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The History of Letterboxing in North America

by Silent Doug

Smithsonian magazine published a story on Dartmoor letterboxing in April 1998, introducing the hobby to an American audience for the first time. A small group of individuals who were intrigued by the story established an online forum and Web site where they launched the American version of letterboxing.

The group christened themselves Letterboxing North America and set up shop at http://www.letterboxing.org. The organization is strictly informal, however, and is run by volunteers. As in Dartmoor, there is no official letterboxing organization in the U.S., so there are no official rules, just a set of traditions and practices that most letterboxers observe.

Unlike Dartmoor letterboxing, the LBNA members used the Internet almost exclusively to share clues.

While the Smithsonian magazine article ushered in the age of modern letterboxing, there were some similar programs in place well before 1998. The Valley Quest program, established in 1989, consists today of more of more than 150 treasure hunts stretching across 50 towns in the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont and New Hampshire. Clues are published in a book that can be purchased from the organization behind the quests, Vital Communities.

Many of the earliest letterboxers lived in the Northeast, particularly in Connecticut. As a result, the activity took hold in and around that state, and Connecticut now has the largest number of letterboxes of any state, with nearly 2,000 as of July 2004 (out of 9,000 in the entire U.S.). Given the size of the state, it certainly has the densest concentration of letterboxes in the country, a distinction that is likely to remain for some time.

In 2003, the LBNA Web site was revamped to allow individuals to enter and maintain clues to their own letterboxes. Many letterboxers maintain their own Web sites to catalog clues to their letterboxes, as well.

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