A History of the
Maynard Post Office
by David Griffin, Maynard Historical Society
with deep appreciation of the past contributions of
James B. Farrell, Ralph Sheridan, and others.
This monograph was presented at the January 24, 2000 meeting of the
Maynard Historical Society. (A number of corrections and additions
been made since then.)
Before embarking upon the history of our town's Post Office, which by the way
celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, I thought it would be fun to touch upon a
little bit of general history first. For example, terms like "Post Office"
and "mail" have been with us all our life and they tend to blend right into our
day to day lives - but where did they come from?
The term "post" came from the Latin postum meaning
"position" or "place" and they referred to the system of
"posts" or relay that were set up along a road by which messages were relayed
between one runner (or rider) and the next. Before the invention of the telegraph
this was the primary means of transmitting not only personal messages, but news in general
(hence you have newspapers such as The Washington Post).
Back in the medieval days mail referred to a pack or travelling bag. Some
centuries later it became necessary to put a word to the bag that contained letters and mail
was handy and was applied (now we've gone a step further and refer to the letters
themselves as mail). This all gets mixed up in day to day use as we refer to
postal workers, letter carriers, postage stamps, mailman, postman (or postwoman), mail
In England, transporting the letters of the monarch was handled by the Royal Mail,
which was opened to the public in 1635. Shortly after this Parliament created a
public postal system which was to be controlled by a single office, the "Post-Office
of England" under the control of a single officer, the Postmaster-General of England.
This new post office would soon be stretching itself into the colonies of the British
In 1639, the General Court of Massachusetts (the formal name for what we now call the state legislature) designated Richard Fairbanks' tavern in Boston as the official repository for mail to and from overseas -- the first official notice of a postal service in America. This royal postal system was soon spread to the other colonies.
Another interesting artifact of this time is located just south of Maynard. Any
road the mail was carried on was called a "post road". The Boston Post Road
started as crude riding trail in 1673 to carry mail from New York to Boston. The
first postrider's round trip, a journey of over 250 miles, took about four weeks.
Eventually there would be a large network of these post roads. Boston Post Road is,
of course, known today as Route 20 in Sudbury and Marlborough -- although the actual post
road was probably not exactly the same road as today because they tended to take whatever
"high road" was available.
In 1753, Benjamin Franklin, then Postmaster in Philadelphia, was appointed as the first
Postmaster General in America. Franklin instituted a number of changes to the system
to improve service and delivery times. Though he was temporarily dismissed from the
position during the Revolutionary War, he was again appointed Postmaster General by the
Continental Congress in 1775. Franklin was followed by Samuel Osgood in 1789 after the
adoption of the U.S. Constitution. It is interesting to note that during this time
postal rates were determined by the number of sheets sent and the distance the letter
traveled and envelopes were not used -- you folded your letter and wrote the address on
the outside sheet. Because the distance was important part of postal revenues, postmasters
were also responsible for accurately measuring the mileage between posts. Later
waterways and railways would be added as official "post roads".
The final note of postal history before we move on to Maynard's story occurred in 1829
when the position of Postmaster General was made a cabinet position, and post offices were
part of the federal "Post Office Department". Until the creation of the
United States Postal Service in 1971, this meant that postmaster appointments were based
on patronage and were very much at the whim of whichever political party held the
presidency - indeed they had to be reappointed every 4 years. When the Postmaster
General was replaced, this change, more often than not, rippled down the chain to
every city and town in the country - including ours.
"Maynard's" first post office was established in 1850 (Maynard was still
known as Assabet Village at this time) with Amory Maynard appointed as its postmaster on
May 30th of that year. By this time
railroads were the main means of transportation, and the small office was located across
the tracks from the Boston and Maine Railroad station. The offices themselves
tended to move to various stores along with whichever businessman was
postmaster. These first few offices were designated "fourth-class"
by the postal service and the postmasters were paid based on the number of postage stamps
sold, etc. By this time postage was based on the weight of the letter and the
distance it was going to travel and had to be prepaid (up until 1855 you had the option of
making the recipients pay the postage - the 19th century equivalent of the collect call).
The Maynard post office was also known to be located in Riverside Block (dates not known
Assabet's post office went through a number of postmasters up to Abel G. Haynes, who
was reappointed as postmaster of the new town, Maynard, on May 8, 1871.
In the early 1880's Benjamin F. Johnson purchased a a drugstore from Thomas Wouldhave
(who was the first druggist in town) located at the corner of Main and River Streets.
