October 9, 2023 at 11:05 a.m.

Rural Letter Carriers Museum Seeks Contributions

By JENN WILLHITE | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

As the Yellow Trail Museum celebrates the first anniversary of the opening of the Indiana Rural Letter Carriers Museum, it is seeking the help of local residents to share their stories and photographs of area rural letter carriers to further build the Rural Letter Carriers' collection.  

The first phase of the Indiana Rural Letter Carriers’ collection opened in October 2022 with the chronicled history of the carriers. 

Now, it is time for the second phase -- A focus on The People -- which will launch in April 2024.

The journey to this latest phase has been nearly a decade in the making.   

Over the past several years, elements of the original Rural Letter Carriers Museum, which once resided on the Square, were moved to the Yellow Trail Museum after a years’ long hiatus as its prior location became dilapidated and unfit for use, said Jessica Deckard, volunteer with the Yellow Trail Museum.

During the most recent ongoing transition, true to the nature of Hope, volunteers rallied to help collect, restore and digitize the Rural Letter Carriers Museum’s extensive collection of items and artifacts.

“I’ve found the best way to preserve something is to digitize it,” said Yellow Trail Museum volunteer Kim Ray. “That way, you can share it with more people and the longer it has an opportunity to live.”

Several years ago, when the late Barb Johnson called on Ray to assist with laying what would become the foundation for the exhibit, Johnson spoke with her about “coming in and helping the museum to fix some papers and organize some things,” Ray recalled.   

Ray recalled meeting Johnson at the museum shortly after their initial conversation, she said.

When Johnson opened the door to one of the storage rooms that day, Ray said Johnson looked at her and said, “What do you think?”

Ray responded, “What do I think about what?”       

The room was packed nearly floor to ceiling with all sorts of items needing identified and catalogued.

“Yeah, I had no idea,” Ray said.

Previously, as the future of that portion of the museum was in question, discussions had begun with regard to an effort to return contributed items in the collection back to those who had donated them. However, Johnson recognized the need to continue to preserve the items on-site, Ray said.  

Thanks to Johnson’s hard work, an agreement was reached where the items would remain in the care of the Yellow Trail given it would keep them as part of the museum’s permanent collection and work to restore the exhibit in a building adequately outfitted for them to call home.   

For a time, everything stayed in storage. Years went by. Conversations continued to take place, but no action followed. Then the museum would receive assistance that would change everything.   

As a preservation project was being established online to promote the Rural Letter Carriers Museum, the Yellow Trail landed a grant from the Indiana State Library that would fund the colossal project and it was then that the hard work really began.  

Ray, who has extensive experience with genealogy, said she had no background in the massive task laid out before she and the other volunteers. Thinking she was merely “just helping out” Ray said she was in for a tedious but rewarding surprise.

Cataloging and digitizing all the historical pieces, including the most fragile and tattered, has been an ongoing and painstaking process.

In addition to Ray’s efforts were those of Kathy Clouse, who helped to oversee the inclusion of the 3D objects, and Caitlin Downhour, who assisted with the technical side of things with regard to scanning items and bringing the digitized database online via a program earlier purchased by the museum, Ray said.    

“I never expected for it to turn into the Rural Letter Carriers digitization project,” Downhour said. “It was a really cool thing to be a part of. I thought I would just piddle away in the back room slowly entering numbers and descriptions.” 

Looking back, Downhour said she couldn’t be more excited to see the project live online.  

“To see it where anyone can go and look at it, that is something to be really proud of, I think,” Downhour said. “I am even more proud now that the museum has expanded, and they can actually get those artifacts out for people to see. Hopefully, people will see them online and say, ‘I am going there,’ and come to town.”

And, now, Phase 2 begins.

The Rural Letter Carriers Museum is seeking stories and photos of both past and present rural letter carriers from across Indiana. Individuals who are or know a letter carrier -- be they a family member, friend or neighbor -- are encouraged to submit the individual’s name, location and years of service. Submitted photos of the individual may be in uniform, in a vehicle, on the job or simply a portrait.

Individuals may also nominate carriers who are a relative, friend, neighbor or even their favorite rural carrier.

Among anecdotes and stories being sought are those that include, but are not limited to:
* Most memorable event on the job
* Weather-related stories
* Humorous stories
* Recognition and awards

Submissions for the collection may be made online via email to [email protected] . When emailing, please specify the message is for Kim Ray and include contact information, story and copy of photographs.

Those who wish to send submissions via the U.S. Postal Service can mail their contact information, story and copy of photographs to The Yellow Trail Museum, ATTN. Kim Ray, P.O. Box #181, Hope, Ind., 47246.

Individuals seeking additional information or who have questions may call the museum at 812-546-8020.

As the museum’s collection continues to grow and evolve with the help of Ray and the Yellow Trail’s host of volunteers, one thing is certain – Johnson, whose instrumental intervention set the course for this amazing journey, would share in their excitement and satisfaction with how it has all turned out, they said.

“She would be really proud to know that all this has happened,” Ray said. “She was a visionary and could see things out years ahead and plan that way. I think Barb would be smiling on us now.”