post office / post-office
An office, under governmental superintendence, where letters are received and distributed; a place appointed for attending to all business connected with the mail. The government system for forwarding mail-matter. — Webster, 1882
J.H. Carroll has purchased the Ingalls property opposite the post office. November 7, 1885, De Smet Leader.
The first mention of a post office in the Little House books is found in Little House on the Prairie (see Chapter 6, “Moving In”). Ma wishes she could send a letter to the folks in Wisconsin, but “Independence was forty miles away, and no letter could go until Pa made the long trip to the post-office there.” While it’s impossible to say when exactly the Ingallses settled on the Osage Diminished Reserve in Rutland Township (Montgomery County), it was between August 26, 1869 (when Charles Ingalls executed a power-of-attorney in Chariton County, Missouri) and February 25, 1870 (when the Ingallses sold their Missouri land as residents of Montgomery County, Kansas).
Independence, Kansas. The first post office in Montgomery County was established at Westralia in January 1869. A post office opened at Montgomery City on August 10, 1869, with Robert W. Dunlap as postmaster; the post office was in his drygoods store, which had been the headquarters of the Osage Indian trade at Drum Creek since February 1868. Dunlaps’s store was part of the Montomery City settlement, located on the north side of Drum Creek near its confluence with the Verdigris River on Section 2 – Township 33 South – Range 16 East of the 6th P.M. The August 4, 1869, Fort Scott Weekly Monitor reported that Montgomery County was one of the finest portions of Kansas, with about two thousand settlers in the “Valley of the Verdigris,” part of the Osage Diminished Reserve.
Several miles northwest of Montgomery City, George Brown arranged for the September 1869 cession of a parcel of land between Rock and Elk Creeks, the Verdigris River and Table Mounds- and Independence was born. According to a 1905 history of the Independence Post Office published in the Independence Daily Reporter, prior to the summer of 1870, settler L.T. Stephenson brought mail from Oswego and took letters back to Oswego to be mailed, charging a uniform ten cents per letter, one way.
The first post office at Independence was established on June 13, 1870, with Finley D. Irwin as postmaster. Finley’s pay was $12 per year. Ebenezer Wilson came to the area in August 1869 as president of the Independence Townsite Company, which laid out a large portion of Independence after incorporation in July 1870. The town was platted around the early squatters’ settlement known as Haytown. Irwin & Wilson opened the first store and post office in Independence, located on part of Lots 6, 7, and 8, Block 31, on the west side of North Pennsylvania Avenue, between Laurel and Myrtle Streets. The original store and post office building was 16 x 24 feet in size, and a wooden cracker box behind the counter was all the “fixtures” the post office needed.
In May 1871 – after the Ingallses had left Kansas and returned to Wisconsin – Finley Irwin resigned as postmaster and Alexander Moore (Ebenezer Wilson’s father-in-law) was appointed. Irwin & Wilson sold out their stock, and Irwin went back to his old home in Pennsylvania while Wilson remained active in the affairs of Independence, serving (among other offices) as the first president of the Independence school board and the town’s second mayor. The Independence post office remained in Irwin & Wilson’s original building until 1881, when it moved into another store on Lot 11, Block 42, two lots north of the bank at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Main Street.
Click HERE to see the 1881 plat of Independence from the 1881 Historical Atlas of Montgomery County, Kansas. For the map above, I cropped a portion of an 1885 plat and have added (in solid yellow) the location of the first post office as well as the location (outlined in yellow) of where the second post office stood a block to the south. The sketch of the first post office is from a 1909 newspaper article. Across from Irwin & Wilson’s store, on the corner of Laurel and Pennsylvania, was Jesse H. Pugh’s drug store. Pugh’s later brick building at 225 N. Penn was one of the first four brick buildings constructed in Independence, and it still bears his name. J.H. Pugh (1842-1897) witnessed the February 1870 relinquishment of Caroline and Charles Ingalls’ Chariton County land back to Adamantine Johnson.
