Fremont County, Iowa

The Sidney Argus-Herald

Sidney, Fremont County, Iowa
8 April 1927
"Start of Rural Mail Delivery is Recalled".

C. N. Marvin, who after 50 years as editor of the Shenandoah Sentinel, is now writing serially his "recollections" of that span of a half century, tells interestingly of the beginning of rural mail service in this section:

"In the later part of the last century some congressman introduced a bill for an experiment with rural free delivery of mail. It was generally considered visionary and preposterous and very few people gave it any thought. Very few newspapers even mentioned it, but the congressman succeeded in getting the bill through congress for an appropriation of a small sum, $5,000 I think, for the experiment, about enough to finance one route now.

"But Maxy Jewett, Morton township farmer, a great reader, ran across an obscure notice of the proposed experiment, and concluded that it would be a good thing. So he drew up a petition to the postmaster general or congress asking that an experimental route be established at Shenandoah, passed it around among his neighbors and asked them to sign it, more as a favor to him than with any idea that route could be secured. "That was about the time I was appointed postmaster here. I think he showed the petition to me when he mailed it but l promptly forgot all about it.

"During my second year as postmaster, one beautiful day in December, a stranger came into the postoffice, handed in his card, said he wanted to see the postmaster. "He explained to me that he had been sent here by the department to lay out a rural free delivery mail route. I hardly understood what he meant, but when he produced the Maxy Jewett petition, I sensed at once that it would be a good thing for Shenandoah. I hiked right over to Oviatt's livery stable and hired a rig and we drove out to the Jewett farm, found him at home and the three of us sat down at the table there and drew up a map of a route to reach the principal farmers of the community. It did not take long and then the man said: "Well, I was assigned two days here and I have nothing to do tomorrow; let's lay out another route.

"I said, "Very well, we have one route laid out in Page county, so let's lay out the other in Fremont county." Next day we went across the river, called on farmers with the proposition. Charlie Mitchell and one or two others took to it right away, but most of them said they did not want it as they had all the taxes they could stand. The man explained that it would not cost them anything except for a box to hold the mail. "Oh, we have heard that story before," they said; "we never get anything for nothing." "G.M. Castle was selected as carrier for number one and N. H. Ingals as carrier for number two, and as soon as I could get the appointments okayed by the government the service was started. "These two were the first routes in southwest Iowa, and there were only a score or so in the whole United States. The carriers started in at a salary of $300 per year, had to furnish their own teams and conveyances, but before long the department raised the salary to $400 and granted the carriers privilege to carry packages and passengers for pay by the patrons. Farmers would send in orders for goods and the mail carriers would take the packages out the next morning.

"Farmers soon overcame their objections to the service and looked upon the carrier as Santa Claus. They treated the carrier royally, farmers giving him oats and corn for his team and the farm women putting chicken, cakes and pies in the mail box for the carrier. But even at that they hardly were able to live, but year by year the government became more liberal in pay until now, they tell, me the carriers driving from the small towns get more pay than the postmasters. Of course in those first years there were no automobiles and the roads were all of dirt and often impassable, but the farmers always helped and would often meet the carriers half way or better and carry the mail on their backs across the fields."

Source: Transcribed by Walter Farwell.


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