Mail delivery was non-existent when the first settlers moved into this part of the frontier. Once a store had been set up in a territory the store owner was a lead pipe cinch to be appointed postmaster. That’s why so many early post offices were named for people. It’s also why so many post offices moved so often. Harrison, for example, had four different post offices (and post masters) over the years of its existence.
Receiving it was a different matter. In the early years mail recipients, not the senders, paid the postage — ususally only a few cents, but that was big money out in the “sticks.” One presidential candidate didn’t know of his official nomination until after the election, which he lost, because he refused to pay the few cents postage on that letter, so it had been sent back to the sender. That happened quite a way south of here, but in one local election a candidate didn’t know he had been elected because he didn’t receive the notice.
With the growth and development of civilization mail delivery improved. In the late 1800s RFD (Rural Free Delivery) routes were established, and every post office had one or more RFD men. They made their deliveries to farm homes six days a week, rain or shine, with teams of horses and carriages or sleds, which they furnished and fed as a part of the job.
Those men were quick to switch to motor transport when horseless carriage came on the market. The postal service didn’t seem to care how deliveries were made as long as they were being made.
Art Johnson, a rural carrier for the Atwater post office, designed or built a vehicle for winter deliveries. It was a large sedan, complete with side curtains, skis instead of front wheels, and a caterpillar-like chain delivery belt for the rear wheels.
He drove his route leaving a banner of flying snow in his wake. There must have been other rural carriers around here who made special means of transporting mail to the farms on their routes.
Mail carriers quickly became delivery men for items other than mail. When telephone service reached this area home makers could call a grocery store and place an order which the carrier delivered, purely as an extra service to the people on his route.
When wood sidewalks gave way to concrete ones home mail delivery was instituted in the cities and towns of the country. Then residents of villages or cities had the option of having their mail delivered to their home, or of going to the post office themselves to get the mail which had been placed in their mail box. Some people regard picking up their mail as an integral part of daily living and continued their visits to the post office as long as they could negotiate the trip.
Not all homes and businesses in every town or city had home mail delivery. In Willmar, for instance, mail to residents of Sperryville continued to be served as a rural route for many years after the rest of the town received delivery service because they didn’t have sidewalks.
Some parts of town may still get get mail through central boxes.
The Post Office Department made many efforts to speed mail deliveries in their communities. At one time mail messengers came to Willmar from St. Paul twice each week, bringing mail for the post offices in the area. Mail men, usually postmasters brought outgoing mail from their offices and exchanged it for the incoming mail for their community.
Another was the Zip Code system which is still in effect. A lot of people thought it was foolish and didn’t cooperate until they realized there was a great difference in the time it took regular mail and “zipped” mail to reach intended destinations. Now it’s still a part of our lives and still working.
Mail carriers — city and rural — deserve a vote of thanks for their continuing efforts to make the “mail go through!”