Centralia loses its ZIP
By Rob Wheary, Staff Writer September 20, 2002
CENTRALIA — So much is already gone from this fire-ravaged mining town.
As of next year, its ZIP code will be gone, too.
In a letter delivered to residents, the U.S. Postal Service announced that, due to the official closing of the Centralia Post Office — which has just been recognized although the building has been gone for five years — the disappearing borough’s 17927 ZIP code will no longer be recognized.
“This is just another slap in the face to the 20 remaining residents of Centralia,” said John J. Lokitis Jr., one of few remaining Centralians, upon hearing the news.
A letter from Joanne M. Ford, officer-in-charge of the Ashland Post Office, informing Centralians of the change arrived in mail boxes Thursday.
The letter, in part, read, “Since mail is handled by automated machinery for sorting, improper addressing causes numerous problems and delays in delivery. Centralia, Pa. 17927, is no longer a valid address for your location.”
Street addresses for residents will remain the same; only the ZIP code will change to Ashland’s 17921. Mail to Centralia has been rerouted to the Ashland Post Office since the Centralia location closed several years ago.
Enforcement of the regulations won’t take effect until Sept. 18, 2003, to give people time to contact those with whom they correspond. From then on, any mail that is addressed “Centralia, Pa., 17921” will be returned to sender.
While the address may be changing, Ford said service will not be lost.
“Nothing is changing.” she said. “The people who have been getting their mail through our rural deliver carriers will be getting the mail the same way; all that is changing is the ZIP code.”
The now famous mine fire has been burning underneath the Schuylkill County borough for some 40 years. Fearing subsidences, the federal government began purchasing and demolishing properties in the borough in 1983. Since then, population numbers have dwindled from a few thousand residents to the 20 people who remain today.


©The News Item 2002


‘Centralia’ OK, just not the zip
By Jim Wagner, Staff Writer September 21, 2002
HARRISBURG — Mail can still be addressed to “Centralia.” Only the zip code will no longer be recognized.
The U.S. Postal Service made that important clarification Friday after letters were distributed to the mine-fire town’s 20 remaining residents on Thursday.
The letter had stated that “the borough of Centralia and the 17927 zip code will no longer be recognized.”
In fact, the Centralia part is OK to use; but any mailing to the community should now include the 17921 Ashland zip code, said Sheree Judge, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service.
“Any letter that is addressed Centralia, Pa. 17921, will be delivered,” she said.
Judge said there will be no disruption of mail when the change takes place.
“Our No. 1 goal is customer focus,” said Judge. “We hope the residents of Centralia understand this change and help us during the transition.”
Enforcement of the new regulation will not begin until Sept. 18, 2003.
The change is being required by the Lancaster office of the U.S. Postal Service because the Centralia Post Office no longer exists, Thursday’s letter said.
Mail for Centralia has been delivered by the Ashland Post Office for the past five years. Centralia’s Post Office, like all of its other businesses, closed as a result of the underground mine fire that has chased all but a handful of residents out of town.


©The News Item 2002



Centralians win postal service fight

Saturday September 21, 2002


Press Enterprise Writer

CENTRALIA -- Only about 20 people remain in this shrinking borough of mine fire legend, but they still know how to fiercely defend their identity as a community.

When the U.S. Postal Service announced this week that it plans to no longer recognize Centralia or its 17927 ZIP code as a valid mailing address, a barrage of phone calls and facsimiles went out to local media and postal officials.

Within a day or two, efforts to save Centralia's mailing address had produced stories in several regional papers and on radio stations and brought at least one TV crew back into town.

"My main goal is to preserve the iden-

tity of Centralia," said John Lokitis Jr., a

West Park Street resident. "With every

thing that's happened to residents, to

lose their identity now would be a great

slap. Our houses are condemned. The

only thing we own is our furniture and

the clothes on our backs."

Lokitis led the publicity charge, placing calls to several postal officials and politicians hoping to reverse the decision.

And it worked.

Late Friday, postal authorities in Harrisburg were issuing an apology and reaffirming that the name of Centralia will be kept as a mailing address, although the zip code will change as of next September.

Sheree Judge, a postal spokeswoman in Harrisburg, said the letter that went out earlier this week informing residents of dropping the Centralia name was "a misstatement." It flowed out of the original legal proposal to close Centralia's own post office years ago.


By mail, of course.

And addressed to Centralia.

"We do apologize," Judge said. "We definitely don't want to take away their community identity. And it was never our intent to do that."

"They definitely can keep using Centralia in their mailing address. But the ZIP code will change to the 17921 Ashland number," Judge said.

That's because mail delivery has been handled out of the Ashland Post Office as a rural route since Centralia had its own post office closed in late 1996 due to dwindling numbers.

Residents pleased

Lokitis said he was pleased to hear the news, but still plans to contact his local congressman, U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, asking for some type of reform when it comes to postal ZIP code designations.

"People here will still have to make some changes. But at least we get to keep the name," Lokitis said.

Even the letter received Wednesday from the Ashland Post Office announcing the changes had been addressed to Lokitis at West Park Street, Ashland, 17921.

That immediately sparked frustration and some angry feelings from people such Lokitis, one of the most outspoken advocates for the borough.

"This is just another slap in the face to the 20 remaining residents," Lokitis said.

It could also cause confusion, Lokitis explained, since Ashland is in Schuylkill County but Centralia itself remains a part of Columbia County.

Lokitis said he and his fellow Centralians have lived through enough government pressure to move over the past two decades.

Mayor Lamar Mervine, who has lived in Centralia for all of his 86 years, agreed they wouldn't give up the name without a fight.

"People aren't in favor of it by any means," Mervine said. "We'll do everything we can to stop them. We're working on it."

But he harbored no complaints about mail delivery out of Ashland, which arrives each afternoon via a rural carrier.

"We can't complain about the service. The mail gets here every afternoon with a rural carrier. Sometimes a different one every other day," the mayor said.

'Still looking at it'

Stirrings among these Centralians who refuse to give up their roots had given postal authorities second thoughts.

Glen Kohr, a consumer affairs manager at the Lancaster regional center that oversees the Ashland Post Office, said Friday that decision-makers were "still looking into it." He declined to comment further.

Calls from upset residents were also received by Joanne Ford, who supervises the Ashland office.

Ford said she's gotten "one or two" calls from residents about the change and understands their concern.

But mail service will not be disrupted into Centralia, she said. And citizens will have until Sept. 18, 2003, to prepare for using the new ZIP code.

"But the mail will still be delivered there. I guess some people get afraid of change," said Ford.


Leon Bogdan can be reached at 784-2121, ext. 1307, or by e-mail at leon.b@pe-online.com