even fit well.

The young man returned the tuxedo and thanked Carroll for his help after the wedding. The tuxedo had been delivered just in time, the newlywed said.

Carroll has been working at the post office for 39 years and 18 years in the postmaster position. He said he has seen some interesting things and met some interesting people.

“National Park Service people come and go, the concessionaire people come and go pretty often, but the post office people have been steady.” Carroll said.

Above left, the cornerstone of new Yosemite Post Office being placed by the postmaster general in 1924 (Courtesy of Yosemite Post Office). Right, the cornerstone with the 1924 date (Photo by Dongran Sun).

His house is just 100 meters away from the post office and all his five children have moved away.

Former Postmaster General of United States Williams Henderson was once asked by a reporter what the best job he could ever have in the post office system. Henderson answered: the postmaster of Yosemite.

“That’s true.” Carroll laughed. “When you wake up in the morning, a lot of mornings, you can see rainbows, waterfalls and hear the birds. We had deer eating our flowers, we had squirrels coming in the back door. That’s one of the charms being here.”


If You Go:

  • Yosemite National Park Post Office is open year-round in Yosemite Village main office, Yosemite Lodge and Wawona Store.
  • Window service is Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to noon. Seasonal post offices operate at Curry Village (currently under remodeling) and Tuolumne Meadows from May to September.
  • The main post office at Yosemite Village is nearest to Yosemite Valley shuttle stop #4, #5 and #9.

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