A Century of
California Post Offices
Walter N. Frickstad
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Establishment and Period of Operation
Official and Unofficial Lists, 1848-1859
Part I of this volume presents an abstract of the official records of the establishment, discontinuance, and change of name of all post offices operated in California from 1848 to the end of 1954. From 1848 to near the end of 1931, by “establishment” is meant the appointment of the first postmaster upon dates read from a microfilm of the “Records of Appointments of Postmasters”. The “Records” are the original entries by clerks of the Post Office Department, now preserved in the National Archives. For the period after 1931, the information has been drawn from the Postal Bulletin issued regularly by the Post Office Department.
Part II consists of twenty official and unofficial lists published on various dates between 1849 and 1859, reporting the offices then operating in California, plus an abstract (List I) drawn from Part I covering the 1849-59 period.
Appendix A is a short account of the creation of California counties and of their boundary changes. Appendix B consists of correspondence between the Postmaster General and the first two Special Agents for California in 1848 and 1849.
The prime purpose of the publication is to make available the most significant entries found in the official but unpublished “Records of Appointments”; secondly, to bring together other published but hopelessly dispersed information about the first decade of California postal service.
Persons interested in local and community history, as well as “cover collectors” and those specializing in postal affairs, have long felt the need for comprehensive and authentic information about California Post Offices, active and “dead”. A few enthusiasts have patiently compiled private lists and dates, but none appear to be satisfied with the completeness or accuracy of the result. The basic information, which has heretofore consisted principally of lists of offices in operation at the time of publication, is not completely available in any one locality, and there are many gaps and conflicts.
COMMENTS ON PART I
That was the situation encountered by the author when stirred by the California and succeeding local Centenaries he undertook the collection of Alameda, Contra Costa, and Madera County covers. Naturally the first step was to acquire a list, including period of operation, of all offices that had ever been established in those counties. A friendly dealer whose efforts antedated and exceeded his business interests permitted access to his private list, estimated to be perhaps ninety percent complete. Then began a search for more information among local libraries, soon taking in the University of California, which was found to have the largest number of lists – mostly in the Bancroft Library and the Document Department. In these was found the so-called “Official Register of the United States,” which has not been generally known by those interested in postal history. First authorized in 1816 and expanded after 1832, and published in each odd numbered year, it includes the name of every person in the employ of the United States on September 30 of that year, and his compensation during the fiscal year ending on June 30 just past. Until 1913 the Post Office Department was included. The University of California has an almost complete file. Missing numbers were found in the State Library at Sacramento and the Public Library at Los Angeles whose files are also excellent. Many other lists were found at the University and at the State Library; published in the early newspapers from information furnished by the Special Agent of the Department or the Postmaster at San Francisco; unofficial “Guides” and “Directories”, usually compiled with the help of the Department or its former employees; official Guides, commencing 1874; and for the period after 1931 the Guides and the Postal Bulletin. One or two lists also came from private libraries.
But the resulting information was not satisfactory. There were too many conflicts; not enough information about changes of name; and, save a few items in the “Register”, few definite dates of establishment or discontinuance. At this stage the availability of the “Records of Appointments of Postmasters” was learned. Inquiry directed to the National Archives and Records Service at Washington brought the offer of a microfilm of the California Section of the Records at a small cost. The film was ordered and arrived in December of 1952. Reading facilities were found at the Bancroft Library, available especially during week-ends, a most convenient time. The pertinent information was then transcribed onto cards, checked, and assembled.
Information on the film terminates with the latter part of 1931. It seemed desirable to bring the information up to date if possible. A tabulation was prepared from the Postal Guides, but this left much to be desired, especially as the Guide is published biennially since 1937. Recourse was then had to the Postal Bulletin, of which the University has a file from 1942 onward. Most of the numbers from 1936 to 1941 were found at the Berkeley Post Office, and finally a Los Angeles collector found 1930 to 1942 in that vicinity.
The original “Records” are arranged by counties and it was thought best to adopt the same form in presenting this abstract of information. It saves space, is most convenient for the average reader, and facilitates the use of explanatory footnotes.
At this point it should be noted that the “Records” have many errors of county placement of offices, and are sometimes wrong and often vague about the date of change from one county to another. This is not surprising inasmuch as this item was of least importance to the keepers of records of “Appointment of Postmasters”. Some of the errors were probably due to laxness somewhere along the line of communication, but many arose from early uncertainties about the precise location of the county boundaries, to a change in the site of the office, or to a lag in the recognition of changes.
