Travel | February 13, 2021 5:44 am

How Four American Towns Called “Valentine” Celebrate on February 14

The festivities are surprisingly modest, though all of them share one very special postal tradition

How Four American Towns Called “Valentine” Celebrate on February 14
Matthew Miller/Getty

Valentine’s Day, in all its vague, manufactured romantic glory, is officially upon us. But for four cities scattered across the country, every day is Valentine’s Day. Sort of.

In Virginia, Arizona, Nebraska and Texas, you’ll find municipalities that bear the holiday’s namesake, and come February, each of them practices some slight variation of the same basic-yet-wholesome tradition. Below, everything you’d ever possibly need to know about those four cities, and whether you should be planning a trip there for Valentine’s Day ‘22. 

Valentines, Virginia is a small town located in Brunswick County, just near the North Carolina border, and home to a population of around 600. Outwardly, it’s not much to see. If you were to visit Valentines, VA, under the pretense that Virginia is in fact for lovers, you’d be left disappointed. There is one prevailing tradition, however, that plays on the town’s namesake and has historically attracted hundreds of visitors in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day: a rubber heart stamp. 

Wright’s General Merchandise on Manning Drive had coexisted in the same space as the town post office since 1925, though the post office predated the store by half a century, having been established in 1877 by postmaster William H. Valentine. Around the year 1950, William R. Wright took over the store, also inheriting the postmaster title, and became the first in the town called Valentines to begin stamping the mail with a heart-shaped, hand-canceled postmark of his own design. It launched a movement in an otherwise sleepy town, begetting an influx of visitors from neighboring states all looking to have their love letters stamped by Wright. People also began sending pre-addressed mail to the store during the month of February, hoping to have it postmarked in Valentines prior to being forwarded on to its final destination.

very.epistolary

Today, despite the post office having changed hands and the general store having closed, the stamping continues, with the post office receiving as many as 25,000 Valentines a year, with some coming in from as far away as China and Australia.

Valentine, Arizona is a town akin to Valentines, VA, in size and located in Mohave County, just off Route 66. Coincidentally, its name too has ties to it’s first post office, which opened in 1901 and was named after Robert G. Valentine (the “Commissioner of Indian Affairs”), and has nothing to do with the fact that in 1912, Arizona officially became the 48th state of the US on … Valentine’s Day.

The post office quickly became a tourist attraction during the second month of the year, just like Valentines, VA, and they began postmarking the mail that passed through with a signature heart hand stamp of their own, reportedly experiencing as much as a 100% increase in business in the weeks leading up to the 14th.

In 1990, however, the post office was torn down after the then-clerk was killed on site in a burglary. Her untimely death cast a dark shadow over both the tradition and the town, which, if nothing else, lent itself nicely to the morbid undertone of the holiday itself. The stamp was later transferred to a new home in Kingman, AZ, where it is still available by request. 

Today, Valentine is little more than a modern day ghost town, though there is an exotic animal refuge located there, Keepers of the Wild, that offers guided safari tours in the heart of Arizona, perhaps making it worth the trip still.

Valentine, Nebraska, by contrast, is what you’d expect a town called Valentine to look like. Located in Cherry County and boasting a population of about 2,700, Valentine, NE, owes its name to Edward Kimball Valentine, an Iowa-born Republican senator who put down roots in Nebraska in 1866 and became well-liked for his role in chasing landsharks out of town. It wasn’t until long after his time, though, that Valentine became a choice destination for romantics.

Now, the self-proclaimed “Heart City,” is decorated with painted hearts on the sidewalks and candy-red street signs, with some restaurants selling heart-shaped steaks, and was at what point pitted against Loveland, Colorado, to determine which was the superior of the Valentine-themed cities. There are a multitude of ceremonies that take place this time of year, including a teddy bear decorating contest, a Valentine’s Day Coronation at the local high school, a “chocolate lover’s experience,” and more than a handful of nuptials at the town’s chapel annually.

In 1941, Margarete Clare Phelps, the then-postmaster, was credited with kicking off the hand stamping of the mail in Valentine, NE, after she took out an advertisement in the Cherry County News that read, “Send a Valentine to Your Valentine from Valentine Nebraska.” The initial seal was a cachet of Phelps’ own design (heart-shaped, obviously), which was then secured to the envelope using a rubber stamp. It became popular almost immediatley.

The stamping of Valentines in Nebraska continues today, though the design has changed a bit. In 1963, federal legislation was passed prohibiting U.S. Post Offices from holding mail for later delivery, forcing the town to pivot to a variation of the original that presumably allows for greater efficiency. Now, the post office hand stamps as many as 50,000 letters a year, streaming in from as far out as China, Africa and Australia.

Valentine, Texas is home to, according to the sign on the way in, just 217 people. It’s located within the parameters of Jeff Davis Country. The origins of Valentine, TX — much like the holiday itself — are a little difficult to pinpoint. One rumor starts with a railroad crew who took a break from laying tracks on what just so happened to be Valentine’s Day to build a fueling station they aptly anointed as Valentine. Another story claims the town’s namesake was then-president of Wells Fargo, John Valentine — a prominent stakeholder in the railroad.

It wasn’t until 1956, though, that Valentine, TX, became a noteworthy destination. That was thanks to the Western film Giant starring James Dean, which was filmed there and explains why there are so many Dean tributes around town today. Almost 60 years later, in 2005, the town popped up on the radar of the pop culture cognoscenti again after the 2005 installation of Prada Marfa — a Prada storefront sculpture in the desert comprised of biodegradable substances that will eventually melt back into the Earth — which is actually in Valentine, not Marfa. It has since become a highly coveted Instagram backdrop.

Prada Marfa
Mick Haupt

And while it might not be painted red for the holiday, Valentine, TX, still participates in the postmarking of the Valentine-themed mail — arriving in larger envelopes, with a smaller envelope inside that is stamped prior to being sent back out — in the weeks leading up to the 14th. The tradition in Texas is only about 30 years old, and the postmaster suspects it has exploded as a result of social media’s impact, with as many as 30,000 letters arriving annually in advance of the big day.

The first stamp to come out of Valentine, TX, was created by the USPS, but the torch has since been passed to local children who now compete every year to have their design chosen by the city council — the prize being their seal emblazoned on thousands of Valentines worldwide, some traveling as far away as Japan.