Had the Ingallses remained in Rutland Township and purchased either school section or federal land surrounding their Little House on the Prairie cabin, they would have soon been able to send and receive mail at the Harrisonville Post Office, established on April 5, 1871, with John J. Beggs as the first postmaster. Harrisonville was a small settlement only about a mile from the Ingallses’ cabin. The navigation button that brought you to this page shows the Wayside Post Office, moved to the grounds of the Little House on the Prairie Museum. The first post office at Wayside was established on May 16, 1887, with Joseph Hall the first postmaster. It was situated on the NE 4-34-14, 100 feet south of the railroad tracks. October 11, 1920, postmaster Clara Damewood filed a government report stating that the post office was then located on the NW 3-34-14, 1300 feet north of the railroad tracks; this was part of the claim originally purchased by Dr. George Tann in 1870.
Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The Walnut Station post office in Redwood County was already a year old when Charles Ingalls first filed on his Plum Creek preemption claim on June 26, 1874. Post office records at the National Archives are unclear as to when and where the post office in Walnut Grove was established; Lafayette Bedal was appointed its first postmaster on June 20, 1873. The official plat of Walnut Grove was filed September 10, 1874, the land originally being part of Lafayette Bedal’s homestead and preemption claim in the NW Section 30, Township 109N, Range 38 West of the 5th PM. Bedal had first filed on the land in January 1873.
Walnut Grove historians speculate that the first post office was located in the railroad depot, and that it moved into Lafayette Bedal’s Block 6 store building in 1876, based on the January 1876 deed for the property Lafayette Bedal purchased in Block 6.
While working on her Plum Creek manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder drew a crude map showing the location of the post office, a few businesses, the school, and church in town. She included a blacksmith shop in the western part of town; in November 1875, William Hodgkinson purchased Lots 11-12, Block 8, and he only ran the shop for about a year before moving to Tracy. In On the Banks of Plum Creek (see Chapter 20, “School”), Laura’s friend Christy says that she lives in “the house before you [come] to Beadle’s store and post-office, before you get to the blacksmith shop.” In June 1875, James Kennedy purchased Lots 4-5, Block 5; he sold the property in May 1876.
The following Walnut Grove news was published in the the Redwood Gazette, October 7, 1880: There have been a good many changes in our village during the summer that is past… Mr. S.A. Longnecker sold his furniture store to Mr. Sinkler and took in exchange Mr. Sinkler’s blacksmith shop, which he is going to repair and fix up for a furniture store. Mr. Sinkler moved his building on to the site formerly occupied by L. Bedal’s post office and keeps a saloon there. Sinkler’s shop was on Block 6. Bedal’s store was west of Sinkler’s shop and the Kennedy home was on Block 5, east of Sinkler.
John Fitch and John Anderson were partners in a general store on the northeast corner of Block 10 from August 1874 until they dissolved their partnership in January 1879. That summer, Dr. Robert Hoyt went into partnership with John Anderson. The August 14, 1879, the Gazette had reported: Dr. Hoyt and J.H. Anderson are building a drug store on Main street… and if we may judge from the lively way that the work is progressing, it will be in running order soon, and one of the finest buildings in town. Dr. Hoyt has moved his office along side of the drug store.
On October 6, 1879, only weeks after Ma and the girls had taken the train to meet Pa at Tracy, John H. Anderson was appointed postmaster, replacing Lafayette Bedal. The Redwood Gazette, October 30, 1879, reported: Mr. L. Bedal has resigned his office as Post Master, in favor of J.H. Anderson. We expect the office will be removed this week to the Hoyt and Anderson drug store. The map below shows the location of the first post office in the depot, the Bedal Store and Post Office dating from 1876, and the Hoyt & Anderson Drug Store, where the Post Office was moved in 1879. There are no known photographs of either the Bedal Store or the Hoyt & Anderson Drug Store. (If you know of any, please email.)
