I found the most exciting webpage recently and I am really happy to share it with you here. The Tennessee State Library and Archives has a lot of information published online and this particular page lists all of the post offices in Tennessee as well as the dates when they were opened and closed.
There is so much information within the six thousand lines of data that I hardly know where to begin. I’ll focus on the plateau counties and share a few things I noticed there.
Fentress County currently has six active post offices in Allardt, Clarkrange, Grimsely, Jamestown, Pall Mall and Wilder. However, there have been fifty-eight post offices in the county since the Jamestown office was opened in 1827; Jamestown was the first post office according to this list.
I am plagued by the “why” question and I can’t help but ask that of these rural post offices. One reader last week questioned if I was sure that there were post offices located both in Roslin and Banner Springs. It’s a very good question for I frankly couldn’t tell you the difference between the two. The same is true on the far north end of the county where both Pall Mall and Wolf River had post offices during the years 1928 – 1957. There was even an Alvinyork (no space between the names) for one year in 1923. While the list doesn’t tell me where Alvinyork, TN was located, I’m imagining it was in the Wolf River area since that’s where the property granted to him was located, although the library’s list doesn’t give any finer location than the county. I keep wondering why post offices were placed in these particular locations.
There were, in fact, five post offices in Fentress County that were opened one year or less: Alvinyork, Beauty, Doubletop (this one is reported by the State Library as “Doubletod” but I feel like that “d” is an error), Gooding and Haggard. We know that due to mobility issues, post offices were opened where a large concentration of people would be located, even if it was a transient location. The Henlopen Coal Mines post office is a prime example. I sure hope one of you wise readers can shed some light on that particular location as I’ve never heard of that particular mine. Mail delivered from this location for four years from 1831 until 1835. That was no doubt the life of the coal seam and when the miners moved on they took the post office with them. Wilder still has a post office which was opened in 1902 which closely corresponds to the beginning of the coal mine boom there around 1900. Nearby mining town Crawford’s post office also opened in 1902 while Davidson got their own office in 1910, Twinton in 1919. With the mines long since closed, only Wilder and Crawford still have post offices.
The other major industry in Fentress County historically is timber. As a large tract opened, a little boom town would form around it. I suspect that some of the post offices on the list were associated with timber operations and one of the reasons I believe that is they appear to be named for people. Haggard (1833 – 1834), Keese (1889 – 1901), Oporto (1833 – 1838), and Rodes (1889 – 1911) are a that look like surnames and are not communities I’ve ever heard of in the county.
Communities want to hold onto their post office as long as possible. The general store was often the site of the post office as well – the original one-stop shopping experience. In the case of the Roslin post office, the store closed down and was re-purposed as a neighborhood library while the post office remained open in the same location.
Many of the post offices were closed through the 1940’s to 1960’s when increasing mobility eliminated the need for post offices to be located in very small communities. Also, the postal service established a permanent policy of rural mail delivery in 1902; as those routes expanded to reach the rural Cumberland Plateau, the post offices could be more centralized.
In today’s digital world, the post office seems somehow nostalgic. We no longer write letters to family and friends inquiring about their families and sharing all of our news. We no longer have to wait days or weeks to hear news , whether joyful or tragic. But don’t we all enjoy getting a little note in our mailbox from a friend we haven’t seen in far too long? Isn’t that like a little forty-nine-cent gift?
I can’t help but imagine stopping in at the general store to pick up a few necessities that we couldn’t produce ourselves and hearing the storekeeper say, “I think there’s a letter for you.” You open the letter right there and share the news with the neighbors who happen to be in the store. In this way, news is disseminated throughout the community in true grapevine fashion.
You know, I think I’m going to write someone a letter right now!