Consider this a public service announcement for all the romantics out there. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and as such, with that special someone front of mind, the time to act is nigh. In lieu of perfunctory chocolates or flowers, consider joining a Texas tradition that has endured for more than four decades: getting your card or letter stamped (or hand-canceled, for those readers still familiar with snail mail lingo) in the windblown West Texas hamlet of Valentine.
The little town got its name in 1882, when a work crew extending the Southern Pacific railroad eastward arrived at the spot on, you guessed it, February 14. Thanks in part to the rail, which made the area a shipping point for nearby cattle ranchers, the population peaked around six hundred in 1930s. Today, the town is home to just a hundred or so souls along a lonely stretch of U.S. 90, about thirty miles northwest of Marfa. For most of the year, business at the Love Station, as the town’s post office is known, is very slow—so slow, in fact, that in 2012, the United States Postal Service threatened to permanently shut down the office. The decision was reversed after an outcry from the community, in part because this annual tradition means so much to folks here. “I take a lot of pride in this,” said then-postmaster Maria Carrasco at the time.
In 2019, Carrasco’s successor, Leslie Williams, handed the reigns to Ismelda Ornelas, who is the town’s sole postal worker. She, too, takes pride in carrying on the tradition that officially began in 1983, when the Postal Service made the first Valentine’s Day–themed cancellation stamp. Since then, folks from all fifty states and numerous countries across the globe have participated over the years. Even Queen Elizabeth II has been on the receiving end of a Valentine-postmarked valentine.
Beginning in early January, Ornelas starts receiving what will end up, when it’s all said and done, being more than 10,000 cards and letters and packages, which she carefully and single-handedly emblazons with a special pictorial postmark created annually just for the occasion. As one might imagine, stamping all those envelopes takes a toll. “My arm and my hand are sore after a few days,” Ornelas says. “And believe it or not, my abs, because you have to really push the stamp down.”
The image is the result of a contest among Valentine Independent School District students that is judged by the city council. This year’s winner, just announced, features a tractor pulling a plow, complete with an exhaust pipe expelling little heart-shaped puffs of smoke. Senior Jajahira Rodriguez drew it in memory of her late tractor-driving father, who passed away in 2022.
In an instance of bringing things full heart-shaped circle, Ornelas herself is a past winner of the contest. She was a middle schooler in 2001 when her own design, which featured two lovestruck horses, was chosen. “My dad was a ranch hand, so he was always around horses,” she said. “So I did something with horses. It was a boy and a girl horse, and the girl had a bow in her mane.”
Ten thousand letters is a lot, to be sure, but Ornelas told me that the postmaster who was there when the tradition began would sometimes process as many as 45,000 per Valentine season. “I don’t know how she did it,” Ornelas says. Of course, in the time before email and text messaging, handwritten cards were much more common than they are now. “These days, writing is a lost art,” Ornelas observes.
Still, she says that she always looks forward to seeing where all the cards and letters come from—and where they are going. “Knowing I play a role in sending someone a small token of love from another person, with a hand stamp from Valentine, Texas, is truly special.”
And while other Valentine-appropriate postmarks exist, such as those found at post offices in Honey Grove, Lovelady, Loving, Sugar Land, and Venus, not all of them come with the unique pictorial design found at West Texas’s Love Station.
To get the special Valentine postmark, just place a stamped and addressed card or letter into a larger envelope, add proper postage, and send to:
Valentine’s Day Postmark
311 W. California Avenue
Valentine, TX 79854-9998
Unless you’re sending more than fifty cards, the service is free. Each stamp beyond fifty will cost five cents each. To guarantee a timely delivery, Ornelas recommends getting your cards and letters and packages to her by February 5. But late birds are welcome too, as the Love Station stamp will be in service until the middle of March. Happy early Valentine’s Day!
- More About:
- West Texas