To meet this condition, it was necessary to review the history of the formation of California counties and of their boundary changes, summarized in Appendix A. Under each county title the date of its creation has been stated, and footnotes comment upon the principal errors and uncertainties. A few very obvious errors, such as the brief placement of Volcano in Alameda County when separated from Calaveras County by the creation of Amador County in 1854, have been ignored.
The index to Part I furnishes the much wanted “Statewide Master List”. However, to make it complete, Eliza from List 7 and Central from List 9 of Part II should be added; and probably Macksville, Pleasant Grove, and Solidad from List 8.
The column headed “Office” has the name of the post office as spelled in the “Records”, except for possible typographical errors or misinterpretations of handwriting; and except that no effort has been made to adhere precisely to the presence or absence of the apostrophe that sometimes appeared before the possessive “s” of some of the early names. A flagrant example of early misinterpretation is found in the first spelling of Ione. This office, established in Calaveras County in 1852, was carried as Jone Valley until transferred to Amador County in 1857 (nearly three years late) as Ione City. Yet lists currently published in California, copied into Part II, all had it Ione Valley. A similar error might easily occur today in transcribing the handwritten “Record”. Cases of definite doubt were verified by going to printed “Guides” or other lists, but some errors may have slipped through.
In the column headed “Established” the dates from 1848 to late 1931 are those given in the “Records of Appointments”. That is exactly what they are, the date of the appointment of the first postmaster. There is no implication that the office opened for business on that date, as explained below. From 1931 to the middle of 1945 they are the date of the announcement in the Postal Bulletin, and their relation to the opening of the office has not been ascertained. From the middle of 1945 onward they are the “effective date” stated in the Bulletin.
Dates in the column headed “Discontinued” are believed to be fairly reliable, especially after Department supervision became reasonably adequate. However, it is suspected that in the earliest days numerous small offices ceased business without formal notification or approval. For example, Junction, Contra Costa County, is reported in the Registers of 1851 and 1853. In 1851 the postmaster reported approximately $200.00 of receipts, of which he received $81.06. The 1853 Register reports “No Return”; the “Records of Appointments” show the office closed on 20 December 1853. Yet the list published in “Daily Alta California” of July 29, 1851, probably as of early July, in listing Antioch as an office, has the note “Removed from junction (New York of the Pacific).” Apparently Junction ceased when Antioch was established. The sties were not more than four miles apart and they served the same patrons. Probably the whole story was known to the Special Agent in San Francisco, but more than two years was required to clear the Washington records. Doubtless the example of Junction is an extreme case, but it is probable that official information of discontinuances often lagged weeks or even months behind the event. Even today a reader of the Postal Bulletin will occasionally find the report of a discontinuance effective long prior to the date of announcement.
Dates of name changes published in Part I are officially correct, but this is no assurance that the postmark was changed on that day. In early days the change may have been anticipated or may have been delayed by the length of time required for notification and for obtaining the new postmark stamp. Of late years notice is given by fixing an effective date but that does not prevent occasional lapses. Non-conforming postmarks will be found, especially of an office that is discontinued to become a branch or station of another.
From the foregoing, it might be supposed that the tabulation presented in Part I, mostly drawn from the microfilm “Records”, would answer all questions within its scope. It furnishes the answers that a postmaster or other interested person would receive if he wrote to the Post Office Department for the record of the establishment of an individual office. But there is not implication that an early office commenced operation on the date of the appointment of the postmaster.
“Cover” collectors and others interested in local history want to know not only when the office was authorized or the first postmaster appointed but also when “establishment” became complete by the receipt and dispatch of mail.
A state-wide answer to that question for all offices cannot be expected. Too many records never reached headquarters; too many others have been lost or destroyed; other can be found only by time-consuming search beyond the resources of those interested. But it can be answered as to many offices by comparing the “Records of Appointments” with Registers, Postal Guides, Postal Bulletins, published lists, newspaper files, and old letters. The task is too great for any individual, but it suggests an interesting field for research by persons or organizations familiar with local history who are willing to work upon a county or group of offices.
But the years from 1848 to 1859 are of special interest. The Department had the task of establishing a postal system in remote territory, acquired by conquest almost simultaneously with the discovery of gold. Communication therein and with headquarters was slow and uncertain. Conditions were unknown and changing daily. There was no precedent, and special procedures had to be devised. Confusion was to be expected. Conditions improved materially after 1860 through better organization of the Department and more rapid and certain departmental communication.
Therefore, with the double object of throwing as much light upon the history of the earliest offices as practicable and of helping those who may want to go further into the subject, it seemed worth while to assemble and publish the comprehensive group of lists contained in Part II and to add Appendix B, containing the instructions to and reports from the first Special Agents.
