The Post Office
written by C.E. Carroll
[This essay was written ca. 1955 by one of the original members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.]
The Post Office and postal service were established quite early in American history. The beginning was in a patent signed in 1691 in which the British government authorized Thomas Neale to establish an inter-colonial post in all of the colonies. He succeeded in this except in Virginia colony which did not cooperate at first, but two years later Mr. Neale and the British Postmaster General turned the business over to one Andrew Hamilton, who expanded the service and included Virginia.
In 1707 the Crown took the Post Office from private hands and operated it until 1775. During this period Benjamin Franklin was Postmaster of Philadelphia from 1737 on.
At the second session of the Continental Congress in 1775 the American Post Office was created with Benjamin Franklin in charge. He held this position only a year when he was transferred to more important work in the Revolution and his son-in-law Richard Bache took over and carried on for some years.
In 1813 mails were conveyed on steamboats for the first time. In 1816 the Post Office rules were changed and the service systematized. Thereafter postage was charged according to the distance traversed and based on a single folded sheet (envelopes were not yet in use). The following rates were charged:
The postage was paid in cash but could be paid in advance or C.O.D. at the sender's option.
Stamps had been used successfully in England, and some time in the 1840's the Postmasters in the larger cities were permitted to issue them if they desired. In 1847 the Government introduced stamps of 5 cents and 10 cents denomination bearing pictures of Franklin and Washington. In 1851 there was a new issue including one- and three-cent stamps. Larger denominations followed shortly.
During Lincoln's administration (1863) free mail delivery was introduced in cities of 50,000 or more but prior to that (1825) a provision had been made to allow delivery to persons desiring that service for 2 cents' extra postage.
Stamped envelopes were introduced in 1853.
Registration of mail was begun in 1854.
Post cards were first sold in 1873.
Rural Free Delivery came into being in 1897 under McKinley.
The first rural delivery in Lake County was in 1901 from Prairie View - from Libertyville 1904.
Air mail was tried out in 1918 between Washington and New York but was discontinued since the saving of time was not very noticeable on this short run. The Army furnished the planes and pilots for the experiment. In 1920 Air Mail Service by private contractors was inaugurated from New York to Cleveland and Cleveland to Chicago. Up to this time the flying was done in daylight and planes could not compete with trains on transcontinental runs until they began night flights a few years later.
When the territory ceded to the Government by the Treaty of Chicago in 1833 was formally opened for settlement in 1836 it was, at first, considered to be a part of Cook County. Cook County was, in common with others, under a commission government, that is, it was governed by a County Commissioner's Court. The members of this court were elected from the County at large and the political divisions were election precincts rather than townships as now. We were, then, made a part of Chicago precinct.
One of the first acts of the County Commissioners of Cook County (1836) was to order a road established from Chicago to the State line and to accomplish this they appointed three viewers to look over the ground and select the route.
The men named for this project were Richard Steele, Thomas McClure, and Mark Nobel. The first two were local men.
After a careful consideration of the possible courses these three decided that the old Indian trail which started at Kinzie St. in Chicago was probably the best route to follow. This is now Milwaukee Avenue. It went first to a point then known as Sand Ridge (later Jefferson), the present intersection of Milwaukee and Lawrence Avenues; then to Dutchman's Point or Planck's Point, now Milwaukee and Touhy Avenues; then to Hickory Grove where it crossed to the west side of the river at the present Villa Venice. The next point on the river was known as Wissencrofts which was near the present line between Cook and Lake Counties.
The trail crossed Indian Creek at the present Half Day at a grove then called Spring Creek Timber. The route ran across Bull Creek, then called Wynkoop's Creek, as it does now and went on up to Gurnee to cross the river again at a point known as Rudd's Ford. East of the river it ran diagonally to join the Green Bay Road which had been established as a military road from Fort Dearborn to Fort Howard in 1833.
One of the reasons for establishing this road was to provide for the transport of mail from Chicago to the settlements of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Prior to that time mail had been carried by schooner to the lake ports in the summer, but in winter there was very little attempt to deliver anything but the military mail between the two forts and this was carried by a soldier on foot who might be several weeks on the trip.
The Indian trail along the river followed the higher ground for most of its length, and very little labor was expended on it to make a road. A few trees had to be removed at some points to make it wide enough for a wagon and some of the low spots were corduroyed, but there were no bridges at first and it was necessary to ford the Des Plaines River south of Wheeling, Buffalo Creek a few miles to the north, then Indian Creek, Bull Creek and finally the river again at Gurnee.
The first vehicles to traverse this rugged route were springless wagons drawn by four horses. These composed a so-called stage line owned by a man named Johnson who ran a hotel in Chicago. The first driver was Wilham Lovejoy who, a little later, opened an inn near the present Belvidere Road bridge.
Because of the difficult road conditions it was necessary to change horses at frequent intervals and for this purpose relay stations were established a few miles apart where fresh teams were available. These relay stations were usually inns or taverns with accommodations for both man and beast and eventually they became Post Offices for the settlers in the surrounding area and some became the nuclei of villages in later years.
The first of these stage line Post Offices to be established in what is now Lake County was at Half Day or rather at Kennicott's Mill which was on the river bank about a mile and a half south of the present Half Day. This was established by our Government in response to a petition signed by the local settlers and Seth Washburn was made Postmaster on August 22, 1836.
There was a small settlement in our village at this time and it had become known as "Vardin's Grove," named after the Englishman, George Vardin, who with his wife and little daughter, lived in a log cabin on the site of our present library. Vardin had moved on farther west by 1836 and the local settlers had voted, at a celebration held July 4th, to name their village Independence Grove. Not to be outdone by the folks down at Kennicott's mill they too filed a petition for a Post Office at Washington, giving the above name.
