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Unique mailboxes posted along SC's rural roadways say a lot about their letter retrievers

Weathered or painted, clustered or alone, with letters or decals and in black and white, mailboxes can reflect the homeowner's favorite sports team, farmer's life, garden setting or pet affinity.

Drive down any rural road in America and the ubiquitous mailbox comes in a variety of styles, though most are the black or white round-top version approved by the U.S. Postal Service.

Many of those are adorned with pictures of farms, shaped into fish or surrounded by flowers. They can be as unique as the people who retrieve their mail from the roadside receptacles every day.

Fish mailbox

This unusual mailbox reflects the angling interest of the couple who retrieve mail from it daily near Ridgeville in Dorchester County. Warren L. Wise/Staff

In Ridgeville, Martha Young and her husband Stephen are avid anglers, and it shows on their mailbox.

Perched atop the post along a rural stretch of road near the Dorchester County town of 1,705 people is a bass with a mouth so large the customary mailbox fits snugly inside the big plastic fish.

"We are big fishermen," Martha Young said. "We go every other day or sometimes twice on the same day. We just love to fish."

Wash Wizard mailbox

Brian Cook displays this Gothic-looking mailbox that he ordered from the Ukraine at his new Wash Wizard car cleaning business between Summerville and Goose Creek. Warren L. Wise/Staff

Near Summerville, Brian Cook recently launched a new Wash Wizard car cleaning shop, complete with all the bells and whistles and a colorful car tunnel.

At the entrance to the new business on North Main Street in Berkeley County sits a Gothic-looking bronze-color castle on a metal post. It's the business's mailbox.

"It's a really cool piece," Cook said. "I found it on Etsy, and I had to have it for the business."

The custom mailbox was made in the Ukraine and took six weeks to arrive. Cook installed it just before the wizard-themed car wash opened in September.

In Florence, in a neighborhood where brick pillars encase portals for mail and newspapers, one homeowner displays a comedic response to the coronavirus pandemic by putting a mask on the ceramic pig atop his mailbox.

The masked pig belongs to Barry Brown, but he says he can't take credit for it.

A neighbor down the street who worked in antiques placed the pig on his mailbox a few years ago. Before her death in August, she always decorated it for whatever holiday rolled around.

Earlier this year, she strapped a mask on the snout, and it's remained there during the outbreak, providing some comic relief during these unusual times.

"I get a kick out of it," Brown said. "It's kind of a blast to see it there all the time."

Mailboxes often reflect their owners' tastes and personalities, but they haven't always been around.

Sidneys Road Walterboro tractor

A tractor and barns decorate this mailbox near Walterboro. Warren L. Wise/Staff

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"Mailboxes are a fairly recent phenomenon," said Christina Butler, a professor at the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston.

In Colonial times, letters would be dropped off at a tavern or post office were people would have to come to pick them up.

"There wasn't delivery service like there is now because a lot of people didn't even have addresses," Butler said. 

"Addresses would not have had the same legal parameters they have today," she said. "A lot number would have mattered more. ... If you were somebody in England trying to post a letter to Charleston, there was no 38 King St., for instance, to send a letter to. They would send it to the town and it was taken by royal mail and dropped off at a tavern or government site that was recognized for mail delivery."

241 Promise Road Cottageville

Some people sport designs of their favorite race car driver on their mailbox, like this one near Cottageville. Warren L. Wise/Staff

In the 1830s and 1840s, Butler said newspapers would publish alphabetical lists of people who had letters to pick up at the post office.

In Colonial America, the most reliable mail delivery was along the coast by ship. Roads between the Colonies were not well-marked or well-kept, and delivery service was poor at best.

With the invention of the rail service, much of Charleston's mail in the early 19th century would have arrived by train. Home delivery that morphed into how it's known now didn't occur until later that century, sometime after the Civil War, Butler said.

In cities and towns, a letter carrier walking the streets would have dropped off mail at people's homes. In rural areas, carriages would have done the job before the automobile came along.

"Once people have home delivery, then you have personalized mailboxes and personal preferences creeping in," Butler said. "They speak to people's interests and their architectural tastes." 

3900 Charleston Highway flowers on mailbox

Mailboxes can be dressed up with flowers, like this one on Charleston Highway near Walterboro. Warren L. Wise/Staff

In downtown Charleston, a letter box could be cut into the door or there would be something mounted on a fence in case the carrier didn't want to come to the door or there was a dog in the yard.

"It was more common for a row house on the street to have a letter box cut into the door," Butler said.

In some neighborhoods, such as Brighton Park Village in Nexton near Summerville, a central drop-off site with a collection of boxes offers mail service, much like those found in some condominium or apartment developments.

Seewee Road mailbox

This ornate mailbox with a tile roof can be found on Seewee Road in Awendaw. Warren L. Wise/Staff

"With a new urban movement, mailbox kiosks are becoming popular again," she said. "That's a vestige of the more traditional way of receiving mail."

In any case, mailboxes can say a lot about the people who pick up mail daily in one way or another.

"It tells their personality," said Young, the eager fisherman near Ridgeville. "I love my mailbox. It speaks to what I like to do."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.

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