A History of the
Maynard Post Office
1850-2000

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 have
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 box, etc.

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 Empire.

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. First Post Office in MaynardBy 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 1903.

Post Office at Masonic HallIn 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 1863).

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]. RFD carrierMr. 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 citizens.

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 well).

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 (pedal-powered) [rr]. 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 Connie Moynihan.

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 origin.

Post Office at Naylor's BlockA 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. First Letter CarriersWith 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, ended, etc.]

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.]

It's "Mister Zip"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 Current Maynard Post Office - Main StreetMain 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 Devens.

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!

Thank you.

- dg


Postmaster

Appointed

Amory Maynard    * May 30, 1850
Asahel Balcom April 27, 1858
Lorenzo Maynard 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
George Flood 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             (AP) July 31, 1963
John C. Nowick    * July 26, 1965
Joseph P. Ahearn         (OIC) March 4, 1977
John J. Arruda              (OIC) August 26, 1977
William L. Niethold     (OIC) January 13, 1978
Leo J. Gilbert                (OIC) May 12, 1978
Arthur Pauline June 17, 1978
Dale M. Walker           (OIC) May 1, 1987
Daniel Monighan July 4, 1987
Richard Whelan           (OIC) October 24, 1991
Thomas McBreen       (OIC) May 28, 1992
Julianna Murphy          (OIC) August 24, 1992
Richard O'Malley January 9, 1993
John A. Kortes            (OIC) April 27, 1998
Michael Welch 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 History,
United States Postal Service Information Systems, Washingon, D.C.

 

Post Office Locations Opened Picture
Opposite B&M Railroad Station 1850 (May 30) photo
Riverside Block (no details on this at all) c1865  
Johnson's Drugstore (Nason Street) c1866  
Masonic Block (Main & Walnut) c1892 photo
Naylor's Block (Main Street) 1916 (September 1) photo
Cox Building (Nason & Summer) c1952?  
Main Street (site of former Town House!) 1963 (March 2) photo

Notes:

jf 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.
jf-1 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!
safe The only current record of this is a small slip of paper in the archives.
rr 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".
e1 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.
rfd 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.
rice 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).
harr 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.
cse 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 Service.

Links:

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


Copyright 2000, Maynard Historical Society, Maynard Massachusetts.
This page was revised on: Mon, Jan 19, 2004