Hornitos among 3,700 towns facing possible post office closures

HORNITOS - In the small foothill town of Hornitos, the U.S. post office is more than just a place to pick up mail.

Outside the tiny office in the plaza of the former Gold Rush town, there’s a bulletin board featuring “Hornitos News.” Everything from funeral services to Mariposa County Board of Supervisors meetings is posted there.

Now the 75 residents of Hornitos face the possible closure of their post office, which opened in the heyday of the once-booming town in 1856. It’s on a list of about 3,700 offices across the country that may be shuttered.

The list of post offices facing closure also includes the office in Yosemite National Park at Yosemite Lodge, and the one in Fish Camp, near Wawona. Both of those offices are also in Mariposa County.

“I’m very concerned,” said Janet Bibby, Mariposa county supervisor for District 3, which includes Hornitos and Catheys Valley. “A post office is the center of a community, especially small, rural communities like Hornitos.”

The list was started because the Postal Service started to experience a drastic mail volume decline and subsequent loss of revenue in the past few years, according to Augustine Ruiz, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, Sacramento District. The district services six million people in about 38,813 square miles, stretching from the Oregon border to just south of Fresno.

“We’ve seen the loss of about 43 billion pieces of mail (in the entire country) since 2006,” Ruiz said. “We went into a mode of looking at ways we could cut costs. However, we can’t close post offices for purely economic reasons.”

Ruiz said several factors will go into choosing which post offices will eventually close, including the most important — community impact. “We’re moving towards a village post office,” Ruiz said. “They could be located in places like a pharmacy, or a florist shop or a grocery store.”

Hornitos has none of those facilities. The tiny plaza in the middle of town boasts the Plaza Bar, the post office and a closed cafe called Roys Cafe. That about sums up the town, except for the ruins of the store where the now-famous chocolate firm of D. Ghirardelli got its start in the 1850s, the jail used in the 1800s, a cemetery on the top of a hill near a Catholic church and a few houses.

“In Hornitos, the post office has historically been the hub of the community,” Bibby said. “It’s the glue of the community.”

Bibby said getting mail has changed since Hornitos was a thriving town of 15,000 in 1870. Now people depend on getting medications by mail, ranchers in the area use the postal service to get animal vaccines by mail, and for many people, going to another post office would be a hardship.

“Many older people can’t drive anymore, and if they can’t get their medications at their local post offices, that would be very hard on them,” Bibby said.

The roads into and out of Hornitos are winding, foothill roads. Bibby said if residents have to drive to Catheys Valley every day or to Mariposa or Merced, it doesn’t make any sense. “Unless the postal service is planning to deliver mail to each house, and that would raise costs enormously,” Bibby said.

Living in Mariposa County her entire life, Bibby said she’s afraid that eventually the post office in Catheys Valley may be put on the same list. “There’s a limited number of boxes in Catheys Valley (the closest town to Hornitos), and if it closes it would severely hurt the residents of the area,” Bibby said.

Ruiz said no decisions have been made yet. Once a post office is on the closure list, there’s a 60-day period for residents to voice their concerns. After that period, there is another 30-day slice of time for residents to appeal the decision.

“I don’t see any decisions made before December,” Ruiz said.

December isn’t that far away, Bibby said. “I plan on voicing my opposition. I wish they would look at what the postal service for what it’s providing in current times. It’s not just letters anymore - there’s a lot more to it now.”

No Merced County post offices are on the proposed closure list.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com