USE OF PART II
A brief account of early California procedure and an outline of a few specific cases will lead to an understanding of the inconsistencies to be found among the lists of Part II, and will illustrate the information that can be drawn from them and from Appendix B to supplement Part I.
List I is an abstract of 1848-1859 information from Part I, compiled for convenience in working with the published lists of the period (list 3 to list 21). List 2 is copied from one page of the microfilm of the "Records of Appointments." It was not published, but it was compiled in Washington at the time, showing what information the Department had up to early 1851.
The first and most glaring inconsistency is found upon comparing List I with the 1851 "Register" List 7. The "Register" fiscal records show operation of many post offices long before the official appointment of a postmaster. This is confirmed by List 5, published in San Francisco by the "Daily Alta California" in July, 1851. A reading of Appendix B gives the answer: the Special Agents had authority to establish offices and appoint postmasters to serve until approved or rejected by the Department in Washington. The "Records of Appointments" give the date of that approval, taking no account of prior operation with the same or another postmaster under the authority of the Special Agent.
That Special Agents Van Voorhees and Allen did exercise their authority to establish offices and appoint postmasters is shown by their reports (Appendix B), the "Registers" of 1851 and 1853, and newspaper lists. Complete reports of their activities are not available and probably were never made.
Late in 1851 and through 1852 the picture changed, and increasingly new post office operation awaited Washington approval. After 1853 the dates shown in List I for the appointment of "first postmasters" are earlier, generally by two to many months, than the date of commencing business indicated by applicable current lists.
The reversal of the early practice is partially explained by the final document in Appendix B. This is a letter from Postmaster General Collarmer to "Col. R. T. P. Allen" under date of December 10, 1849. It is a sharp reprimand for failing to establish an office at San Diego; for establishing interior offices whose "net proceeds" would be insufficient to pay for the transportation of their mail; and particularly letting transportation contracts at prices far in excess of possible "nett proceeds." The Postmaster General cited the contract for transportation from San Francisco to Sacramento and thence to Culloma at $36,400 per annum, and to Monterrey and Stockton at $26,000. "There is nothing to show that the offices above named yield at the rate of $62,400 per annum--an amount that is believed to be vastly beyond the nett proceeds of those offices to which nett proceeds you are instructed to limit the cost of your mail arrangements." (The Register for 1851, List 7 shows for the fiscal year 1850-1851, net proceeds: Sacramento $88,678.03; Coloma $31,900.11; Stockton $9,495.21; Monterrey (3 Yrs) $678.97; Total $103,752.30). The letter goes on to recite that the required reports and copies of contracts have not been received, and threatens to dishonor the contracts, "not only because they are beyond the limitations prescribed in the instructions, but beyond the limitations prescribed by law, because, as the letter of 31 March informed you, no routes in the interior of California had yet been established by act of Congress."
The castigation of December 10. 1849, does not withdraw the authority of the Special Agent to establish post offices and appoint postmasters, which authority was freely used in 1850, and more sparingly later, but it is a clear intimation that Washington proposed to exercise more control over California operations. Apparently the Postmaster General modified his attitude upon receipt of fuller reports from Allen, and probably from Postmaster Moore of San Francisco in whom the Department placed great confidence. However, restriction of authority was inevitable and commenced a year or two later.
Following are a number of illustrations of the kind of information that may be had from a comparison of List I with others:
Monterrey: Lists 1 and 2 record the appointment of William G. Marcy on 21 November 1848. List 3 (1849 Register) shows that his compensation commenced Feb. 23, 1849. Without further information, the 23 February date might well be accepted as the date of opening. The conclusion is confirmed by the letter from W. Van Voorhees dated in San Francisco March 14, 1949. He had arrived in San Francisco via the steamer "California" on February 28, had stopped at Monterrey where "the mails were delivered to Captain William G. Marcy. who received, opened and distributed them, without, however, consenting to enter permanently upon the duties of office. He nevertheless executed his bond as postmaster . . ." There cannot be much doubt that the bond was dated February 23, on or very near the day when he began the distribution of mail, and this date was adopted by Washington as that upon which his compensation should begin.
