Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 4 - Page 14, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, April 3, 2012

Muscatine’s First Postmaster Received Remuneration of $4
Muscatine’s first post office was a hat.

The hat belonged to Edward E. Fay who was not trammeled with any of the modern ideas of a postmaster’s duties. His hat had no lock-boxes or numbered drawers but Mr. Fay found that it served very well for carrying such mail as arrived here until he should meet the persons to whom the letters were addressed.

Although he was the second to receive a commission, Mr. Fay was really Muscatine’s first postmaster. He accepted the job after Mr. Stowell, the first to be honored by an appointment as postmaster here in 1839, left the city before his commission arrived. It was believed that Mr. Stowell did not regard the postmaster’s salary, which at that time was $4 a year, as sufficient compensation to keep him here. At all events, he retired form view and Mr. Fay was induced to accept the trust.

* * *

Muscatine was not the first community in the county to gain the coveted prestige that a post office brings. History records that the first post office in the limits of Muscatine county was established in 1836, with Arthur Washburn as post-master. The office was called Iowa. The second post office was at Geneva in 1838. The name then used was Vanderpool and S. C. Comstock, father of Mrs. W.A. Drury, was the official in charge. Amos Walton, father of J. P. Walton, was deputy, and, subsequently, postmaster. The name was then changed to Geneva. Although Bloomington claimed to be a town in 1836, no post office was established until 1839 at this point and the settlers of the town were obliged to go to Geneva for their mail.

The responsibility of carrying the mail often developed into almost unbelievably hard and sometimes dangerous work in those early days – work requiring courage, strength and versatility.

* * *

“No mail from the south on Monday evening last, and naught but empty bags from the north. Consequently we are in the dark as to what is going on in the eastern world, or even that portion of the west lying east of the Mississippi river,” complained the editor of the Bloomington Herald in his paper for Dec. 24, 1841.

On the occasion cited by the editor, the running ice in the Iowa river was blamed for the failure of the southern mail and the editor added that the “Cedar, too, was (too) full of running ice, on Tuesday last, to permit the stage to Iowa City to cross.”

In the latter instance, the stage driver, a Mr. Smith, “with characteristic perseverance” effected a crossing in a canoe with the mail, according to the editorial, and “trusting to his own strength and the chance for borrowing horses, left the river with it on his back.” This graphic account of an early mail-carrier’s bad day serves as an introduction to the following appeal, with which the editorial concludes.

* * *

“By the way, ought not the postmaster general to recommend to congress the establishment of additional mail routes to Iowa City? At present its only mail facilities are, according to contract, a semi-weekly horse mail from this place. The contractor, in order to keep up with the increase of business, has, at his own expense, carried the mail in two-horse carriage, for which he is sure of no additional compensation. This improvement has been made necessary because of the heavy mails to and from the city, and it is inadequate, the mail making almost a full load for the team.

“Our legislators will surely make a representation of these facts to the department. Too many cannot raise their voices in urging the matter. A route should be established from the western part of our southern border through that city to Dubuque, twice a week, in four-horse post coaches. The business on the route will justify it, and the interests of that portion of the territory loudly call for it.”

During this period in Iowa history, contracts for carrying mails were let by the federal government to various individuals. Thomas B. Johnson, for instance, received a contract in October, 1939, “for once-a-week service between Bloomington and Napoleon, (Johnson county) at $280 per annum. The records reveal that the contractors for post route service were subject to fines and deductions when they failed to make their scheduled routes. It cost Ansel Briggs $5 when on Jan. 3, 1841, he failed to make Dubuque on his Dubuque and West Liberty route.

Post routes are said to have been established in the newly-created Territory of Iowa as early as July, 1838, when congress designated three regular mail services between Dubuque and West Liberty, from Bloominton to Napoleon, and from Wapello to Napoleon. Mr. Fay, the early Muscatine postmaster who carried his post office on his head, died in 1840 and was succeeded in office by his brother, Pliny Fay, who removed to California. The latter held office under the Harrison regime. During most of that time, the office was in a small frame building on Second street. The business had so increased as to require a local office.

When Polk’s administration came in, the policy of the government was one of change, and in 1844, George Earll became postmaster. Mr. Earll soon died of tuberculosis and his daughter, Lucy, became the first deputy and was then appointed officer in charge.

Taylor’s election to the presidency again worked change. In 1849, Nathan L. Stout, editor of the Bloomington Herald, was appointed postmaster. He removed the office to a new frame building, but he was a poor business manager, and in less than a year the department named Richard Cadle as his successor. He served during and the rest of the term in an office at the Pappoosse bridge on Second street.

