We can’t put our smart phones down for even a few seconds for fear of missing something important. Hearing the news, whether public or private, as soon as it happens is a very new phenomenon. Take yourself back a little over a century to before 1901.
Your news came from the newspaper or letters you picked up at the post office. Postage fees paid for delivery from one post office to another, nothing more. Townsfolk might be able to go to the post office on a daily basis and might get the unofficial news, A.K.A. gossip, as well. In rural areas and small towns like Mansfield, the post office was usually in a store or business, not a separate building. In the above photo in Burlington, it was in the hotel.
Rural residents went maybe once a week to the store/post office for the mail. What good to the farmer was a weather report from last week? Rural townships had several post offices located often in a separate room in the postmaster's house.
In 1863 the idea of home delivery came about. Postmasters did not like seeing the people waiting in the cold for letters from their soldiers in the Civil War or receiving sometimes very bad news in public. A post office could apply for home delivery, but letters required an extra postage charge. Also, to qualify a city had to have sidewalks, house numbers, street signs, and cross walks. That left the small town people still trudging to the post office.
Wellsboro qualified for home delivery in 1906. Mansfield had sidewalks, made of wooden planks, but the rest of that – not at all. In October 1909 the borough council passed a resolution to name the streets and number the houses. The 1910 census was the first that in-town houses were recorded with numbers and streets.
In 1901 Rural Free Delivery was proposed and implemented. This allowed daily home delivery with no extra charge outside of town. Three rural routes were created out of the Mansfield post office. On the second of September, 1901 it was ready to go. The newspaper headline read “Three Routes Established, Starting from this Boro - Carriers will Begin Regular Rounds Monday, Sept. 2nd. - Fifteen Hundred People Affected - First in this Congressional District”
These routes, designated R. F. D. 1 through 3 have not changed much in the century plus since they were established. The address of R. D. #, etc. was discontinued only two or three decades ago and replaced with road names and house numbers, but the rural carriers drive nearly the same route these early horse-drawn carriages followed.
The first route included Richmond (Canoe Camp area) and Sullivan Townships covering 21 miles, 115 houses and 516 people. Albert J. Rumsey was the first carrier. No. 2 was 24 3/4 miles long including the Newtown road, Rutland within a mile of Roseville, the Lawrence Corners district and Pickle Hill. Andrew J. Brown was the carrier. No. 3 included Lambs Creek, Mann Creek and Schodac for 27 1/2 miles, 120 houses, and 540 population. The carrier was John L. Hagar. Substitute Carriers were Stephen G. Mudge and Claude L. Hagar.
These carriers had to provide their own horse and carriage and were paid $500 per year for this six day a week job.
By 1908 Tioga County, which had 106 post offices in 1901, was down to 54. In the intervening decades post offices have closed one after the other. The identity of the communities they represented has been lost. Ten years ago there were roughly 17 post offices still operating in the county. Since then some have been closed or reduced to limited hours.
Post office history is intricately linked to our lives and the way we live. With Rural Free Delivery farmers got their weather report while it could still do them some good. Catalog shopping from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward was a major convenience just as Amazon is to us. Local merchants complained then just as they do now. It brought the world to the farm's door.