The postal customer crosses the tiny lawn past the blue steel mailbox (which would be out on the sidewalk if we had sidewalks) and the carved wooden sign reading “Matinicus, Maine 04851” and enters a traditional white clapboard house. A small bouquet of lilacs sits on the mantelpiece in what looks like an old-fashioned front parlor. The fresh paint offers a sense of newness, but the hardwood floor and creaky front door remind us that this was, and still is, the island parsonage, historically home to volunteer summer ministers and decades of island schoolteachers.

“Morning, Wanda. Can I get a roll of stamps?”

Wanda Philbrook, Matinicus Island’s postmaster (and yes, she does prefer that title), looks through the service window from her neat office on the other side. She hands the islander the stamps, and his mail (as of this writing, the actual post office boxes have not arrived yet). Like so many others, the customer cannot resist asking her how it feels to finally have a real post office to work from. “It’s such a relief,” Philbrook says, clearly having answered this question before. “It’s like a weight off my shoulders.”

For the last 13 months, Philbrook had managed the island’s mail from her home, after an accidental fire destroyed the building housing the newly-renovated Matinicus post office in April of 2008. This winter, renovations were made to the parsonage including an access ramp, secure interior office, and complete separation of the kitchen and upstairs living space from the postal facility areas. On Tuesday, May 26, the new post office was declared ready enough to open for business.

Helping to celebrate this were the island’s six elementary school children, who visited the new post office on opening day. They offered the Pledge of Allegiance around the post office flag, and sang “The Place Beyond” (also known as “The Matinicus Song”) as others took photographs. Each student got a stamp, affixed it to a card, and postmarked it with the date, creating a memento of the grand opening. “Hmm,” said Philbrook, commenting on the worn old stars and stripes hanging outside, “I ought to get a new flag.”

On the little counter is an antique call bell, with which a customer at the window might alert a busy postmaster, working in the back, of his presence and need of assistance. This bell, clearly very old, survived the 2008 fire to remain a fixture in the post office window as it has been since any of us can remember. Likewise, the handmade wooden post office signs were salvaged from the ruined building.

A bulletin board in the hallway and a small table hold notices of island events and local information–the graduation ceremony for our one eighth-grader, the passenger boat schedule, summer hours for the store and the recycling shed, the date for the next telemedicine visit by the Sunbeam, copies of the Working Waterfront newspaper. A physical place for such paperwork, a community message board, indoors and out of the weather, has been one of the small things we’ve had to do without since we lost our post office.

Locating the new post office within the island parsonage means a long-term relationship will exist between the Congregational Church of Matinicus and the United States Postal Service. Trustee Maurice Colton reminds us that the island church is a multi-purpose community organization that endeavors to assist in any way it can.

In the words of Trustee Suzanne Rankin, “the new post office links the past with the future.” She points out that the island’s first post office was in a private residence, and that the parsonage building was the childhood home of one of our former postmasters.

Last year, when it became clear that sorting out the location for our new post office was not to be a quick and simple process, Matinicus received significant support from Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). “I know how important reliable mail service is to the residents of Matinicus and all of Maine’s island communities,” said Collins. “That is why I was happy to assist in the aftermath of the devastating fire that destroyed the old post office. The parsonage is an excellent location and I share the excitement that regular postal operations can resume.”

Renovations should be completed soon; the office is still not fully set up in terms of technology, but everything is miles ahead of last year. While we miss the old harborside location, the new P.O. is convenient and centrally located, near the Town Office, island store, and recycling facility. Philbrook reminds customers that stamps-by-mail are available. By the way, a few days after opening day, a nice new flag was snapping in the island breeze.