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Vernal bank built by bricks sent through the mail — partly true

(John Hollenhorst/KSL TV)


6 photos

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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VERNAL — Some historical yarns are so good they ought to be told, retold and told again.

Here's a classic example, one that's been written up in Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not. Almost 100 years ago, a big brick building was sent through the mail — the Bank of Vernal delivered by the Post Office.

"It's a hilarious story. It really is," said John Barton, a history lecturer at Utah State University. "Every time I hear of it, it can't help but make you smile."

The building is known to history as the "parcel post bank." Built as the Bank of Vernal, it later morphed into a Zions Bank at 3 W. Main.

"Well, this is the file that we collected over the years of the 'parcel post bank,'" said Kevin Van Tassell with Zions Bank.

Van Tassell said the legend began in 1916. Entrepreneur W.H. Coltharp wanted a bank exterior of durable fired bricks made in Salt Lake City.

The post office had just inaugurated a new service, parcel post.

Barton said commercial freight wagons were far too expensive — "four times the cost of the brick to ship them," Barton said. "And parcel post rates were half that. And so they said, 'Well, let's mail them.'"

Back in 1916, the post office tried to stop the mass mailing, setting a limit of 200 pounds a day from one person to the same recipient. (John Hollenhorst/KSL TV)
Back in 1916, the post office tried to stop the mass mailing, setting a limit of 200 pounds a day from one person to the same recipient. (John Hollenhorst/KSL TV)

They wrapped each brick individually, "put them in crates of 10 and shipped them, and they shipped a lot of them," Van Tassell said.

Most reports say it was 80,000 bricks. The U.S. Postal Service historian said it was 15,000. Either way, it was a lot of bricks.

They went by rail, mostly, but the long way around. By railroad to Mack, Colorado, narrow-gauge railway back into Utah, freight wagons and ferryboats the rest of the way — 427 miles. It cost the post office a fortune.

"Initially the bank officers asked if they could just drop them off right at the bank," Barton said, "and the postmaster said, 'No, they have to come into the post office and over our counter. And pretty soon, as literally tons of bricks were coming, they're just backed up. There's bricks outside. There's bricks all around the building. It's just hilarious."

The Vernal postmaster sent a legendary telegram to Washington.

"And he said, 'Some S.O.B. is trying to ship a whole building through the U.S. mail,' except it was a little more colorful than that," Van Tassell said with a laugh.

These days, the U.S. Postal Service has what's called a flat-rate service. Customers pick the size of the box and pay a flat fee to send that box. The postal service will deliver the box for that flat fee as long as the item or items fit in the box and don't weigh more than 70 pounds.


It's a hilarious story. It really is. Every time I hear of it, it can't help but make you smile.

–John Barton, history lecturer at Utah State University


It could cost anywhere from $5.95 for one brick to $12.95 for five to send bricks through the postal service. So shipping 37 tons of bricks would cost a fortune today.

Back in 1916, the post office tried to stop the mass mailing, setting a limit of 200 pounds a day from one person to the same recipient.

"By the time they could implement it, they'd all arrived, and they'd built the bank, and it's still standing over there," Barton said.

"Well, I guess it's one of those things no one anticipates someone even thinking about doing it," Van Tassell said with a laugh.

One aspect of the legend is not true. They did not mail the entire building, just the exterior bricks. An idea that went over like a ton, well, many tons of bricks.

Photos

John Hollenhorst

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