History of Greenfield Mail Delivery - January 2013

Mail delivery reaches its high point during the month of December with all of the presents and Christmas cards. Everyone I’m sure sent at least one extra piece in the mail. Hopefully it arrived on time and in one piece!!

This month we’re going to study the history of mail delivery in Greenfield. Mail delivery goes back a very long way basically since the time people began writing letters someone had to deliver it to its recipient.

The first postal service in America arose in February 1692, when a grant from King William and Queen Mary empowered Thomas Neale “to erect, settle and establish within the chief parts of their majesties’ colonies and plantations in America, an office or offices for the receiving and dispatching letters and parquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years.

US Postal Service was established in Philadelphia in 1775 during the Second Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. A cabinet level Post Office Department was created in 1792 from Franklin’s operation and transformed into its current form in 1971 under the Postal Reorganization Act. The USPS established and was to maintain national post offices and “post roads”.

At first it was difficult to handle deliveries due to a lack of employees and proper transportation routes. Prior to proper roads were established steamboats were used to transport mail through our water ways. Mail was also transported by stagecoach and they traveled from town to town. Mail began to be delivered by railroad in 1832 when a single line was established in Pennsylvania. All railroads were established as mail carrying routes by 1838. Mail services increased rapidly after that.

An act of Congress provided for the issuance of stamps on March 3, 1847, and the Postmaster General immediately let a contract to the New York City engraving firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson. The first stamp issue of the U.S was offered for sale on July 1, 1847, in NYC, with Boston receiving stamps the following day and other cities thereafter.

Jan-13-1 

First US Postal Service Logo.

Mail began being transporter in larger distances through the US Mail Steamship Company and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. Mail was quickly delivered from east coast to west coast.

As railroads and water ways became more widespread the US Postal Service began to increase their service. This helped businesses greatly as they began delivering their goods through mail order, Sears and Roebuck becoming one of the largest.

Once the mail was delivered by train or boat it was then delivered through stage coach and horseback or by foot.

The first post office in Greenfield was established on May 2, 1820, under the name of Brandywine. This is interesting because that means a post office was established here prior to Greenfield being officially named as a city and county seat in 1828. So it gives us additional picture of what was going on in this area at that time.

I also found the name Brandywine to be interesting. In a 1932 Daily Reporter newspaper article they wrote to the US Department of Treasury, who held records for US Post Offices, to acquire a list of postmasters for Greenfield. In return they received the requested information but it was also added that the first post office was called “Brandywine”. This is great historical information. The Richmond and Binford History’s of Hancock County don’t even state this information. It was a little known fact that simply was hidden away in a file cabinet in Washington. So I wonder why it was named Brandywine. Was it because of the Brandywine Creek or was Brandywine Creek named because of the US postal service designation of this area as Brandywine? Perhaps another article will follow researching that info!!

The first Postmaster listed at that time was Samuel Jackson. He held that position for eight years when Lewis D. Tyner took over the spot on July 3, 1828.

In 1829 the post office location named was changed from Brandywine to Hancock.

In April 1833 John Hays was named Postmaster.

In 1900 the first established free rural delivery routes were established under the direction of Walter Scott Montgomery who was Postmaster at the time. Four routes were established overall. At that time the post office was located in the Sears, Roebuck & Company, which is no longer standing and is currently a parking lot on the northeast corner of Main and East Street.

According to the Binford History of Hancock County there were 17 post office locations in the early stages.

Two more rural routes were established on August 1, 1901 and on January 2, 1902 a mail route for the city limits only was established. Four more rural routes were added on September 1, 1905.

Jan-13-2 

Rural Free Mail delivering wagon, circa 1905. Every morning you could watch the wagons being loaded for the day with the horse tied to a rail.

The post office moved frequently, it’s changes of location being governed to a degree by the changes in national politics, from Democrat to Republican. Other locations that the post office was housed were in the Grant Hotel which stood on the north side of Main Street right downtown. Most people would remember this building housing the Bradley Furniture Store. It is no longer standing and today is a parking lot. Offices were also in the Arcade building which was directly across Main Street on the South Side. The Weil Theatre on American Legion Place.

In 1912, when the politics went Democratic the post office moved to the New Building and then it went east down the street to a building which at the time was the Mer-Vel and Towne Shops.

In 1918 the delivery service took a huge step forward in the speed of delivery when the US Postal Service took over the US Army Air Services and created air mail.

In 1926 the office moved again into the rooms on North State Street, which was the Mitchell Printing Company. It remained there until the current post office was built. William Mitchell was Postmaster from July 18, 1856 to August 17, 1857.

The current post office structure was built in 1931. The property was purchased from John and Mary Ward Walker. It was an empty lot with several trees. It was a state of the art facility. At first some residence complained that it was too far away from the downtown area. That’s a funny concern today seeing how Greenfield has grown. The site was chosen by the US Treasury Department after several sites were considered. Architect James Wetmore designed the Classical Revival style building which sits on the east side of N. State Street between North and Grant Streets. Potts Ditch was open at part of the front of this building.

Jan-13-3 

Current Greenfield Post Office, 1931.

Contractor James Barnes of Logansport handled the construction of the building which broke ground on July 22, 1931. The original building was 158’ by 338’. The budgeted construction cost by the federal government was $100,000 but final construction cost was only $52, 369.

 Jan-13-4

Picture of the new post office under construction. This picture shows the John Ward Walker home in the back portion of the lot.

Roy Roudebush was the Postmaster and twenty-three men were employed at the time the new building was constructed.

The residence of John and Mary Ward Walker was razed later on as the post office expanded its site. This residence can be seen in the foreground of the Post Office picture.

Today almost all of the mail that is delivered is by vehicle. I remember the post man coming to our house as a child and pushing the 3-wheeled cart full of mail. I thought that cart was pretty cool and always wanted to push it.

 Jan-13-5

Virgil Jefferies, Greenfield Mail Carrier. Virgil was on staff at the time of the when the new post office building opened.

 

Mail was delivered no matter what the conditions were. In the winter roads were bad which made delivery slow. But they stayed on the job until all the mail was delivered. They would were a bearskin robe, heavy wool or fur coat, turn-down beaver cap, heavy boots, face protector, driving gloves or mittens. Also most drives had a foot warmer which they placed down at the bottom of their robes on the floor of the wagon. Some used a big soapstone, heated in an over. But the favorite equipment was a little flat charcoal-burner. Metal, carpet-covered about two feet long with ventilating holes, it had a shallow drawer which held a pressed slab of charcoal, which, properly fired would burn slowly and smokeless and supply warmth for several hours.

Jan-13-6

 

 

Virgil Jefferies delivery mail at the Rayon Factory/Indiana Knitwear

 

In 1984 the City of Greenfield Parks Department reached an agreement with the post office to utilize the back unused portion of their lot as a park given downtown Greenfield a place for kids to play. In 2008 the post office saw more growth and needed to expand and the park was removed.

The current post office has seen several additions and changes to the lot over the years and recently has been a topic of debate of should the post office move to a new location all together, but so far it remains on its original lot. Processing procedures have also changed over the years. Even with the popularity of emails and faxes one thing has remained the same over all this time, going back before Greenfield was a city that is every day you will have mail in your box.

 

By Greg Roland

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