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Post office's closing ends era in Big Cove Tannery

March 06, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

BIG COVE TANNERY, Pa. - The Big Cove Tannery Post Office, the combination country store, community meeting place and post office that has been the thread holding this Fulton County, Pa., hamlet together for 106 years, has finally closed.

The mail will continue to go through, from the modern Needmore Post Office a few miles away, but the sense of history and humanity that the old post office represented to this little village seven miles south of McConnellsburg, Pa., is gone forever.

"Old people will miss it most," said Betty Bivens, 65, who has handled the mail in Big Cove Tannery since 1965. Bivens is retiring.

She took over the postal duties from her father, D. Kenneth Morton, when he retired. She had been helping him for 10 years before that. Running the post office has been her only job.

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Until 1963 the building did triple duty as a country store, gas station and post office. Her father closed the store and station that year, but kept the post office going.

Most patrons were served by two rural carrier routes, but a handful of older customers chose to pick up their mail. "They liked patronizing this little country post office. They were upset, but I told them they can buy stamps at their bank or grocery store, in McConnellsburg."

Michael Whelan always picked up his mail. Bivens used to hold it for him, usually for a month at a time.

"I'm away a lot. I just feel that my mail is safer sitting in this post office than it would be in my mail box," he said.

Whalen only learned Friday morning when he came in for his mail that the post office had closed the week before. Bivens told him his mail had been transferred to Needmore, Pa.

"I'm going to miss coming in here. This is the quaintest place in town," Whelan said.

Big Cove Tannery was named after a leather tannery that ran its machinery on water power from Big Cove Creek in the early 19th century, said George Bivens, Betty's husband.

Bivens said she decided to close "because I just got tired. I've worked long enough. Besides, the postal service is changing. They've got computers and scanners now and I'm too old to get into that."

The first post office in the village opened in a building near the tannery in 1864. George Skinner was the first postmaster. Peter Kirk, the second postmaster, built the store and post office building in 1893.

Kirk ran both until 1940 when his daughter, Mary Jane Kirk, a nurse working in New York City, came back to take over for him. She stayed until her father died in 1947, then sold out to Morton. She went back to New York to work. When she retired, she came back to the village to live. She died last year at age 97, Bivens said.

Bivens said her father retired from dairy farming when he bought the store. After he retired she took over the post office as a contract worker for the U.S. Postal Service. "I never got benefits," she said.

The old post office was a popular meeting place where locals stopped to swap the news of the day, she said. An old wooden bench, scratched with the initials of dozens of Big Cove Tannery residents, sits under layers of dust in the store. It used to sit outside in front of the store.

Bivens has the original oak spool cabinet from the store and tall mail cabinet with its dozens of pigeon holes. A brass plate says it was made by the Postal Manufacturing Co., of Baltimore, Md. Both were used up until the end.

Bivens said many antique dealers have tried to buy the pieces. "They're staying in the family," she said.

The Bivens gave the building to their sons. "I don't know what they're going to do with it. It doesn't have running water," she said.

Bivens said she and her husband will do some traveling, but not too much. "We're homebodies," she said.

"I like to sleep in my own bed at night," her husband said.

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