The Post Office department replied that another office named Independence Grove already existed in Illinois and that our folks would have to choose another name. This occasioned some delay but finally the name "Libertyville," suggested by Archimedes Wynkoop, was adopted as a fitting substitute and the petition was granted and the office established, but in the meantime months had slipped by, during which an office was established at Abingdon where a settlement had been started at the present Belvidere intersection. This occurred November 4, 1836, so it was not until April 16, 1837 that Henry B. Steele was appointed as the first Post Master of Libertyville. Steele with his family now occupied the cabin formerly owned by George Vardin and the Post Office was conducted there also. Our first Post Office, then, was right here in Cook Park.
Post Offices were political plums and the tenure of Postmasters was precarious and frequently of short duration as may be seen in the following list of incumbents:
Henry B. Steele, appointed April l6, 1837
Our first Postmaster, Henry Steele, was a prominent man in his time. Not only our Postmaster, he was also Sheriff, first of McHenry County and afterwards of Lake County and served for a time as County Clerk.
Jesse H. Foster was the third Postmaster. He was a physician who came here in 1837. He was the first practicing doctor in what is now Lake County. He bought the land now occupied by our library running back to Butler Lake and a quarter section of land to the south. He made his home where our library now stands and conducted an apothecary shop and the Post Office in it. He relinquished the Post Office to Horace Butler, our first lawyer, who came from New Hampshire in 1837 and was appointed in 1843. Butler was a man of great ability who in addition to his Post Office job practiced law, ran a farm, served as school trustee, was a member of Legislature, member of the State Constitutional Convention and partner in a milling business. We are proud to own the desk and other Post Office equipment he used, which was presented to our Historical Society by his granddaughters.
Davis Steele, the 5th Post Master, was one of four uncles of Henry B. He built and operated the famous Grove House, the three story hotel which once stood where the New Castle building is now. This was a relay station for the stage line which now operated with real Concord stages instead of lumber wagons and which now galloped up to the Inn with much clatter and horn blowing to deposit the mail and passengers and pick up fresh horses. This was the high moment of the day and the pupils in the block school, which stood just north of our library, were permitted to go to the windows to witness the arrival.
You will note that Horace Butler was appointed Postmaster again in 1853. He held office until his death in 1861. The longest term of any up to that time. His early demise at the age of only 47 was a matter of universal regret and a great loss to the community.
Foster was reappointed in 1862 so the office came back to Cook Park once more tho it did not remain long but went across the street some six months later to the store of Lyman Sprague, a popular merchant whose store stood on the present site of Schancks. Thereafter the Postmasters were nearly all merchants who conducted the office in their stores and found this a great asset to business.
Edwin Parkhurst succeeded Sprague in 1867 but only held the office for a few days when Mrs. Emily Sprague took over. We may well wonder what happened there. It looks like some Congressman suddenly changed his mind but Edwin Parkhurst got back in 1871 for five years and again in 1889 for four years. He was a prominent merchant and one of the founders of our first bank.
George Schanck held the office on two different occasions and his sister-in-law, Annie Cater, also conducted it in Schanck’s store for a short time. Schanck's store was a popular meeting place and was the scene of many important public events. It used to be said that everything started at Schanck’s, even the fire of 1895, when Imogene Schanck rescued the Post Office and carried it over to Max LeBeau's Barber Shop.
It was not until 1935 that the Government erected a building here for the Post Office and the business has since that time been conducted therein.
It is interesting to read the names of some of Lake County's early Post Offices. Some of those that flourished more than a century ago no longer exist and even their locations are unknown to most of the present generation.
Abingdon, Milwaukee Avenue and Belvidere - 1836
The "Little Fort Porcupine" and “Democratic Banner” of April 30, 1845 complain that there is still no mail service and no post road to Little Fort. The paper also states that a stage route to Belvidere is projected for July 1, 1845. At a later date the paper reports that the stage became mired in crossing Wynkoop Creek and in an effort to pull it out backwards one horse was drowned and another broke its neck. Such were the hazards of early day transportation.
The "Little Fort Porcupine" of April 30, 1845 complains that in 45 miles of road from Little Fort to Chicago there is no Post Office or post road and that a district from five to ten miles wide and thickly settled has no mail facilities. It contends that there should be a tri-weekly mail on the Shore road which combined with the present mail service by the O'Plain Road would give Little Fort a daily mail.
A week later the "Porcupine" complains that the 700 people of this district have more letters daily than all the rest of the County and are left dependent on a post station called Otsego five miles out of town on the nearest route from Chicago to Milwaukee.
The "Gazette" says, on July 8th 1854, "We are glad to learn that Philo N. Clark has the contract of carrying the mails from this place to Niles via Gurnee and Deerfield, also to Crystal Lake in McHenry County and to Millburn in Lake County. He is prepared to convey passengers on the route to Niles where they may take the omnibus to Chicago."
The first Post Office in Deerfield Township was in the Meehan settlement under the name of Emmett, in 1846. St. Johns was the second in 1849.
Somehow the mail got thru for, as the slogan of the United States postal service says: "Neither snow nor rain, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
This appears as an inscription on the facade of the main Post Office in New York City. This I learned only by consulting our Secretary, Mr. Joe Michaels and he further informs me that the slogan is a paraphrase of a quote from Herodotus (484 - 424 B.C.) who says in his "History of the Persian Wars," Book VIII, Chapter on Urania, "The Persian messengers travel with the velocity which nothing human can equal....neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness are permitted to obstruct their speed."
That's our U.S. Mail all right.
|Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.|