Take a little trip with us to Ochopee, Florida inside Big Cypress National Preserve. Besides being able to go kayaking with alligators, you will also find the smallest post office building in America. The Ochopee Post Office is just 56 square feet and fits only one postal worker. This USPS post office has been in continuous use since 1953, after it was quickly put into service when the existing post office and general store burned down in a fire.
The building used to be an irrigation pipe shed on the adjacent tomato farm, which no longer exists, but the post office hasn’t changed in nearly seventy years. To be precise, the building is 8′ 4″ by 7′ 3″, and it’s 10.5 feet to the top of the roof peak. There’s a phone but no internet, so money orders are created manually on a vintage-looking machine. It’s the “old-fashioned away of doing it that nobody really does anymore,” says Donald Walters, an affable USPS employee who is often found working in the post office. Even during the pandemic, this tiny post office is still open, serving local residents and businesses in three counties.
Money order machine
Walters is one of three employees who work here, including one carrier who delivers the mail and another postal worker who fills in for Walters when he’s off. We first met him on our visit last August. Today, he answered the phone upbeat when we called from Brooklyn. We were excited to discover that the post office was still open. Walters has been working for USPS for over twenty years, mostly in Naples, Florida and in Ochopee for the last two and a half years. In addition to serving the locals, which include two Native American populations (the Seminole and Miccosukee), Walters greets the many tourists who come to pay tribute to this unique spot.
In August, Walters told us, “It’s pretty quiet out here. I mean, every five minutes somebody stops by, usually people from Europe or Asia. I see people from all over the world. It seems like the further away people are, the more they know about it. The people in Naples, they don’t even know it’s out here…It’s what keeps it interesting, the world kind of comes to me. You know what I’m saying?”
Many of the visitors are German tourists, Walters tells us, and true to his prediction, a van of German tourists arrived during our visit. “The people from Germany, they know the dimensions [of the post office], exactly where it is, the coordinates, how far we are above sea level!” They leave him stickers for German soccer teams, which Donald places on the front door, especially if they see a rival team shown. You can get a special stamp on your mail here that says “Smallest Post Office Building in the U.S.A.” with the zip code 34141. For the past few years, the post office has been painted pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Walters also talked to us about the creation of Big Cypress National Preserve, the first preserve in the National Park system. In the 1970s, the federal government bought back properties in order to restore the area back to its natural state. “People were destroying it,” he says, “The development through here in the ’50s and ’60s….if they hadn’t stopped people from doing it, there would probably be buildings from Naples all the way to Miami solid through. Plus, the Everglades is such a unique thing in the world. It’s not a swamp like most people think. It’s actually pretty much a river.”
The fate of rural post offices and now, the entire USPS, seems to hang in the balance amidst the pandemic with politicians debating in Washington about whether or not to save the service. In August, Walters told us that an analysis was done during the last recession whether to close the Ochopee Post office. “We’re small but we service more people than we look — over 900 people out here. So far, that’s kept us safe,” he says, knocking on the wood of the post office counter.
In a phone interview this morning, Walters tells us “We’re still open, because we’re essential services. But there have been no tourists. Everyone is hunkering down, even in Florida. I know what they say on the news and stuff but really everybody has been hunkered down just like in New York and everywhere else. I see a few people but the tourist industry is [makes a sound to indicate that it’s gone to nothing].”
It’s clear Walters is looking forward to welcoming visitors to the Ochopee Post Office once again. At the end of the call, we mention that we hope to get down to the smallest post office once again. “You’re always welcome,” he says, “We always like to see people. I hope you’re staying safe in New York…I really hope everyone is okay, I hope you’re making it.”
The Ochopee Post Office is located at 38000 Tamiami Trail E, Ochopee, FL 34141. Phone number: (239) 695-2099.
Next, check out 10 post offices that double as art galleries!