The Northern Virginia sectional manager of the U.S. Postal Service, who had considered closing the Paeonian Springs post office in Loudoun County as a cost-saving measure, decided this week to keep it open after his office was flooded with letters of protest and petitions signed by most of the 350 residents there.

According to Jaime Fuentes, retail sales and service manager for the region, the decision was reached because of the protest and because "after we studied the options, we decided we really wouldn't be saving that much money anyway."

Residents of the hamlet, which is about six miles northwest of Leesburg, first heard of the possible closing in early December, when they discovered a form letter and a questionnaire in their mailboxes.

The letter, from sectional manager Gerald Merna, notified them of the "possible change" in the way their postal service is provided.

Customers who had curbside mailboxes, the letter said, would keep them. Those who picked up their mail at the little post office, formerly a grocery store, could be assigned a box in a cluster of locked collection boxes, each with its own key.

Other services, such as the selling of stamps and money orders, would be contracted out to any person or business who won the bid on it, Fuentes said.

The questionnaire asked the postal patrons how often they used the sales and services at their post office, whether they combined a trip to the post office with trips to other places of business, and if they ever used another post office.

One of the factors involved in the decision to keep the Paeonian Springs office open, Fuentes said, was its proximity to the only other "business" in town -- the American Workhorse Museum. "It's apparently considered a major business there," he said.

At least 60 responses from the questionnaire came into the Northern Virginia Sectional Center in Merrifield protesting any change, Fuentes said, "and there was no way they were going to accept any other decision than the one we made."

Leading the protest was owner and curator of the workhorse museum Henry Buckardt, who said the town's historical importance alone makes it deserving of its own post office.

"We used to export water to the capital Richmond from here," he said. "We also had a big livestock market and once ran the railroad to Alexandria."

Now, Buckardt says, everything besides his museum has closed down or left for greener pastures or oblivion. "The post office is all we have left. And we want to stay on the map."

Some Loudoun County supervisors, including newly elected Chairman Frank Raflo, supported the residents' plea, Buckardt said.

In addition, Buckardt said he wrote to Sen. John W. Warner, Gov. Charles S. Robb and the postmaster general of the United States, William Bolger, asking for their support.

"It was natural for me to get in this fight," he said. "It fits in with wanting to preserve a part of our past here."