Rural mail museum has new home in Hope

The Yellow Trail Museum has become the major caretaker for most of the artifacts from the Indiana Rural Letter Carriers Association Museum. Here are just a few of the items currently on display.

HOPE — The Indiana Rural Letter Carriers Association Museum has a new, permanent home in the town of Hope after a four-year absence.

The building at 638 Main St. has been acquired to serve as the new home of the Letter Carriers museum, according to an announcement from long-time Yellow Trail Museum leader Barb Johnson.

Located immediately south of the Yellow Trail, the building formerly served as a studio for Michael Arford, a highly-decorated Indiana State Police master trooper who became a professional photographer after retiring from law enforcement in 1993. Arford died in September 2017 at the age of 78.

For several years, the Letter Carriers museum was housed in a tiny, brown, wood-frame building on the northwest side of the town square to commemorate that Hope has the the longest continuous rural mail delivery service in the state, which dates to October 1896.

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It was believed for a time that Hope had the longest continuous service in the entire country, but a number of historians believe that honor goes to Charles Town, West Virginia, which was the hometown of the U.S. Postmaster General in 1896.

But the municipally-owned building had problems. For example, there was no climate control, which made the building prone to insect infestation. In addition, the sunlight that came through the large exhibit windows damaged a number of fragile exhibits.

Another factor was the annual Hope Heritage Days, which had grown so large that organizers said they needed the prime space on the northwest side of the square occupied by the museum.

As part of a $100,000 town square beautification project, the small structure was demolished in 2015 after a variety of different organizations, including the Hawcreek Heritage Arts Center, agreed to house some of the exhibits.

But in recent years, the Yellow Trail Museum has become the major caretaker for the artifacts, Johnson said.

While the Arford building was acquired by the Yellow Trail Museum for $42,500, “now comes the time when we have to beg for grants to see what help we can get for necessary changes and improvements,” Johnson said.

Since the acquisition was just announced June 18, Johnson said it’s too early to begin speculating on when the new museum will open.

“It will depend on how quickly money comes in, and how fast we can work,” she said.

Many artifacts will remain in secure storage until building repairs and renovations are completed, Johnson said.

Some of the most valuable items trace their heritage to Hope. They include two enclosed mail delivery carriages that are believed to have been made by the Neligh Co. of Hope.

Other exhibits include Hope carrier E.J. Spaugh’s cash and supply box, which he used from 1902 to 1934, as well as a tin foot warmer used by late 19th-century mail carrier Nella Drybread of Edinburgh.

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For those who wish to assist with improvements to the building purchased to be the new home of the Indiana Rural Letter Carriers Association Museum, call the Yellow Trail Museum at 812-546-8020.