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Post Office

Jewel Wells was Esto's postmaster from 1965 to 1985.

By JIM REISLER
The Dothan Eagle

OF ALL THE SIGNS — and there are several — one stands out. “No soliciting or loitering,” it reads.

It’s hardly necessary because with the possible exception of “a few who like to stand around in the corner and gossip,” the crowds at the Esto Post Office, according to Postmaster Jewel Wells, are sparse.

There are a few others who frequent the building — during the summer, northerners on their way to the beaches buy stamps and deposit some letters — but generally “just normal folks,” the locals in this small crossroads village of 210.

Small wonder. As the kind of town that people pass through on their way to somewhere else, Esto — with its one store, two gas stations and cafe compacted onto six streets — is small town mid-America personified.

Similarly, the operation at the post office — a 75-year-old brick building along Highway 79 and virtually the only gathering place in the area — “runs real smoothly,” Mrs. Wells says.

In fact, nothing much ever happens in Esto. The only kind of law enforcement here is supplied by Holmes County sheriff’s deputies who occasionally make the evening rounds. There is both a railroad and a town council, but most of the people here travel for their shopping either the 12 miles south to Bonifay or the 10 miles north to Hartford.

“We’re just a small place” — officially a Bonifay substation, says Mrs. Wells. There was a time when the post office was across the street, but a switch back to its current location was made last year — a move that had been made before.

While it’s a handsome building outside, the interior differs from most any other post office you may have seen. Stark red brick walls on two sides and a bulletin board border three sides of the building now, blocking out most of the evidence — freezers, a few old Coke bottles and a wall clock — that a grocery was ever here. There is no phone.

It is in this atmosphere that Mrs. Wells, one of the few female postmasters in Florida, has operated since taking office on June 1, 1964. A former housewife, it is the only job she has ever had.

On a cold, overcast afternoon here recently, Mrs. Wells spoke of her career as the Esto postmaster. Despite long days and no heat, she “makes out like everybody likes me.”

Two other female postmasters in the state come to her mind. One — a name from many years ago — she recalls because “I remember reading about her once when she was kidnapped,” she says. Ironically, the other she knows of — Mary Alice Skipper — runs the post office down the road in Noma.

In the meantime, Mrs. Wells continues in her present capacity, walking from her house directly across the road and having “no complaints.”

It couldn’t be said any better than that.

VIMEO | Getting the mail and talking politics at the post office

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