Welcome to Nalcrest, population 800 and Zip code 33856, where the nation's letter carriers come to retire when they've set down the bag for the last time.

It's a small town with plenty of mail bonding.

The rows of apartments are tidy, many homes proudly display the logo of the letter carriers' union, the softball field is a pleasing green and the pool looks cool. The town square, adorned with a statue commemorating a 19th-century postmaster, is Nalcrest's hub, with its library, coin-operated laundry, hobby shop and beauty parlor.

Pets are forbidden. So are home mailboxes. Residents pick up their mail at the post office in the town square.

"Oh, my God, this is the greatest thing going," said Joe Giordano, 79, who retired from New York City's Westchester Station after 40 years of delivering mail. "How can you find any fault with a place like this?"

Nalcrest is tucked away in rural Polk County, about 50 miles south of Orlando. The canal leading to Lake Weohyakapka (also known as Lake Walk-in-Water) is short enough to require a sign posted near the town square warning against feeding the alligators. Prowling the 153-acre grounds are sandhill cranes and wild turkeys.

Florida, where almost 18 percent of the population is 65 or older, has more than its share of specialized retirement communities. Nalcrest's retired mail carriers are kin to the carnival workers of Gibsonton and the gay men and lesbians at Palms of Manasota in Palmetto.

The postal workers' union created Nalcrest more than 40 years ago for the couriers stayed not by snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night but by age. Walking a route is a physical task, and the appointed rounds can take their toll.

"At the time, old letter carriers were broken down. They were worked until they literally could not work anymore," said Sean McCormally, assistant editor of the union's monthly magazine, Postal Record.

The idea of a retirement community had been discussed for years, and in 1958 union president William C. Doherty sold the membership on the idea. Groundbreaking took place four years later, and the first residents arrived in May 1963. Monthly rent ranged from $75 for an efficiency to $95 for a two-bedroom.

Jerry Kane, Nalcrest's general manager, said: "People at that time weren't making much money in the post office, and Doherty figured if they could retire, sell the homes they had up north and come down here, then they could live comfortably on this inexpensive rent."

Rents have remained cheap, currently running from $285 to $305.

Nalcrest took its name from the union: National Association of Letter Carriers Retirement Education Security Training Foundation.

Demand has remained strong over the years. As long as the Sunshine State lives up to its name, there will always be a shivering mail carrier whose mind is wandering to someplace where it's warm.

"That's what we like about down here -- it's summer all the time," said Jack Jewell, 76. He worked for 32 years in Philadelphia before retiring in 1991.

Like many Florida retirement communities, Nalcrest empties out in the summer when the snowbirds take flight. The current population is down to 200.

On a recent Monday night, the community's weekly bingo game was bouncing along. Held in an auditorium named after Doherty, 123 players keep one eye on their cards and the other on the TV monitor displaying the numbers. Some people kept good luck charms nearby while many more displayed rainbows of markers. If one color went cold, another might get hot.

"Bingo!" shouted Edie Raymond, 71.

Jewell, chairman of the bingo committee, rushed over to confirm the blacked-out squares on her card. The prize: $30 split three ways.

Raymond, a former day care center owner, runs Nalcrest's post office. The former resident of Stoughton, Mass., said her customers let her know they're watching with professional interest.

"In the beginning it was a little tough, because I don't think they wanted to accept somebody who wasn't postal," she said. "Being retired postal workers, they all wanted it done their way, but they all had a different idea of how it should be done. In the end, they've all come around."

Nalcrest was supposed to be one of two communities on the lake where retirees came from a specific vocation. Down the road is Fedhaven, built at the same time with federal employees, including the postal clerks' union, in mind. Its design is a mirror image of Nalcrest, but long ago turned to private ownership and opened its doors to all comers. That community is now called Lakeshore Club Villas.

Kane, Nalcrest's general manager, knows why the letter carriers stayed while Fedhaven's residents didn't.

"We always deliver."

Retired letter carrier Roger Riley, originally from Redford, Mich., walks to pick up his mail at his post office box in Nalcrest.