In 1853, President Pierce appointed Henry Reece postmaster. Mr. Reece retained the room in which he found the office, but finally moved to a house on Iowa avenue. Mr. Reece opposed the Nebraska bill and was removed from office after three years of service.

John A. McCormick succeeded to the post and moved the office to the east end of Second street. In 1860, Robert Williams was appointed by President Buchanan, but the change in administration one year later also caused a change in the office here.

* * *

John Mahin became postmaster in 1861. In the spring of that year he removed the office to Iowa avenue. In 1860, R. W. H. Brent was appointed to the office by President Grant. The office was removed to Butler’s block, Iowa avenue.

In 1873, John Mahin was reappointed, and, under his administration, the office was established on Second street, between Iowa avenue and Chestnut street, in Stein’s building. In 1878 Capt. Benjamin Beach was appointed postmaster.

J. J. Russell succeeded him and Mr. Mahin was named a third time on Mr. Russell’s retirement. G. W. Van Horn succeeded Mr. Mahin but died while in office and William Huttig served as postmaster pro tem until the expiration of the appointment. Mrs. Van Horn was appointed for the next term. W. L. Roach succeeded Mrs. Van Horn as the 19th postmaster. Upon his resignation Feb. 16, 1903, W. D. Burk was chosen to fill the rest of the term. R. S. McNutt was appointed postmaster, Feb. 1, 1907, and continued in office until Feb. 1, 1915.

F. W. Eichoff succeeded Mr. McNutt in 1915 and served until 1923 when he in turn was succeeded by W. S. McKee. Albert S. Barry was appointed postmaster in 1935, a position he still retains. The post office has been at the present site at Fourth street and Iowa avenue since 1909. The structure was remodeled and enlarged in 1937.

* * * * * * *

Bilkey Recalls Five Locations of Postoffice

Five of the locations which have been occupied by the Muscatine postoffice are recalled clearly by Joseph Bilkey, 81, of 315 Sycamore street, a lifelong Muscatine resident.

According to Mr. Bilkey’s recollection, then one of the early day postoffices was located at 212 Iowa avenue, where Mr. Bilkey many years later operated a harness shop. Subsequently, he recalls, the office was moved to another Iowa avenue location, on the east side of the street, next to the alley.

Another move which Mr. Bilkey recalls took the postoffice to the West Second street block between Iowa avenue and Chestnut streets. It then occupied a building erected for the government by S. G. Stein, Mr. Bilkey recalls.

The next change was back to Iowa avenue in the Fitzgerald building, at the location today of the bus depot and the Postal Telegraph offices.

The sixth location which Mr. Bilkey recalls is the present one at Fourth street and Iowa avenue.

* * * * * * *

“The sawdust and refuse of the saw mill is now made to yield 14 gallons of ‘rosin’ and a quantity of tar per cord.” – April 22, 1884.

* * * * * * *

The Bloomington Town Board ordered “That William Parvin’s bill for drawing off delinquent list and removing dead hogs be allowed for $6.50. – April 26, 1846.

* * * * * * *

Fulton township trustees levee a four mill tax for road purposes. One-third of the assessment to be in cash and two-thirds in labor for which $3 per day is allowed for man and team if the work is done before August 1 and $2.50 per day is after that date. – April 25, 1884.

* * * * * * *

A. Anderson, prominent merchant of Ainsworth, shot, but not seriously injured by a burglar he and a companion had captured and were bringing to the police station. The burglar was later captured and narrowly escaped lynching. – Journal April 19, 1878.

* * * * * * *

“Col. Wesley W. Garner of Columbus City, has held the commission of notary public from every Iowa governor since Dec. 28, 1848. His first commission was signed by Gov. Ansel Briggs.” – Journal, April 24, 1855.

* * * * * * *


Why a Farmer Should Belong To The Farm Bureau

The Farm Bureau is the only general farm organization with a complete informational and service program, affiliated with strong state and national organizations and the Extension Service of the Department of Agriculture.

Improved farming methods developed and recommended by the Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture and the Iowa State College are available to farmers of the county through the Farm Bureau.

More members means a stronger Farm Bureau. A stronger organization can develop more services and be of more value to farm people. When you help build a stronger Farm Bureau, you are helping yourself.

More members in the Farm Bureau means greater security for future agriculture, better standards of living for farm people and greater opportunity on the farm for our boys and girls.

The future of American agriculture depends upon the type and extent of its organization. The right of farmers can be secured and maintained only by merging their interests in and working together through a constructive, militant organization.


* * * * * * *

Return to Centennial Table of Contents Page

Back to the Muscatine Co. IAGenWeb, Index Page

Page created April 6, 2012 by Lynn McCleary