The story of San Francisco is somewhat similar, but more complex. Lists 1 and 2 show four postmasters appointed for San Francisco, of whom the first two never took office. When Van Voorhees arrived in San Francisco on February 28, he found no postmaster. Therefore he appointed C. L. Ross, "a merchant of some considerable standing," to open and distribute the mail and to take charge until the arrival of a postmaster. March 1, 1849, must therefore be the date or very close to the date of actual opening of the office. It would seem that San Francisco should have been reported in List 3, the 1849 Register. Events between March and September probably explain its omission. R. T. P. Allen, successor to Van Voorhees, arrived on June 13, and assumed office on the 15th. (Allen's letter of June 23, 1849). In a letter of August 29, he reports that John W. Geary, the incumbent in San Francisco had tendered his resignation soon after his (Allen's) arrival, and W. P. Bryan "an eminent (Whig) gentleman of Tennessee, had been appointed to serve until the arrival of Mr. Moore (the fourth appointee) which occurred in August. Evidently Geary had arrived and displaced Ross sometime during Van Voorhees' administration, but resigned before June 30. Therefore there was no officer in the service of the United States as postmaster of San Francisco on the 30th September, 1849, who had served during the fiscal year ending 30 June 1849. Compilers of the “Register” apparently omitted San Francisco as being outside the scope of their publication.
Monterey and San Francisco post offices opened for business several months after the Washington appointment of a postmaster. But thereafter came a period of some two years when offices opened before the date of the Washington appointment; this by the authority delegated to and exercised by the Special Agents. Those shown on List 2 were probably all in that category except Monterey and San Francisco, but official records are lacking. List 6 and List 7 show clearly the operation of that practice, while List 9 indicates the return to what might be called normal procedure.
List 2, which is incorporated into List 1, shows twenty-one offices established in California prior to June 30, 1851. List 6, published by “Alta California” in San Francisco on July 29, 1851, assumedly (sic) as of early July, shows sixty-one; omitting Haydensville and Junction, forty-two new offices. List 7, the 1851 Register, as of June 30, 1851, reports remuneration and “Nett Proceeds” for thirty-four offices, for seventeen of which the first postmaster, according to List 1, was not appointed until after July 1, 1851. One, Eliza, Yuba County, does not appear at all on List 1, evidently having been discontinued before Department approval was given. Yet Henry Severance was allowed $40.37 for services between Oct. 1, 1850 and June 30, 1851. Marysville operated throughout the fiscal year 1850-51, and its “Nett Proceeds” were $4,633.43, the fifth largest in the State. But List 1 shows Postmaster Cushing not appointed until July 28, 1851. All but two of these new offices appear on List 6.
Thirty-seven additional offices, whose postmasters were not appointed in Washington until after July 1851, also appear in Table 7 with the notation “No Report”. Evidently the compiler of the “Register” had reason to expect a report, perhaps because of stamps or other supplies furnished, or perhaps from information supplied by the Special Agent. The reports may have been delayed beyond the closing date of September 30, or may not have been due because of lack of business. However, all names but eleven appear on List 6 of July 29, 1851.
By the time the 1853 Register appeared, List 9, affairs were more stabilized. A comparison of the dates of sixteen newly established offices shows that the fiscal records started one to eleven months after the appointment, and only two operated before the appointment. One, Auburn, Placer County, apparently operated throughout the fiscal year 1852-3 with William Gwynn as postmaster, and receipts of $2147, although the “Records of Appointments” show J. F. Bailey as the first postmaster appointed 21 July 1853. Auburn and Postmaster Gwynn appear also on List 8, printed in the “Sacramento Daily Union” of November 20, 1852, “(corrected to September first.)” Another, Central, county not stated, operated for two quarters, with an income of $5.13, but, like Eliza, does not appear on List 1.
In addition to Eliza and Central, five other names that do not appear on List 1 or the “Records of Appointments” were observed on other Lists. They are Macksville, El Dorado County, Pleasant Grove, Sacramento County, and Solidad, San Luis Obispo County, all on List 8; New Potosi, Mariposa County, on Lists 16 and 20; and Springtown, county not named, on List 21. List 8 is from the “Sacramento Daily Union” of Nov. 20, 1852, and warrants a high degree of credence. It may well be that Macksville, Pleasant Grove and Solidad operated briefly under the authority of the Special Agent in the fiscal year 1851-52, not reported by any “Register”. Lists 16 and 20, which carry New Potosi, were published in Washington. The name does not appear on List 15 published in San Francisco by “The Wide West” at about the same time as List 16. Springtown is evidently a mistaken spelling of Stringtown, which according to List 1 was discontinued before the beginning of the fiscal year covered by List 21.
Turning to the 1855 “Register”, List 13, the first half shows eighteen offices whose fiscal records began from forty days to eleven months after the appointment. The 1859 “Register”, List 21, makes a similar showing but with rather less delays.
No comparison of “Records” and “Registers” has been made after 1859, but through the establishment of the Overland Mail in 1858, the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, and the improvement of postal administration, it may be assumed that the lapse of time between appointment and commencement of business was reduced gradually to a few weeks, excepting isolated cases where special circumstances interfered.
