Ochopee Post Office: Small is Beautiful

by Todd Ronnei

Ochopee Post Office

As you travel along U.S. Highway 41 in south Florida, crossing the Big Cypress National Preserve and skirting Everglades National Park, you will find the wonderment of nature abundant in flora (dwarf cypress, ferns, orchids) and fauna (alligators, black vultures, Florida panthers). But amidst these natural attractions is one distinctly man-made: a small building, just a shack really, housing the smallest United States Post Office in the country.

Historical Marker
Ochopee Post Office historical marker (click for larger image)
My visit to the Ochopee, Fla. post office was totally coincidental. I was on my way from Miami to Ft. Myers to take in a Minnesota Twins spring training baseball game. My longtime friend Victor Kasanezky was behind the wheel, taking us on our baseball pilgrimage via the "scenic route" from his home in Miami. As far as I knew the main attraction en route was going to be alligators sunning themselves just off the road. But Victor had made this trip before and knew I'd find the post office a special treat, so he kept it a surprise.

I'd read articles about tiny post offices in various philatelic publications, but I had no recollection of where the smallest U.S. Post Office was located. So having our journey along "Alligator Alley" interrupted by a postal pit stop was an unexpected delight.

The historical marker at the post office offers up its history. The original Ochopee post office, established in 1932, was housed in a general store. When fire destroyed the store in 1953, Postmaster Sidney H. Brown opened a temporary post office in an irrigation pipe shed on a tomato farm. But temporary became permanent, and the erstwhile pipe shed has been a post office ever since. The current Postmaster since July 2003 is Nanette Watson. No doubt the office's ZIP Code of 34141 is in recognition of its location just a few yards off U.S. 41.

The building, roughly 7 feet wide by 8 feet deep, has sliding glass doors in the front, and take one step inside and you're at the counter. One customer inside is comfortable, but two are cramped. Three or more? Forget it.

inside post office
Here I am inside the Ochopee post office. Without too much effort I could have reached behind the counter and touched the back wall.
Across the counter is Postmaster Watson, whose workspace is not much bigger than the chair in which she sits. I'm sure OSHA has waived just about every rule in the book for this shed to serve as a United States Government facility.

Despite its diminutive size, the Ochopee post office offers all the services found at any U.S. Post Office, and local residents depend on it for their postal needs. But its unique size also means it's a tourist stop, and Postmaster Watson handles those attendant duties with aplomb. She has stacks of picture postcards of the post office for sale, which are conveniently pre-franked with multiple stamps paying either the domestic postcard rate (23¢) or the international postcard rate (70¢). I bought one of each, with the domestic card sent to my home address (see below), and the international card sent by Victor to his brother in Brazil.

Stamp collectors all over the nation complain about the lack of commemorative stamps available at their local post offices. One might expect the smallest post office in the country to have a minuscule stamp stock, but the opposite is true. In fact, Ms. Watson's post office has a philatelic stock that is superior to that of most big city branches. Among the items on sale when I visited were the current Ronald Reagan memorial issue, the Reptile and Amphibians pane and first day cover set, and the seldom-seen Disney letter sheets. My favorite find in Ochopee was Lewis and Clark sheet stamps, which have been sold out nationwide for months. I eagerly bought two panes to replenish my stockbook.

My stop at Ochopee reminded me that I had an old cover in my collection from the nation's smallest post office. Upon returning home I dug it out, only to find it is not from Ochopee but from De Luz, California. The 1954 cacheted cover depicts a structure that appears not much bigger than the Ochopee building. The cover was signed by Postmaster Chloe J. Baxter, who wrote "We are not being discontinued" along the left edge of the cover. Despite the postmaster's protestations to the contrary, the De Luz office was closed just a few months later on February 28, 1955. If the De Luz post office was indeed the smallest extant at that time, that distinction presumably passed to the Ochopee office upon closure of the De Luz office.

De Luz cover
1954 De Luz, Calif. cover from what was then proclaimed to be the smallest post office in the world.

Postcard front postcard back
Postcard sold at Ochopee post office. Back of postcard. Note pictorial postmark applied
vertically in middle of card.

Click here to read about my latest visit to another tiny post office!