Down to the sea: In celebration of the 100th birthday of the Camden Post Office

Barbara Dyer: The hub of Camden

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 3:00pm

The Post Office is the hub of Camden, where people meet and greet, during its open hours. This month the building will be 100 years old; Camden’s newest postmaster will be officially installed May 16 and a birthday party will commence on the Village Green. It was about 1990 when they wanted to build Camden a new post office, and it would probably be out of the business district as had happened in other towns. Some bureaucracy felt the building was so small; it had become a danger to employees, and the large and complicated machinery needed for mechanization would not fit in that little building. The building, they said, was not energy efficient. Most towns wanted a new post office, but not Camden.

Beedy Parker organized a group of residents to form an ad hoc committee, with Parker Laite Sr. as chairman. Everyone knew that with Laite heading it up, the project would succeed. A meeting was called for June 7 to include members of the Camden Board of Selectmen, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Planning Board, the Comprehensive Plan Committee to meet with the ad hoc committee and any interested residents. Their work began with a letter to President George W. Bush and U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. They met in June with postal official J.J.Meusse Jr., who then admitted that remaining at the present site had become an option.

So the committee presented him with 2,000 signatures, including those of the Camden Rotary Club and the Select Board, to take with him. He said that thepost office had no interest in "alienating" the Camden residents. In the Jan. 28, 1991, edition of The Camden Herald, a story said "Camden Post Office officials abandon plan to move out." The grass roots effort saved it. The residents all loved the beautiful building that cost $85,000 when built, and the granite came from Bodwell's Quarry in Vinalhaven.

Prior to 1794, the town received little mail that was brought by schooners. A man named Russell was hired by individuals to go from Castine to Wiscasset carrying the mail, first in a handkerchief and later by saddle bag. He traveled by foot and it agreed with him so much that he traveled off to the western states, leaving his family and the mail to take care of themselves. Then the people petitioned the government. Postmasters were appointed and the mail was sent once a week by horseback.

The first postmaster was Joseph Eaton, who kept the post office in his home on the eastern side of the harbor, where Wayfarer Marine is located today. He was succeeded in 1797 by John Hathaway, Camden's first lawyer, and kept the mail in his office, which was on what is now the Village Green and almost across the road from the cornerstone of today's post office. He died two years later and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Cushing, one of Camden's first businessmen, was appointed. Cushing had the office until 1830. Joseph Hall was appointed next, until he left for Congress, and he was followed by John Eagar, who kept the office in his store that was located about where Lord Camden Inn is today. He died in 1837 and since Hall was back in town, he was reappointed to office. Ephraim Smart was appointed the following year until he went to Congress and then Jonathan Huse was appointed. Then came the following: John Norwood, Benjamin Porter, Hiram Bass, Alden Miller, Wilfred Rich, Edwin Fletcher, F.A.D. Singhi, Isaac Coombs, George Hodgman and Frank J. Wiley.

Most of the buildings, where these postmasters kept their offices, burned in the Great Fire of Camden in 1892. The appointment of postmaster was political, and depended on who was president of the United States at that time.

In 1909 the then-Post Office Department had a strict set of rules. I found the "unmailable matter" to be rather interesting:

"Matter manifestly obscene, lewd or lascivious; articles for preventing conception or for procuring abortion; articles intended for indecent or immoral purposes; all matter otherwise unmailable by law, the outside cover wrapper of which bears any delineations or language of a libelous, scurrilous, defamatory, or threatening character.

Spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or otherwise intoxicating liquors of any kind; poisons of any kind and articles and composition containing poison, poisonous animals, insects and reptiles; explosives of every kind; flammable materials (which are held to include matches, kerosene, oil, gasoline, Naptha, benzene, turpentine, denatured alcohol, etc.); infernal machines, and mechanical, chemical or other devices or composition which may ignite or explode; disease, germs or scabs; and other natural or artificial articles. Composition or material of whatever kind which may kill or in any wise injure another or damage the mail or other property.

Live or dead (not stuffed)animals, birds or poultry, raw hides or pelts, guano and any other article having a bad odor shall not be permitted in the mail."

