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The mail must go through — and it has since 1816 at the oldest post office still operating

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

HINSDALE, N.H. – It’s the oldest continuously operating post office in the United States. And it looks it. Sturdy. Durable. Reliable.

Part museum piece and part local switchboard, the Hinsdale Post Office has been faithfully delivering utility bills and postcards, catalogues and love letters for 206 years now.

It’s been around since 1816, when James Madison was president. It was in operation during the Civil War, when the Wright Brothers soared above Kitty Hawk in 1903, and when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Its letter carriers faithfully conducted their rounds when John Kennedy was president in the early 1960s, when the Red Sox won the pennant in 1967, and when a history-making blizzard blew through in 1978, paralyzing much of New England.

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And they’re still on the job here today next door to Town Hall, near the white-steepled First Congregational Church – and just a short walk from RayNette’s diner and coffee shop.

“I think it’s a source of pride in the town that we have been able to maintain this building and not lose that piece of Americana,’’ said Jeana Woodbury, 55, the local postmaster, who grew up about six miles down the road and across the river in Brattleboro, Vt.

She knows how much her operation means to the people who live here. She knows because they tell her.

“We make connections,’’ Woodbury told me the other day when I stopped by for a visit. “We know people in town. We know their story. You know when they’re having a good day. You know when they’re having a bad day.’’

Jeannette Newman knows all of that, too.

She’s 71 now and has been a regular letter carrier here for 22 years. She remembers when a stamp cost 25 cents. She recalls the town’s 250th birthday party when a replica post office — built by her husband and carried on a flatbed truck — joined the parade as it marched down Main Street.

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When she started her postal career, she handed out candy to children and dog biscuits to their pets. Well, she did until her husband pointed out that she was spending enough on treats to dramatically cut into her weekly take-home pay.

“He said, ‘Jeannette, you’re spending more on candy and dog biscuits than you’re making,’” she said, recounting the conversation. So, she stuck to her work.

She carries brown paper-covered packages up the stairs to a house. She puts the mailbox’s red flag up and then moves on to stuff another black metal mailbox atop a wooden post.

She spots bald eagles and baby deer. She’s been chased by a turkey.

“It’s really awesome on the route,’’ she says.

She’s driving a white van with red and blue stripes. “I love my customers,’’ she tells me.

And it shows. Even the dogs, the bane of some letter carrier’s existence, wag their tails when she arrives.

“I’ve never been bit on the job,’’ she said, smiling into the blinding mid-morning sunshine. “Never.’’

She stuffs mailboxes from her driver’s seat on the right, pulls down Old Stage Road, and past a horse farm set off by white fencing.

She carries a small forest of Amazon Prime packages. She walks up to a beige house, past a flower garden and a white picket fence, and makes another delivery before swiftly moving on.

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Her attention to detail does not go unnoticed by those who rely on her deliveries.

“Not only is she personable, she’s a professional,’’ Renee Howard said about her favorite letter carrier. “She always goes the extra mile. This is a rural area. I’m a stay-at-home mom. Two kids. I think she’s great. I’ve known her my whole life. We’re just local people here.’’

Local people. The sons and daughters of Hinsdale. Jeannette Newman’s kind of people.

She told me this story:

“Well, recently there was one guy whose mail was building up. And I said, ‘That’s strange. There’s something strange here.’

“And then I went to the house and he had gone to the hospital because he had a major heart attack. And he said, ‘I knew you would come up and find me.’ And I came up after the whole thing was over and he was back home. He said, ‘I knew you wouldn’t let it go too long before you came up and checked on me.’”

It’s what she does. And has done.

I am the proud son of a mailman who sometimes would take me and my brothers with him on the mail route up and down Burditt Hill in Clinton, Mass., during the early1960s when we bounced around in the back of the mail truck.

In my mind’s eye, I can see my dad walking up Chestnut Street in the morning on his way to work with men whose names I can still recite: Paul Hastings, Joe Boyce, George Pellerin, Donny Jewett, and Walter Turnbull, who was kind enough to host postal outings every summer at his waterfront camp on Bare Hill Pond in Harvard.

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They were the good guys who cooked us hamburgers, took us for cruises in a motor boat, and then — on Monday morning — were back at their posts next to Central Park in Clinton, sorting stacks of mail to get them ready once again for reliable delivery.

To fulfill the postal creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’’

Reading that now it sounds a little too lofty. But it’s what they did every day during careers that lasted decades and helped pay for weekly groceries, college tuitions, and joyous wedding celebrations.

It’s what Jeannette Newman has been doing. And it’s what she will do until her workplace anniversary rolls around again in February.

She’s retiring then. She’ll say goodbye to the old post office with its wooden floors, and brass lobby mailboxes and gold-leaf lettering on frosted windows instructing customers where to deposit their mail.

“I don’t want to,’’ she said. “But I know it’s time. You can tell.’’

And then in Hinsdale, somebody else will have to make sure that the mail gets through.


Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.