The Kindred Spirit Mailbox Project is Uniquely Bainbridge!

For infamous “Mailbox Lady”, Denise Stoughton, discovering the Kindred Spirit Mailbox on Bird Island in North Carolina was a magical experience, one she immediately wanted to share with Bainbridge Island.

Denise began her “mailboxing” quest last year after she frequently noticed incredibly creative and often whimsical mailboxes throughout the island. It inspired her to create her popular Facebook Group, Uniquely Bainbridge/Fabulous Mailboxes and Other Interesting Totems,  revolving around Bainbridge mailboxes and the people and stories that brought them to life. In addition to her Facebook group, Denise is memorializing the stories in her upcoming book, Meet Me at the Mailbox: The Fabulous Mailboxes of Bainbridge Island.

Fabulous mailboxes of Bainbridge Island photo credits Denise StoughtonWhile working on her book, Denise spent time on the east coast where she learned about another unique mailbox, the Kindred Spirit. After a bit of research, she discovered that the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, located along a 1.5-mile stretch of beach on Bird Island, North Carolina, contains a continuous supply of journals, where people can write down their thoughts, dreams, prayers, heartaches and even confessions. The journals are left in the mailbox and people have been baring their souls in them for decades.

Kindred Spirit by Denise Stoughton 2“The idea that an ordinary mailbox could serve as a meaningful – almost sacred place for people to come and share their thoughts and feelings by writing them into communal journals, brought up a lot of emotion. We’re living during a time where politics and the pandemic have caused communities, even families to splinter and break apart. People seem to have forgotten we’re more alike than not but if you read the journal entries, whether joyful, sorrowful, hopeful, regretful, silly, grateful, you recognize parts of yourself reflected in most every sentence,” she told me. “That I could recognize myself through the words of others is a reminder I’m not alone. The weird coincidence was that working on the book has triggered those same feel-good feelings for the same reasons. I’d knock on someone’s door to ask about their fun mailbox and the next thing you know I’m invited in and being entrusted with some amazing stories and began to see a bird’s eye view of our amazing community – how we’re connected, as well as the ways in which everyday people go out of their way to do something interesting to their mailbox as a way to share who they are and possibly make others smile for a moment. People want to share and to be seen”.

Denise felt Bainbridge Island would be the perfect setting for a west coast Kindred Spirit and that “there was a symmetry of having Kindred Spirits on both coasts, each on an island, and that Bird Island and Bainbridge Island are commonly abbreviated as BI.”

She presented her idea to the Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District and they wholeheartedly agreed. “When Denise first made a presentation about the Kindred Spirit Mailbox to the Parks Board of Commissioners, I could feel her passion and joy around this project,” said Dawn Janow, BIMPRD Commissioner. “As I’ve learned more, it’s a project of love, connection, and the environment. How wonderful it would be to come upon a contemplative place to read others’ stories and share our own hopes, dreams and thoughts. It would be a privilege to provide a home, and mailbox, to such a space within our Park District.”

Kindred Spirit Mailbox image by Clarence Moriwaki
Kindred Spirit Mailbox image by Clarence Moriwaki

Wanting the Kindred Spirit Mailbox to reflect the beauty and creativity found on Bainbridge Island, Denise enlisted the help of local metal artist Dick Strom, who she’d previously interviewed for her book. Dick and his brother Jim fashioned a unique mailbox bank for their family’s property out of a 1949 Packard*. While the family’s Packard and Big Boy Mailbox garner much of the attention on West Port Madison Road, it was their little free library that caught Denise’s eye as the inspiration for the Kindred Spirit Mailbox base. The little free library sits in a metal tree sculpture, “It reminded me of a tree of life and I knew the design would be harmonious with a wooded setting.”

Dick Strom immediately agreed to create a base for the mailbox and mentioned he might even have an old, galvanized mailbox in his studio. As it turned Kindred Kids mailbox by Scrappy Art Lab artistsout, he had not one, but two and proposed using both, with one installed at a lower height for kids. Denise loved the idea and enlisted the help of Rachel Knudson of Scrappy Art Lab who gathered a couple of eight-year-old girls to paint the kids Kindred Spirit mailbox in a way that signals to children this is for them.

On May 16, 2023, Kindred Spirit Bainbridge was quietly installed in a small clearing on the upper Fort Ward Blakely Harbor Trail by Parks Department employees led by David Harry, Park Services Superintendent. It’s a spot Denise selected after many hikes through Bainbridge’s parks and consulting with Dan Hamlin, Park Services Division Director.

Kindred and Fawn image by Clarence Moriwaki
Kindred and Fawn image by Clarence Moriwaki

On May 17th, Denise placed the first journal in the mailbox along with two pens and two pencils, “On the inside cover I wrote a little description about what the mailbox was for along with a quote from William Wordsworth – ‘fill the paper with the breathings of your heart’. I also wrote a journal entry to get things going. I felt a little like a worried mother hen.” The lower “Kindred Kids” mailbox is due to be installed within the next week or so.

The day after the Kindred Spirit was installed at the park, Denise left on a 5-day planned trip to Tucson—where she of course searched out more fabulous mailboxes—upon her return, she hurried back to Fort Ward Park to see if the mailbox “took”. Much to her delight, the journal was already filled with pages and pages of entries, a few sketches, and a card and one memento were left in the box.

I visited the Kindred Spirit on a quiet, misty morning, absorbing the sounds of the birds and the waves lapping on the beach below, and understood immediately why this peaceful spot was the perfect location for the west coast Kindred Spirit.

Kindred Spirit Bainbridge Island photo credit Margaret MillmoreTo get to the Kindred Spirit, head over to the upper parking lot of Fort Ward Park, located at Fort Ward Hill Road NE and Belfair Avenue NE. The trailhead is on the right, when you reach a four-way split in the trail, make a sharp left and continue on for about a half mile. Keep your eyes open for a small clearing with two log benches and you’ll find the mailbox.

Denise Stoughton is a local BI writer, interior designer, and Arts & Humanities Bainbridge Board Member and contributed/wrote much of the content in this article.

To learn more about Denise’s project, visit our previous articles: Uniquely Bainbridge – Our Curiously Creative Mailboxes | THE ISLAND WANDERER and Catching up with the “Mailbox Lady” – Denise Stoughton on her Uniquely Bainbridge Project | THE ISLAND WANDERER

You can also visit her website: Uniquely Bainbridge and follow her on Instagram: @fabulous.bainbridge.mailboxes

Strom Family Packard Mailboxes*The Strom family are a multi-generational Bainbridge family. Strom brothers Micah and Aaron are the owners of Modern Collision Rebuild & Service. In addition, Micah and Aaron are the organizers of the Classic Car Cruise-In, which runs from late May through August each year. If you’d like to learn more, visit our previous articles:  Modern Collision Rebuild & Service – Over 4 decades of family, community, and service | THE ISLAND WANDERER and The Bainbridge Island Classic Car Cruise-In is back – starting Tuesday, May 30th! | THE ISLAND WANDERER

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Advertisement – Churchmouse Yarn and Teas Bainbridge Island

*Photo credits: Denise Stoughton, Clarence Moriwaki, and Margaret Millmore

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