With Lynchburg’s importance as a hub for rail and water transportation in the nineteenth century, the city became a key postal distribution service. Lynchburg’s constant need for more post office space impacted the architecture of downtown as we see it today.
The United States Post Office was created in 1775 and reorganized into the Post Office Department in 1792. For those who lived in Lynchburg, receiving mail and being patient went hand in hand. Around the turn of the 19th century, Lynchburg mail was shipped to Richmond, coming by sloop from northern cities, and then delivered once a week by horse to the small town.
Irregularities and failure of mail delivery were common complaints for many Americans, and Lynchburg residents were no exception. In 1820, The Lynchburg Press, having grown weary of customer complaints over not receiving their copies of the newspaper, ran an editorial concerning the matter. “As far as our duty extends, in issuing the paper in the proper time, and depositing it with the mails” the editorial defends, “we can answer for its discharge. It is to the carriers of the mail that the fault is attributable. …One of them was seen drunk in the streets on Friday morning…and was still in the vicinity in the evening, when he should have been a day’s journey on his route.”
As transportation options improved, the post office began using expanded means to deliver mail. In 1823 waterways were officially declared post roads, a move that benefitted Lynchburg with its location on the James River. Further improvements were made when Congress passed an 1838 act designating all railroads in the country as postal routes.
This nightstick belonged to Thomas W. Akers, who was employed by the Railway Mail Service. As the RMS grew in importance, workers’ safety became a priority. At larger train stations where the trains stopped, security guards were often on duty. Nightsticks like this one may have been a standard issue for RMS clerks, as well, as an added safety measure.
The Railroad Mail Service was inaugurated in 1869, and soon rail cars designed to allow for mail sorting and distribution en route became standard. When the trains passed through smaller towns, clerks would use a system of poles and hooks to deliver and receive mail without the train stopping. Because Lynchburg was the depot for several railroads, trains with RMS cars always stopped at the city.
From the conception of the system through the mid-twentieth century, the Postmaster General was the last in the presidential line of succession and the President appointed local postmasters. This certificate, signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, appointed John F. Wilson Postmaster at “Lynchburgh”, beginning in 1877.
This postal scale belonged to John F. Wilson, Lynchburg Postmaster from 1877-1885. While the unit of measurement is not clearly marked, it appears to be able to weigh items up to 9 ½ ounces. When Congress passed an act in 1847 allowing the issuance of stamps, a 5 cent stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 oz. and travelling less than 300 miles, while a 10 cent stamp covered everything else.
The Federal Government rented buildings in Lynchburg for federal offices, including the post office, until the 1880s. In 1882, Congress authorized the construction of Lynchburg’s first post office, built on the corner of 9th and Church Streets. The building was completed in early 1888 for the sum of $120,288.65, by far the most expensive building built in the city to that point.
This post office bill is postmarked “Lynchburg, VA, June 1870.” It was sent to Mr. J Humphries, and the payment would cover his postage and rent of a post office box for three months.
The first federal building only lasted 22 years, when it was torn down and replaced with a larger building on the same site. The builders stockpiled many of the bricks from the first building and used them as backing for the limestone walls of the new building. Lynchburg’s second post office eventually became the city hall, and stands today as the Monument Terrace Building.
By the 1930s it had become apparent that the post office needed a larger space to operate, as the growth of the city caused the need for a larger postal service. In 1926 the post office began using the old Westminster Presbyterian Church, located across the street, as an annex, and in 1931 also annexed a portion of the former Friend’s Warehouse, located next to the church. To address the need for additional space, Lynchburg’s third post office opened in 1933. To build it, the Federal Government acquired the title to the church, warehouse, and former Dudley Hall across the street from the existing post office, demolished them, and built a building spanning the entire block. The building currently stands as City Hall.
Lynchburg is home to six post office buildings today. One is still located downtown on Clay Street, while the others are scattered across the city on Fort Avenue, Odd Fellows Road, Rivermont Avenue, Timberlake Road, and Boonsboro Road.