Tiliting At Windmills: The Enchanted Post Office
Published: March 29th, 2024
By: Shelly Reuben

Tiliting At Windmills: The Enchanted Post Office

Imagine you are en route to a restaurant for a lunch date. You stop first at a post office to buy stamps. On your way out, you pass a sign above a bowl containing small bags of pellets. It says:

Take a bag to feed our ducks and geese

You pluck a pouch from the bowl. Then, standing beside the river, you make a quick call to your friends, explaining, “I’ll be a little late for lunch, because I’m at the post office, feeding the ducks.”

True story. Verifiable event. It happened, and it will continue to happen. BUT … under the auspices of Blanche Olliviere, Fairy God Postmaster (Postmistress?) of the Montchanin Post Office in Wilmington, Delaware, what other fanciful bits of magic can we expect?

Blanche’s domain is a stone building beside the Brandywine River known as Breck’s Mill. During the 19th Century, it produced yarn and cloth. In 1850, the building was purchased by DuPont. Over time, it became part of the 235 acres that constitute the Hagley Museum and home to the Montchanin Post Office. Since then, it has often been called “the most beautiful post office in the United States.”

The building is still owned by Hagley, and Susan Maynard, the museum’s director of buildings and grounds, works with Blanche to make repairs when things go catastrophically wrong – which they recently had occasion to do.

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But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because I haven’t yet introduced the resident wildlife. This includes Andrew, Phillip, and Washington, the post office’s pretty white ducks, as well as a bunch of flamboyant wild geese. Andrew and Phillip pal around together, but Washington, an iconoclast, hangs out only with the geese.

Okay. I’ve described the beautiful building and the resident water fowl. But I’ve barely touched upon the “Fairy God Postmistress” herself. Blanche Olliviere is a tiny, feminine powerhouse with ringlets, a pretty face, and serious, intelligent eyes that belie her whimsical disposition. It is she who cast the spells that make The Enchanted Post Office … enchanting.

Before I tell you about one of her greatest challenges, let me lead you by the hand into the post office itself. First (accompanied by the quacking of Andrew, Phillip, and Washington), you park your car less than 20 feet from the turbulent Brandywine River. You cross a millrace filled with wildflowers, marsh grass, and water. You continue a few more paces, open the door, and …

The vestibule! A narrow corridor transformed from a common entryway into a wonderland of sights, sounds, scents (it always smells like a pine forest at Christmas), and even – as a special treat for customers – a bowl filled with candy!

Beyond the vestibule is the customer lobby, where sunlight streams through windows overlooking the river and reflecting onto a cheerful (postal!) blue floor. This warm and welcoming lobby is filled with beautiful mahogany desks and chairs, and vintage bankers’ lamps with green glass shades. Also present (and utilitarian) are standard shelves containing USPS forms, envelopes, and boxes.

As you approach the postal counter, you see a festive display of FOR SALE stamps, and are greeted by friendly smiles from Blanche and/or her co-worker Sylvetta. Other than smiles, Blanche provided the antique furniture, the wall decorations, the duck food, the delicious aromas, and the candy. She does this for Christmas. Valentine’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day. Halloween. Thanksgiving. And more …

On Memorial Day, her lobby decor is reverent and respectful. For Breast Cancer Awareness, she creates displays so inspirational that customers flock to the counter to buy stamps!

But despite its happy atmosphere, life at The Enchanted Post Office was not always a light-hearted affair. Why? Because every fairytale must have its villain, and ours is no exception. The villain in this story, however, was not a sinister scoundrel with a waxed moustache, but an “Act of God.” Specifically, Hurricane Ida, when the Brandywine overflowed its riverbanks on September 2, 2021.

Blanche, at the time, was attending a convention of postal supervisors in Texas. Upon her return, she discovered that flood damage to the building had been so utter and so devastating, it would take almost two years to repair.

In March of 2023 – nineteen months later – to the happy clamor of grateful patrons, the Montchanin Post Office finally reopened its doors. In celebration, Blanche hosted a fabulous “Welcome Back” party at the Hagley Museum.

Although, in fact, Blanche had begun to put her imprint on the old Breck’s Mill even before the flood, it was not until after, with its fresh coats of paint, new fixtures, and pretty bright blue floors, that she fully committed to The Enchanted Post Office’s joyful rebirth.

And with her vintage furniture, festive holiday decor, and Alice in Wonderland vestibule, she has created an environment in which any Mad Hatter … or good-natured customer … can not only feel happy, but also feel very much at home.

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Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2024. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com