Later he moved the store to a new location near the center of town (on Nason
Street). In 1886, Johnson was appointed postmaster and the post office moved into his
drugstore. The postmastership was quickly transferred to Ernest Johnson (his son?) just 10
months later. It is interesting to note that the first telephone in town was installed in
this drugstore in 1888, and it subsequently served as the local telephone exchange until
In 1892, George Flood was appointed postmaster and
presumably coincident with his appointment, or shortly thereafter, the post office moved
to the Masonic Block (at the corner of Main and Walnut Streets -- currently the location
of the Call-A-Copy store).
At the dawn of the 20th century, let's try to recap what was going on in and around the
post office. Maynard was a significant "center" of commerce and travel.
Neighboring towns such as Stow, Acton, and Sudbury were mostly farms. Mail still
moved primarily on the railroads that connected all the towns and cities in the nation.
Telephones were few and far between. Maynard was still too small for what was known as
"city delivery" -- more or less what we consider mail delivery like today. If
you wanted to send or pick up a letter you walked, bicycled, or drove your horse-drawn
carriage to downtown Maynard. The post office opened at 5:45 am and closed at 8:30pm. with
mails arriving at 8:59am, 4:04 and 6:31pm (so if that important letter didn't arrive in
the morning you could always walk back home and then walk back again 5 hours later and try
again!). The postage for a letter was 2 cents, regardless of where it being sent to
in the United States (the so-called "uniform" rate system was instituted in
So for the first 50 years of its existence, Maynard's Post Office, while growing quite
a bit, generally operated more or less the same. But the 20th century would soon bring a
number of major changes to Maynard, and the lucky fellow at the helm for this
transition was William Hall who started his 17 year tenure in 1894.
In 1902, the U.S. Post Office instituted a service dubbed "Rural Free
Delivery" (R.F.D.) nationwide and consequently in Maynard as well. For the first time
families living in the various farms surrounding Maynard did not have to venture into town
to send or pick up their mail - it came to them. The initial R.F.D. route for Maynard was
22 miles long and included part of Stow Lower Village, North Sudbury, Nine Acre Corner in
Acton, the Powder Mill and Fletcher Corner districts [rfd]. Mr. Stanley
Rice was appointed the R.F.D. carrier in October [rice] and his horse-drawn route was soon
extended to over 40 miles - which required two horses and quite a few hours to
complete. Mr. Rice was observed on several occasions returning to the Post Office in
the evening with a lighted lantern that he used to read the addresses for the last
portions of his route.
On Sept 12, 1902, professional burglars blew open the Post Office safe - and made away
with an estimated $800 in stamps [safe].
One of the results of this theft was that Hall installed a burglar alarm on the safe which
would ring a bell located on top of the post office. This alarm was a bit of a pet
project for Mr. Hall, who would test the alarm every morning. without fail. One day
the alarm went off, attracting a small crowd that hoped to catch the burglars in the
act. With some embarrassment, Mr. Hall reported it was a false alarm to the gathered
During this period, the Maynard Post Office changed its designation from a third to
second class office, which among other things, permitted the acquisition of a canceling
machine capable of canceling 1000 letters per minute. Before the arrival of this
device, all canceling was done by hand (and all incoming mail was stamped by hand as
The growth of Maynard's post office required additional substitute staff, but with a
thriving Assabet Mills help was hard to find, so a number of (gasp!) female staff were
added to the ranks.
William Hall passed away on April 14, 1911 and Arthur Walker was appointed postmaster
in June of that year drawing a salary of $2000. [cse] A few hundred miles away in
New York, a new-fangled machine called the airplane was delivering mail between Garden
City and Mineola, the first air-mail route in the United States.
In 1913 the postal staff consisted of Mr. Walker; clerks James Farrell, May (Ledgard)
Schnair, Arthur Sullivan Timothy Moynihan, Christopher Wilson; and R.F.D. carrier Stanley
Rice. (photo) That year also saw the institution of parcel post. Mail was
transported between the rail depot to the post office by a bicycle-like vehicle
About this time Washington forced the closure of the post office at 6pm -- much to the
vocal laments of the local businessmen.
During this period a rather touching form of "delivery" was made from time to
time. Immigrants from Poland and Finland arriving at the rail station downtown would
have the P.O. box number of their Maynard relatives written on a tag attached to their
coats. After the mail had been distributed to the boxes, postal workers would escort these
foreigners to his or her proper destination. Jim Farrell wrote that "the sight
of reuniting these families was a joy to behold".
As many of our ties to history are personal ones, I'd like to pause and list a few more
names from this era (in no particular order): John Sunderland (who served as an assistant
postmaster), Arthur Champagne, Arthur Hart, Ida Hall, Claire Beford, Millie Walker, Emma
Greenhalge, Margaret (Williams) Parker, Robert Sheridan, Jack Kelly, William McAuslin, and
It might be interesting to recount the typical day of a postal clerk 90 years ago.
