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How Post Offices Were Named

By Mary Crittenden

         Our ancestors did not necessarily follow the directions for the naming of the post office as printed on the application forms. These forms gave instructions for selecting a name. For many years these blanks read:

The proposed office to be called

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The name of the candidate for postmaster should not be supplied as the name of the post office. It is preferable to have some LOCAL or PERMANENT name, which must not be the name of any other office in the State; and you should aim to select a name not appropriated to any office in the United Stares.

         Many applications show that the first selected name was not used. Frequently on these, there are extra instructions handwritten across the top of the form – many of these note that there was already a post office by that name in the state. An interesting one reads, "Another and a shorter name must be selected." This was written across the top of the application for a post office at Kern's Mills in 1880. This application by the candidate Jacob Kerns shows that his next three possibilities were not accepted. He had given the possible names as "Alpha, Bula or Lookout" These are crossed off and written in is "Bulaville" (by another hand). If Mr. Kerns had dropped the apostrophe and the "s" on Mills and listed it as a local name, he might have gotten something closer to what he wanted. The source for the name Bula is unknown at this time. There were people living in Ohio with the surname Bula, but none of these appear in the census indexes for Gallia County or in what is known of his ancestry.

         The post office name was not necessarily the same as that of the local area. Both Bladensburg and Harrisburg had post offices that dropped the "burg" to name the post offices Bladen and Harris. There had been a post office in the northeast quarter of section 19 in Walnut Township called Flag Spring. It was discontinued in 1879 and nine years later a post office opened in the same quarter section by the name Bowler.

         The Alton Telegraph and Democratic Review ( Alton, Illinois) noted on page 2, 08 February 1850 that the people of Geneva, Kane County, Illinois were subjected to some inconvenience, as a consequence of their township, village, and post office having different names.

         Sources for post office names before the early 1890's, other than the name of the postmaster or his family, were often place names (villages, towns or cities) or names of geographic features. At times, we can guess at the source, but frequently one cannot readily see where it came from. Knowing the family history of the candidate or the political history of the area at times lend possibilities. Where we have found any of these possibilities, that information will be given in with the general information for that post office – but remember these possibilities are only educated guesses.

         The Post office Department changed the names of some post offices in the 1890's to reflect new guidelines. Two word names frequently became one-word names such as Pine Grove becoming Pinegrove. In some places the "s" was dropped as in Chapman's Mills.

         On 18 February 1891, the Postmaster Miscellaneous Order 87 instructed nationwide utilization of names published in the bulletin of the United States Board on Geographic Names in naming post offices. The next year, "postmaster Miscellaneous Order 48 instructed the fourth assistant Postmaster General not to "establish any post office whose proposed name differed from that of the town or village in which it was to be located" (CRS Report for Congress) in order to avoid confusion, and to facilitate the expeditious and efficient delivery of mail." Thus the names were no longer devised by the candidate for postmaster but came from a list of re-approved names for each county. Lewis M. Sheets suggested the names for three post offices in Gallia County area at the request of his congressman in 1896. It is reported that he looked out his living room window watching three little relatives playing. He chose to submit the girls' first names. The names were put on the list of possible names for the area. The name for the Lecta PO, Lawrence County (established 5 October 1897) came from his submission of relative Lecta Notter's first name. Mattie Kanous was the inspiration for Mattie, which was used by Mr. Sheets when he proposed a post office in Gallia County that was established. Ruby Caldwell inspired the name for the Ruby PO. established. (Thanks to, which gives the genealogy of Mr. Sheets, and quotes from which gave some of the information for this paragraph.)

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