Have you ever had the experience of giving your address to a customer service representative who is using a computerized system?  Upon entering your ZIP code into their system, they usually say, “I have a ‘Sykesville’ on my list, but no ‘Eldersburg.’”  Eldersburg residents have grown accustomed to taking the extra 30 to 60 seconds per phone call to explain this phenomenon, or else they have simply taken to telling customer service representatives and even relatives that they live in “Sykesville” to save time. Many Eldersburg residents even go ahead and use pre-printed return address labels that read “Sykesville, MD 21784” – after all, it all goes to the general vicinity, and somehow the local mail carriers know where to find the streets to which the mail is addressed.

It is details like this that the Freedom Area Citizen’s Council addresses as it serves Eldersburg residents. Eldersburg is an unincorporated town, but FACC works to make sure it gets representation in state politics and beyond. Ellen Dix, President of the FACC, has sent a letter to the Postmaster requesting that the ZIP code 21785 (currently not in use) be designated exclusively to Eldersburg, to distinguish it from Sykesville.

Such changes require a bureaucratic process and typically take multiple requests, so residents should not look for a new ZIP code in the immediate future.  It’s food for thought, though. This change would help Eldersburg further establish its identity: there are approximately 30,000 people living in Eldersburg, and while there are no hard feelings between residents of Eldersburg and their Sykesville neighbors, the fact remains that they are two distinct places.

The U.S. has used ZIP codes to sort mail for decades. Non-mandatory ZIP codes were announced for the whole country in July 1963, at the same time that two-letter state abbreviations were introduced. In 1967, ZIP codes were made mandatory for second- and third-class mail, and the system was soon adopted generally.  As the United States has grown, ZIP codes have divided and changed, and some have been retired when post offices closed due to de-population. When new ZIP codes are added, they become effective once announced, and a grace period is provided in which the new and old codes are used concurrently.  This gives local residents (and those who send them mail) time to make the change.

The first three digits of any U.S. ZIP code designate the sectional center facility (SCF) -- a central mail processing facility with those three digits. The 217 SCF in Frederick, Maryland sorts mail to all post offices with ZIP codes of 217xx. The mail is sorted according to the final two digits of the ZIP code and sent to the corresponding post offices in the early morning. Mail picked up at local post offices is sent to their own SCF in the afternoon, where the mail is sorted overnight.  All 21784 mail is sorted at the Sykesville post office on Progress Way in Eldersburg. At this point it doesn’t cause any confusion when an envelope bears an Eldersburg street address, followed by “Sykesville, MD, 21784.”

The ZIP code 21783 belongs to Smithsburg, Maryland, which is north and west of Frederick.  ZIP codes 21785 and 21786 are not in use at this time.


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