Choosing a Postmaster, the Old-Fashioned Way
The process of appointing a postmaster can sometimes be arduous, as U.S. Postal Service officials go through lists of employees qualified to undertake the demands of a particular town. Life used to be a lot simpler, and such decisions were much easier.
Thanks to the family of Donald Robinson, who recently passed away, several boxes of historical documents, pictures, books and artifacts were donated to the Hebron Historical Society. Tucked away in these valuable contributions was a handwritten copy of an 1861 petition, nominating a new postmaster. It's clear from the petition that the qualifications needed to fill such an important role were things like accessibility and willingness, rather than any particular skill.
Addressed "To the Honorable Montgomery Blair, Post Master General", the petition states:
The undersigned citizens of the Town of Hebron and Columbia in the County of Tolland and State of Connecticut and residing within the delivery of the Hebron Post Office would respectfully represent that there is a Vacancy in the office of Post Master at Hebron in consequence of the death of Charles Post, Esq., the late incumbent. We would further represent that Charles G. Buell is in evry. [sic] respect well-qualified for the office, by occupation a merchant, and that his place of business is centrally located in the Village and in a place which will accommodate the public. We would therefore respectfully pray your honor to appoint the said Charles G. Buell Post Master at Hebron.
Dated at Hebron this 13 day of April A. D. 1861.
Charles Post had one of the most famous general stores in Hebron's history. It was located on the southwest corner of the town center, next to the Caroline Kellogg House. Post had been appointed Hebron Postmaster on June 6, 1853, and served in that capacity until his death in 1861. Stage coaches routinely stopped at the store, delivering mail and passengers; it was natural that it served as the post office, and that the store's owner served as the Postmaster.
When Post died, it was Hebron residents who decided that the post office should be moved to the Buell Store, and Charles Buell should be named Postmaster. After all, he had the qualifications needed for the job: he had a centrally located store that townspeople frequented , and he was willing! The petition, which includes 110 names, appears to have been signed only by men. There is no address on the petition, so we can only assume it was mailed to Washington, D. C. directly to Montgomery Blair, who served as Postmaster General in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet from 1861 through 1864. (Blair is better known for representing Dred Scott before the U.S. Supreme Court than for being Postmaster General.)
Less than two months later, on June 5, 1861, Charles Buell was indeed named Postmaster, and the Buell Store became the new post office. Buell served the Town of Hebron in this capacity until 1873.
Interestingly, Hebron's post office moved back and forth between these two stores several times. After Lucius H. Leonard purchased the Post store (renaming it the L. H. Leonard Store), he was appointed Postmaster from 1885 until 1889 and the post office was once again housed there. In 1924, when Alma Porter was named Postmaster, she also administered the post office from the old Post/Leonard store. But in 1925, the Porters purchased the old Buell Store, renamed it the Porter Store, and moved the post office back there! Alma continued serving as Postmaster until 1957, making her the longest serving Postmaster in Hebron history. The old Post/Leonard store was dismantled in 1930; the Buell/Porter Store still graces the Hebron Green and today houses Artisan Framing.
In addition to learning more about postal history, the 1861 petition is an excellent resource for genealogists. It is signed by Hebronians from as far north as Gilead, to people living in Hebron Center and as far east as present-day Columbia, to people living south in Turnerville (which did not have its own post office until 1863.)
Important Update: The above article was published in the December 2005 edition of The Hebronian. It was from a discussion with David Porter, son of Alma Porter, that we learned that his mother's first year as Hebron Postmaster was served at the old Post Store in 1924.
Shortly after the story's publication, Jeff Bray, a former Hebron resident for 10 years, read the article and realized that he possessed a picture that provided physical evidence confirming David's memories. He contacted the Society through the website. The picture in his possession, which is the same Post Store picture published in The Hebronian, is actually the earliest print we have ever seen of this famous picture, and contains Alma Porter's original handwriting at the bottom: "The old Post Store where I was appointed Postmaster 1924."
Mr. Bray has since graciously donated this valuable print to the Hebron Historical Society. We have scanned the print for easy accessibility through this website, but the original is something that should be viewed first hand. The faces of the stagecoach occupants are exquisite in terms of detail. The Society will be framing the print and hanging it in the newly renovated interior of Hebron's Old Town Hall.
We are extremely grateful to Mr. Bray, the family of Donald Robinson, who provided the original 1861 copy of the Postmaster Petition, and all other residents who have contributed documents, pictures and artifacts of Hebron's history! We as a community benefit enormously from their donations, as do future generations.