The first step for the present post office was taken in 1907, through the efforts of Congressman Charles E. Littlefield. An appropriation was approved by Congress for $10,000. Excavation for the building was in November of 1913 on the Chestnut Street lot, where a livery stable had been. On Aug. 1, 1914, work continued and the cornerstone laying ceremony was held. A. H. Parsons, better known as "Skip," made the 7-by-9-by-4-inch copper box to place in the cornerstone and included a July 31, 1914, edition of The Camden Herald, a Camden Town Report, a roster of post office employees, photographs of Camden's business section and three slips relating to the history of the post office. Littlefield applied the mortar to the corner stone.

The laying of the cornerstone was held on Aug. 1, 1914, and about 2,000 townsfolk attended. The Board of Trade was in charge and it started with a parade at 6:30 a.m. Joseph A. Brewster was the marshal, and they formed on Mechanic Street. They marched up and around the Civil War Monument, back through Main and Elm streets to the Elm Street School, and over to Pleasant and Wood streets to Elm Street and then to the post office. In the parade were members of the Camden Police, the Camden Band, the Commandery, Mt. Battie Lodge, Olympia Company, and carriages with dignitaries and guests. George T. Hodgman presided over the ceremonies along with ex-Congressman Littlefield.

In May of 1915 the building was completed. Josiah Hobbs was the postmaster and this is what The Camden Herald reported:

"Camden's handsome new post office opened, the finest government building in any town in Maine and probably in any town of less than 3500 population in the country, was open for inspection of the public Saturday afternoon. The first mail was received there Sunday and it was open for general business Monday morning. Wishing to give the general public opportunity to inspect every part of the building, Postmaster Hobbs made Saturday afternoon a general reception day and he and Assistant Miller and the clerks were on hand to show people about and explain everything. The Camden Band helped out by volunteering their services and giving an excellent concert inside the building. Pinks were given to the ladies as long as they lasted and all afternoon interested visitors were inspecting and admiring this splendid structure. Certainly Camden people have the right to feel proud of this building and will enjoy using it. The number Saturday was much larger than expected and the estimated number is estimated to have been between 700 and 800."

The first door-to-door postman, hired on Nov. 1, 1903, was Harry C. Richards. He made two trips per day, totaling over 23 miles. The following year they hired two more postmen, so Harry's walk was cut to 15 miles per day. He continued to work from the new post office. When he retired in 1945, he had walked the Camden streets a total of 185,000 miles, or six times around the world. In the picture of postal workers on the steps of the new post office, Harry is in the front row, on the right end with his postal bag.

The other postmasters following Josiah Hobbs in the present post office were Reuel Robinson, Leslie D. Ames, Adrien Kelleher, William Frank Leonard, George W. Scott, Elizabeth M. Scott, Michael Arbour, Tmothy Daggett, Scott A. Boardman and our present postmaster, Stephen P. Dalessandro.

Happy birthday, Camden Post Office!

Related information:

Events happening Saturday, May 16, in honor of the Camden Post Office birthday:

Design-a-Stamp Contest — pick up a blank form at the Camden Public Library anytime in May. Winners will be announced at 2 p.m. during the 100th birthday party of the Camden Post Office on the Village Green.

Sidewalk Chalk Art — all day. Bring your own chalk and decorate Camden's sidewalks with springtime designs. (Children must be accompanied by an adult.)

Story Hour — from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Camden Public Library.

Official Installation of the Camden Postmaster — from 1 to 1:40 p.m. on the Village Green. A vintage 1915-era car will be on display courtesy of Owls Head Transportation Museum.

100th Birthday Party for the Camden Post Office — at 2 p.m. on the Village Green. There will be cupcakes and the winner of the Design-a-Stamp Contest will be announced.

Free sails on the schooner Olad — sailing at 3 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., space is limited to 22 for each trip. Call 236-2323 to secure a reservation.

Working Waterfront Dance — from 7 to 10 p.m. on the Public Landing (free, but donations to cover costs appreciated).

Barbara F. Dyer has lived in Camden all of her life, so far.

More Barbara Dyer

— Socializing and such, before television
— The first years of the Camden Snow Bowl

— Snow Bowl

— Launching ‘Whimsey’

— The many moods of Camden Harbor

— Demise of the Camden steamboat wharf

— Curtis Island Lighthouse - the sentinel of Camden Harbor

— Camden Harbor: As old as the last glacier

— Mr. Camden Harbor

— Windjammer cruises in Camden

— Memorial Day remembrances

— Honoring our veterans every day