Their work day started at 6 a.m. and stretched to 8 p.m. Every clerk had to be
ready to work at whatever window needed attention (registry, money orders, stamp window,
general delivery, and for a time, war bonds). Five mails were dispatched daily and all
incoming mail had to be stamped with date received stamps. Incoming mail had to be
sorted for the boxes. Each time it arrived they closed down the four windows, did the
work, and then open up the windows and yell "Get your mail and get out!".
Clerks had to take an annual examination consisting of putting 900 cards in the proper 45
railroad runs. Maynard was also one of the first post offices in the country to handle
postal savings deposits. On a Fridays and Saturdays the office would be packed with
streams of immigrants sending money back to their families living in their country of
A change to Woodrow Wilson's Democratic presidency
in 1913 rippled down to Maynard with the appointment of Arthur Coughlan on May 13, 1915.
In September of the following year Maynard residents strolled into a new post office
located in Naylor's Block (on Main Street next to the former Woolworth's Building and
currently occupied by Tish's Hair Salon). This new office was conveniently located
at ground level and contained over 1400 boxes [jf-1]
(compare that to just 660 boxes today).
That's a lot of boxes, and on July 4, 1916 P.J. Sullivan started a 500-name petition
for city delivery: The newspaper of the day quoted someone saying "Our city cousins
have it, farmers have it, everybody has it except the citizens of Maynard". It seems
that there was plenty of business to support city delivery for years, but nobody seemed
much to care. Hudson and Concord were smaller than Maynard but had carrier service
already. When the initiative was finally taken, it was met with great enthusiasm.
"The mothers and relatives of boys in the service will no longer have to
trudge to the office for the letters expected. It will be delivered to them in real 20th
century style, by the carrier." [e1]
In 1917 the domestic postage rate rose to 3 cents, probably due to World War I.
It dropped back to 2 cents in 1919 -- the last time it would change in that direction...
In March of 1920 the postmaster general instructed Coughlan to start city deliver
service effective May 1st of that year. With the routes mapped
out and approved and the citizens of Maynard placing mailboxes (or slots in their doors),
carriers started delivering the mail to households and businesses in town. At first only
two carriers were employed: James Eaton and Harold Sheridan. The rapid growth in the
service saw the addition of two additional carriers, G. Edward White and William Sweeney,
with Chester Sawyer serving as the R.F.D. carrier - giving Maynard a total of five letter
carriers. 1920 also marked the start of transcontinental airmail in the United States.
[There has been plenty of mention to me that there were at least two
deliveries made each day, but I can't find any references to this -- when it started,
In 1935, Frank Sheridan, a former two-term state representative of the 10th Middlesex
District, was appointed postmaster. Due to changing rules about appointments he
would retain this position until his retirement some 30 years later! The price of a
stamp had once again risen to 3 cents.
Under Sheridan's tenure the post office continued to grow until it outgrew its quarters
and was moved to the Cox Building (corner of Nason and Summer, across from the Knights of
Columbus) - the actual year is not available, but people place it in the early
1950's. As near as I can tell, this wasn't a terribly popular move.
[Help us: We would welcome information about the Post Office during
WW2, bond payments, the Mill, Digital, etc.]
The year 1963 brought two major changes to letters
in Maynard. The first was the adoption of the ZIP code, those 5-digit numbers that
help speed the mail across the nation (the postage had crept up to 5 cents). The
second was a brand new post office located at its current location on Main
Street across from the Mill. On March 2, 1963 the building was dedicated with an address
by Congressman Philip Philbin and music provided by the 18th U.S. Army Band from Fort
Not long after the first stamp was cancelled on the surface of the moon, the United
States Post Office Department became the United States Postal Service in 1971. This
created a semi-autonomous government organization whose goal was to become a
self-sufficient entity similar to a non-profit corporation. This process took a bit longer
than expected. In 1983 the USPS received its final subsidy from the federal government and
was finally on its own - but the cost of a postage stamp had risen to 20 cents.
So here we are at the dawn of the year 2000 and a first-class postage stamp costs 33
cents (sigh - but hey, that five-cent Coke costs close to a buck!). Our post office
has been faithfully serving the townspeople for 150 years now and will continue for the
foreseeable future. It has seen the arrival and adoption (and occasional fall) of the pony
express, the telegraph, railroads, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radios, fax
machines, television, and the internet -- and the volume of mail continues to rise.