As to the reliability of the lists published in Part II, the “Registers” are official documents published by the Department of State, compiled from information furnished by the Post Office Department and the Auditors. Errors in transmitting information should be expected. Some of the errors of spellings are obvious; a few are confusing when they create a different name. County locations are occasionally in error, perhaps reflecting a lag of information or the prevailing confusion. The financial reports have the appearance of being reliable, and are very illuminating. Not too much importance should be attached to the precise date of starting when reported as “--qrs,” for with few exceptions the postmasters were paid by fee, and there was no taint of fraud if a postmaster began business before or after the first day of the quarter for which he was reporting. It is regrettable that there were so many entries “No Return.” It is impossible to know whether they were due to a combination of poor communication and reluctance of illiterate or busy postmasters to undertake the red tape involved, or were due to lack of business.
The private lists published in the East reflect official records and do not add much significant information. Those published in the West, especially in current newspapers, should be given much weight. The information came from the Special Agent of the Department, or the postmaster of San Francisco, and some of the lists carry a credit line.
Every effort has been made to copy Lists 2 to 21 exactly as originally published including what appear to be typographical or other obvious errors; but obvious space-saving abbreviations have been introduced.
The gathering of information contained in this volume was first casually undertaken to satisfy the author's personal curiosity. The project would never have been brought to its present stage without the encouragement and assistance of many others. Inspiration, constructive suggestions and important data have come especially from collectors of Western “covers” and other historical material. Others have participated in the mechanical work. The staffs of the National Archives and of the Libraries mentioned above have been most courteous and helpful. Finally, publication has been made possible by the sponsorship of the Philatelic Research Society, the support of members of the Western Cover Society, and the very tangible contributions of those who have made advance subscriptions. The author feels deeply grateful to all who have helped.
Although earnest effort has been made to check all items, it will be strange if there are not some errors or omissions. The author will appreciate having these called to his attention as an aid in the preparation of an “Errata” sheet if found desirable. This invitation applies primarily to errors that may be classed as clerical or typographical occurring in the preparation of the volume itself. No specific program has yet been outlined for handling comments by
readers on the consistencies, inconsistencies, and errors in the official records and quoted lists; and making use of supplementary information and hints that may be submitted. However, all communications will be carefully filed for the benefit of individuals or groups who undertake further study of California Postal History.
An “Addenda,” which will be found immediately after the Index to Part I, reports changes announced by the Post Office Department “Postal Bulletin” from January to June 30, 1955.
Walter C. Frickstad
c/o Philatelic Research Society
3822 Harrison Street
A CENTURY OF CALIFORNIA POST OFFICES
THEIR ESTABLISHMENT AND PERIOD OF OPERATION
From a microfilm of Records of the Post Office Department, “Records of Appointments of Postmasters, State of California, 1848-1930,” preserved in the National Archives, Washington, D. C.
From “The Postal Bullentin,” issued by the Post Office Department.
Offices are listed under the county of their site. Counties are arranged alphabetically. Following Yuba County is an index which constitutes a master state-wide alphabetical list of the offices.
The First column give the name of the offices as spelled in the official “Records of Appointment”. Minor variations, sometimes formal and sometimes informal, are spelled out or indicated, except that the combining of two words into one, or the reverse, is not always noticed unless a letter is inserted or omitted.
The Second column, headed “Established”, give the theoretical date of establishment or re-establishment by the appointment of the first postmaster earlier than 1931. From the latter part of 1931 until the middle of 1945, it generally is the date of the Department order or announcement but may be the effective date; after the middle of 1945 it is the official “effective date” upon which the office is to be opened for business.
Preceding the Second column is sometimes found a name prefixed by “Fr”, which means, “Name changed from ------” the stated name.
The Third column give the official date of discontinuance. A dash in this column indicates that the office was still operating on the last day of December 1954. “To ---” means that the “Name was changed to -----” that indicated. “M” after the discontinuance date means “Mail sent to ----” the named office, which becomes the new address of the patrons of the discontinued office. “Into ----- Co.” means transferred to the named county, where the record is repeated and continued. Dates of county changes are not shown in the columns, but must be sought in a note under the county receiving the office. “Sta” or “Br” shows that the discontinued office became a station or branch of the named office. “Rescinded”, with or without a date, means that the order of appointment or establishment was rescinded, probably before operations commenced. “No papers” has the same import.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Frickstad, Walter N., A Century of California Post Offices 1848-1954, Pages v-xix. Philatelic Research Society, Oakland, CA. 1955.
© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.