Secrets of the Blue Ridge: A Postmark in Time

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Katherine Elizabeth (Short) Blackwell succeeded her father-in-law Permenia Blackwell as postmaster in 1943 at Doylesville P.O. (1886–1956). She held the position until that office was discontinued. Mrs. Blackwell was photographed at her post inside the P.E. Blackwell and Son store at Doylesville. Courtesy of Rodney Rich.

The “good ol’ days” are a matter of one’s perspective, but few there are who won’t wax nostalgic over those former days of cozy country stores, local rail travel, and the like. Just don’t interrupt someone indulging such pleasant ruminations with reminders of that era’s near-constant labor, muddy roads and dearth of readymade clothing, along with trustworthy medicines and air-conditioning (or the lack thereof).

Instead, pull out your well-worn vintage copy of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. or Montgomery Ward catalog and pencil out a wish list for your next mail order. Then, after puddle-jumping the two or three miles up or down the road to the general store to place your catalog order, don’t forget to ask the store-keep to check and see if you’ve got any mail to pick up. We’ll all still be here at the house when you get back.

After re-trotting that well-worn trail back and forth to the store or the train depot more than a few times to check and see if your package has arrived, you will finally snap back to the reality that country mercantiles and old train stations have mostly faded away, and you don’t even have to leave home in your climate-controlled vehicle just to check the mail. That package you were waiting for is probably right outside the door on your front porch.

General stores were the center of rural communities. Accessing the post office when you did your shopping was a win for the customer and storekeeper alike. At Boonesville P.O. (1872–1974), Henry Ira Davis was succeeded as postmaster in 1927 by his daughter-in-law. From that point forward, Mrs. Carrie Eddins (Maupin) Davis remained faithful to her stations, serving the post office until it was discontinued in 1974, and at the store counter until its till was shut for the final time when Carrie, the self-proclaimed “mayor of Boonesville,” retired at age 90 in 1994. Courtesy of Larry Lamb.

So, what happened? Progress, some say. Time was when you could haul your grains to the mill at Decca, on the cut-through road between Meriwether Lewis School and Garth Road. When Lynn Clark was through grinding your meal, you could ask about your mail before you left to head back home. The Decca post office (1906-1933) was safe and secure inside the Clarks’ kitchen pantry closet.

Mail service was a local thing in rural areas, and having a United States Post Office assigned to your closest general store was not only a fine convenience, but it also put your community on the map. One didn’t have to live in town or right beside a rail line to easily post a missive to Uncle Earl who was working two counties over, or to get a care package from Aunt Ginny whose entire brood moved out-of-state when Uncle Randolph got tired of riding the train for five hours every other weekend just to spend a night at home.

During work on the Blue Ridge Railroad, Claudius Crozet sometimes stayed at Brooksville Tavern below Rockfish Gap at the eastern foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One amenity the tavern offered was that the Brooksville P.O. (1831–1853) was onsite. That was nothing new for that area, however, as the town of New York’s post office (1799–1829) had previously occupied a nook on that same rich bottom land. When railroad engineers needed to stay at Mountain Top Hotel in Rockfish Gap while crews were digging the troublesome Blue Ridge Tunnel beneath the gap, the Mountain Top P.O. (1852–1858) was right there in the hotel.

Yancey/Yancey’s Mills P.O. (1813–1957) once handled mail for the farmers who lived around the area where Crozet P.O. was planted in 1878. Miller Manual Labor School, established in 1874, was the impetus for Crozet’s rail stop, and that venerable institution enjoyed an in-house post office (1896–1964). South of Batesville on the Craig’s Store Road near Holy Cross Episcopal Church was the Farina P.O. (1901–1918).

The Mission Home P.O. (1906–1980), on the borderline of Albemarle and Greene Counties, originally served the Episcopal mountain missions in that region. It was relocated later inside a private home at Shifflett Hollow. Phil James Historical Images Collection.

The village of Millington on Moormans River between Garth Road and Free Union had a post office presence for nearly 100 years, from 1835 to 1935. Across Pigeon Top and Fox Mountains to the west, Moremans/Moormans River P.O. (1829–1941) sat beside an intersection with Brown’s Gap Turnpike. In 1941, that post office’s name was changed to White Hall.

Mountfair P.O. (1899-1955), north of White Hall on Brown’s Gap Turnpike, was named for one of the Brown family’s plantations, Mount Fair. In northwest Albemarle near the border with Greene County was the outpost of Nortonsville. Their post office was in service for a century (1835–1936).

This manuscript postmark cancelled a stampless letter mailed from Hardin’s Tavern in 1848. Postmaster John Wood Jr. applied it to a letter that was simply folded into the shape of an envelope and sealed with wax. The post office name at that place changed five times: Hardin’s Tavern (1827), Woodville Depot (1852), Cosby’s Store (1857), Ivy Depot (1858), Ivy (1950). Phil James Historical Images Collection.

Having -boro, -town, or -ville as a suffix to your place-name did not always guarantee a post office and its requisite postmark. However, by the naming of certain churches and schools, and the implementation of the E-911 emergency system’s renaming of roads, posterity was served in such instances as Brownsville, Hillsboro, Morgantown, Newtown and Owensville.

Since each of the Hardin’s Tavern postmasters since 1827 had been from the Wood family, it might be fairly safe to say that the post office name was changed to Woodville in 1852 due to its administration by that family. William Cosby became postmaster there in 1855, and 20 months later the P.O. name changed to Cosby’s Store. In 1858, the name was changed again to Ivy Depot, and shortened to Ivy in 1950.

Like all of the former stations on the C&O between The University and Basic City, the train doesn’t stop there any more, but as of this writing, you can still go into the little post office at Ivy and buy some stamps or post that looong overdue thank you note to Aunt Ginny for her needlework doily and that pint jar of pawpaw preserves. She will be happy that you did, and you will be, too. 

Among the many discontinued post offices in this region were “BRIS” (Blue Ridge Industrial School) (1928–1946), now Blue Ridge School; “Brown’s Cove” (1828–1950); “Decca”(1906–1933); and “Mechum’s River” (1848–1951). This Mechum’s River specimen was issued during the Civil War. Phil James Historical Images Collection.

Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2022 Phil James 

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