The mysterious origins of the seminary post office

The mysterious origins of the seminary post office
(Courtesy Photo/Alexandria Library Special Collections)

The history of the small post office along Seminary Road, located on the grounds of the Virginia Theological Seminary, has been the subject of considerable discussion in recent years. Unfortunately, no known records document the exact age of the structure, seen here in a photograph taken about 1976. The visible siding and windows in place today may have replaced earlier building fabric, concealing the building’s true architectural heritage.

In the mid-19th century, when the seminary first moved out to what was then the wilds of Fairfax County, mail delivery did not extend to the area. Instead, seminary students took turns making the long journey into town to pick up and deliver mail for the institution. Throughout the 1850s, a number of major building projects were started on the seminary’s grounds, and it is possible that a post office was built during that time.

Soon after, during the Civil War, Union forces occupied the seminary, and many temporary buildings also were constructed on the site. Documentation of a seminary post office building is clearly referenced on a military map of northeast Virginia, dated 1865. Although slightly north of the current location — close to the roadside — the building footprint and scale of that structure is almost identical to that of the present post office. The presence of a post office at Virginia Theological Seminary is also confirmed on a census of postal locations in 1868.

Keating Karig Carrier, who moved to Alexandria in 1934, recalled in a 2005 oral history that the seminary postal facility was a pre-Civil War building and was moved twice. While still a youth, Carrier became the seasonal postmaster, replacing Postmistress Blanche Hall in the early 1940s. Carrier stated that she sorted mail and sold stamps for about five families, adding: “Well, it was such an important post office that they’d let any 14- [or] 15-year-old child run it.”

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