Yes the nature of what we get in the mail has changed a bit from the mainly personal
correspondence of years gone by -- but there's still a comforting pulse to our rhythm of
modern-day life when the mail truck or letter carrier arrives at our houses and businesses
each day, rain or shine... The mail's here!
|Amory Maynard *
||May 30, 1850
||April 27, 1858
||February 4, 1862
|John K. Harriman
||April 4, 1864
|Abel G. Haynes
||November 19, 1866
Changed from ASSABET to MAYNARD on
May 8, 1871
|Abel G. Haynes
||May 8, 1871
|Benjamin F. Johnson
||February 23, 1886
|Ernest M. Johnson
||December 29, 1866
||February 9, 1892
|William R. Hall
||May 28, 1894
|Arthur E. Walker
||June 20, 1911
|Arthur J. Coughlan
||May 13, 1915
|Timothy B. Moynihan (AP)
||August 1, 1922
|William C. Stockwell
||January 5, 1923
|Frank C. Sheridan *
||June 26, 1935
|John C. Nowick
||July 31, 1963
|John C. Nowick *
||July 26, 1965
|Joseph P. Ahearn
||March 4, 1977
|John J. Arruda
||August 26, 1977
|William L. Niethold (OIC)
||January 13, 1978
|Leo J. Gilbert
||May 12, 1978
||June 17, 1978
|Dale M. Walker
||May 1, 1987
||July 4, 1987
||October 24, 1991
|Thomas McBreen (OIC)
||May 28, 1992
||August 24, 1992
||January 9, 1993
|John A. Kortes
||April 27, 1998
||July 4, 1998
|AP - appointed as Acting Postmaster
OIC - appointed as Officer-In-Charge
* - picture available
Data courtesy of Jennifer Lynch, Research Assistant of Postal
United States Postal Service Information Systems, Washingon, D.C.
|Post Office Locations
|Opposite B&M Railroad Station
||1850 (May 30)
|Riverside Block (no details on this at all)
|Johnson's Drugstore (Nason Street)
|Masonic Block (Main & Walnut)
|Naylor's Block (Main Street)
||1916 (September 1)
|Cox Building (Nason & Summer)
|Main Street (site of former Town House!)
||1963 (March 2)
||James B. Farrell, a Maynard resident, was a postal clerk from
1905 to his retirement in 19??. He recounted the Maynard P.O. history that he had
witnessed first hand to the Maynard Historical Society in a presentation in March 1967.
His speech was presented as a series of three articles in the Assabet Valley Beacon
newspaper in May, 1967. A fair amount of the detail in this monograph stems directly from
his research 30 years ago. A few humorous stories he told are not repeated here, and there
appear to be a few more that only the audience in 1967 were privileged to hear related to
Ted Williams, Pat Stone, a dead squirrel, and a turkey raffle.
||In a newspaper article by Jim Farrell, he states the Maynard
P.O. had the most boxes in New England. It is unclear if this is an absolute number
or referring to the class of the post office. It seems unlikely that a Boston post office
would have fewer!
||The only current record of this is a small slip of paper in
||The Boston & Maine Railroad was paid between
$60,000-$80,000 annually to carry the mail between South Acton and Marlboro. J.
Farrell refers to this as "pure gravy".
||These quotes were from "The Enterprise", a
newspaper of the day. People who wanted to comment on this were encouraged to send
them to Box 1025, Maynard or Telephone 31.
||18 July 1902 - RFD route proposed. Inspected by
Postmaster Hall and Agent Boutelle from Washington D.C. Proposed route: Begin at
James R. Bent's on Summer Street, to the home of W. Lord in Stow, to Stow Poor Farm, to
North Sudbury, to Nine Acre Corner, to Powder Mill District, to Fletcher's Corner, to
Calvin A. Whitney's farm, and back to the P.O.
||J. Stanley Rice was appointed R.F.D. carrier on 10 October
1902. (Note: like postmasters, this was an appointment - a national practice
continued till 1969).
||There is a note that during the Civil War, Assabet Village's
postmaster, John Harriman, was located at the site opposite the B&M Railroad Station.
||25 Aug 1911 - First civil service examination for Maynard
postal clerks slated for September 2, 1911 in Marlboro.
Thanks to the late Ralph Sheridan and James
Farrell for documenting the Post Office history many years ago; Paul Boothroyd,
curator extrordinare, for the articles and pictures from the Historical Society's
archives; and James Griffin for his advice and contacts into the United States Postal
We are continuing our research on the history of the Post
Office, and this article will be updated as new information arrives. If you have stories,
photographs, or other interesting memorabilia relating to the history of the Maynard Post
Office, please feel free to pass them along to the author via e-mail, or you can drop a line to the Maynard
Historical Society, c/o Town Hall, Maynard, MA, 01754