Post Offices Gallia County Ohio
By Mary Crittenden
Before telephones and email, written correspondence was even more important than it is today. It has been used for business matters and to keep friends and family connected. As people moved across the country, the desire for news from home became very important. It did not matter if home was in one of the East Coast states or some country on the other side of the ocean. News from family was valued. Some of the first settlers in areas opening up had no mail service and longed for the distribution of both mail and newspapers.
Our postal service goes back to the beginnings of the country. The Continental Congress established the service on 26 July 1775. They appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General of the Post Office Department. He had experience in that he was the Colonial Postmaster General under the rule of the British Crown from 1735 until 1774. He supervised the establishment of post roads to serve the cities along the east coast. The colonial postal service was the root of the post office department as established and continued by Congress. Both were expected financially to be self-supporting.
To the expanding new nation, the postal service linked people on the frontiers with the east coast and with their government as well as citizen of all states. The letters and newspapers carried news and statements of the sentiments of a growing nation. Many petitions were sent to Congress for new post roads and new post offices. The legislation establishing post roads was democracy in action in that the people petitioned their Congressman for legislation creating post roads so they could have a post office. Since Congress passed bills to establish new post roads without regards for the financial situation of the Post Office Department, it often operated at a deficit. This led to many investigations of the work of the Postmaster General and of the department.
The mail was regarded as a means of dispersing information and was equated with educating the populous. Newspapers were carried at a lower cost than letters. The expense of letters was figured both by weight and distance. For this reason many or our ancestors wrote on both sides of the paper and in two directions, one perpendicular to the other. The letters were folded and sent without and envelop.
In the early days, all the mail was placed in a locked portmanteau (defined as a large leather suitcase that opens into two hinged compartments. From old French for "coat-carrier"). At each post office, the postmaster unlocked the portmanteau and the mail was sorted through for any that needed to be held there for pickup by the recipients. The remaining mail was placed back into the portmanteau and sent on to the next stop. It is easy to understand how the mail became damaged, lost and the outside facing parts read by many. So much for reliability and privacy. The persons receiving the letter paid for the service. Therefore, there were letters carried and the cost never paid – either the intended recipient did not come to claim the piece of mail or did come but refused (or could not afford to) pay for it. Undelivered mail was advertised in the local newspapers.
Gallipolis was laid out in Gallia County. Army engineers surveyed it as part of the Ohio Purchase by the Ohio Land Company of Speculators. Gallipolis was quickly furnished with a few buildings for the French 500 who immigrated in 1790. The Gallipolis Post office was established in 1794 with Frances De Holcomb as postmaster. This was the same year that many early post offices were established following legislation of 1792 and 1794.
The practice of the post office holding the mail that was delivered to it until the addressee came to pick it up was the standard until 1863 when free delivery was introduced in some cities. It was much later that rural free delivery (RFD) came into existence.
For the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Gallia County had only a few post offices: Gallipolis (1794), Woods Mills (1816), and Wilkesville (1819). Wilkesville was moved to Vinton Co. in 1845.
Post Offices of the nineteenth century were not necessarily in villages, towns for cities. Some but not all villages had plat plans submitted to the county officials. Villages may have had a post office, or not. In addition, there were rural post offices in areas without a village. Post offices were in homes, mills or stores. Some post offices served a town or village in only one township and others covered areas that crossed township (or even county) lines. Such is the case with the city of Gallipolis. In the 1860 U. S. Census records, we find that parts of six townships got their mail at the Gallipolis Post Office.
Postmaster appointments appear on a microfilm roll from the National Archives (NARA). A companion microfilm shows the images of the application forms that outlined the location of proposed post offices. Periodically post offices that had been in existence for some time and may have moved to a new site also submitted location forms. These applications included a hand-drawn map of the township or county. There are two microfilm series that start with information from 1832. There were other post offices that came between the establishment of the Gallipolis PO and those on these films. The information on earlier post offices is woven together with that for the whole country on four additional NARA microfilms.
The U. S. mail routes ran between cities via watercourses, roads, or railroads. In the interval between the building of canals and the railroads, canals were used in some areas of the county – especially in New York state. When would-be postmasters applied to establish a post office, questions on the forms asked for the quarter section where the post office would be and the distance and direction from a mail route, river, creek and other post offices. The forms differed over the years. For a time, some forms asked if the post office would be in a village and if so how many people lived there. If not in a village, the next question was how many families lived within two miles. Another question on some forms asked for any local or former name of the village or post office.
Over time post offices were established, renamed, moved, discontinued and some were re-established. Some Postmasters served continuously for many years, others were replaced quickly and some were reappointed periodically. Often these appointments were political. If you were a shopkeeper, miller, physician or perhaps a Justice of the Peace, it could be advantageous for you to have the local post office in your place of business or home. People came to the post office to pick up their mail, to catch up on the news (and gossip) or to find out about this community they were moving into.
At the top of each page of the 1860 U. S. Census, the enumerator listed the post office that served the area. You could tell the relative size of a post office by the number of pages that named it on the census pages. We find that Gallia County had twelve post offices that served more than 500 individuals. These were Gallipolis PO, Pine Grove PO, Rodney PO, Thurman PO, Gallia Furnace PO, Vinton PO, South New Castle PO, Mercerville PO, Walnut Ridge PO, Waterloo PO, Amselm PO, and Ewington PO
Several smaller post offices (Smith's PO, Harris PO, Patriot PO, Wales PO, Rio Grande PO, Northup PO, Little Bull Skin PO, Bull Skin PO, Kyger PO, Big Bull Skin PO, and Keystone PO) appear and served from less than 500 people to less than 40. Keystone PO was in Jackson County but served people in both counties that lived nearer to it than to other post offices. Census pages listing additional post offices shown on the NARA microfilm for 1860 could not be found on the 1860 Census records even though several more were listed as having postmasters on the NARA microfilm. In addition, there were more than twelve pages of the census that the post office blank was not filled in.
People had to pick up their mail from the post office for most of the nineteenth century and many into the twentieth century. As the rural population increased, so did the demand for post offices throughout the country. During the nineteenth century, the number of post offices increased dramatically. The increase was gradual at first; however in the last thirty years of the ninth century the number of post offices nearly tripled going from 26 in 1870 to 75 by 1900 in Gallia County. This decreased the distance rural people had to travel to get their mail.
In 1896, the postal service started an experimental Rural Free Delivery (RFD) route in West Virginia. The expectation that this would become the norm was not accepted until 1903. Areas served by RFD routes had to have year round passable roads. The desire to have RFD service prompted a demand for local governments to build or improve roads. This meant spending well over 70 million dollars. In addition, the farmers of an area often worked together to buy materials and put the roads into a passable state.
As more of the countryside received RFD service, the need for many of the small post offices decreased – especially after automobiles and trucks replaced the horse or mule for rural deliveries. By 1938, the U. S. Postal Service had closed 23,000 post offices throughout the United States and there were only 21 left in Gallia County. Now there are 13.
Our list comes primarily from the National Archive’s microfilms: The Post office Department Reports of Site Locations, 1837-1950; M1126, roll 453, and the Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832 – September 30, 1971; M841, roll 99.