De Smet, South Dakota. When the Ingallses arrived at Silver Lake camp in September 1879, the nearest post office was the newly-established one on Andrew Lathrop’s homestead on the east shore of Lake Henry (called, confusingly, the Lake Thompson Post Office), with Lathrop having been appointed postmaster in August. Lathrop had filed on his homestead in the fall of 1878. During the summer of 1879, there were also post offices located at Preston (Lake Preston), Lake Badger, Spring Lake, Jepsee (Hetland), and Pleasant Valley (east of Lake Thisted).
In February 1880, a request was filed for a post office to be established at De Smet, with George H. Bryan (a carpenter from Oswego, New York) recommended as postmaster. Bryan stayed in the area a while, but soon relocated to Davison County to homestead, and he was never officially appointed as postmaster (a claim made in this article). John Carroll was appointed De Smet postmaster on March 24, 1880. He also was appointed Kingsbury County clerk of courts, with his first office in the building he rented from Charles Ingalls (see The Long Winter, Chapter 8, “Settled in Town.”)
Did the first De Smet post office ever operate out of the Ingallses’ town building on Block 4? It’s possible, although the first mention of the De Smet post office in the De Smet Little House books is when Pa “takes a letter to the post office” while they were living in his building in town during the Hard Winter, suggesting that by this time, Carroll had built on the lot he purchased to the north of the Ingallses, on the southwest corner of Block 2.
Early tax records and post office records don’t pinpoint the post office location by Block and Lot. In June 1882, Carroll submitted a report stating that the post office was located in the SW 27-111-56, 90 rods from the railroad depot and south of the railroad tracks. From the Kingsbury County News (August 30, 1883): “S. Johnson has moved from the Power building into the next door north of the post office.” The 1883 De Smet bird’s-eye drawing shows John Carroll’s Bank of De Smet just south of Silas Johnson, Bootmaker (identified as owning Lot 9 via deeds and tax records). Another mention of the post office location from the De Smet Leader (November 5, 1885) states: “J.H. Carroll has purchased the Ingalls property opposite the post office.”
In the 1970s, long-time editor of the De Smet News, Aubrey Sherwood, wrote that he had been shown an intriguing old photo of a frame building with a sign on it and another sign along the sidewalk; one sign said “bank” and the other said “post office.” Sherwood believed this photo was of John Carroll’s first Bank of De Smet and Post Office building. (I have never seen this photo, so if you know its whereabouts, please email.)
The post office was in John Carroll’s bank building through the end of These Happy Golden Years, when Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder were married. As the Wilders remained in De Smet until the summer of 1894 and the rest of the Ingalls family even longer, the history of the De Smet Post Office after the Little House books should be of interest to readers. After John Carroll purchased the Ingalls lot on Block 4 in 1885, he began construction of a brick building on the corner (moving the Ingalls building to the back of the lot). Completed the following year, his original Bank of De Smet building (minus its cornice with “J.H. Carroll” on it) still stands and houses Gass Law Offices today.
Carroll sold his wooden building on Block 2 to to the The Dakota Loan and Investment Company, with attorney Alfred Waters as President and Charles Dawley as Secretary. Dawley took over Carroll’s duties as Clerk of Courts. In March 1888, they finished construction of a brick building on Lot 8, Block 2: it was solid brick with white stone trimmings. The front office was 22×33 feet, connected to an office in the rear 15×16 feet, with another room not connected to the front part of the building, it being 19×22 feet. Upstairs was a lodge hall and meeting room, accessed via exterior stairs at the rear of the building. The front office downstairs housed the Dakota Loan and Investment Company; the middle part housed the Abstract Company. The separate room to the east – with an entrance on Second Street – became the De Smet Post Office. Construction costs for the building was seven to ten thousand dollars. In the 1890s, Carrie Ingalls was often hired as a temporary worker in the post office.
The composite image above includes Sanborn Fire Insurance Map drawings for the Carroll / Waters lot, showing changes to the lot over the years. In July 1901, J.R. Hull purchased the lot just east of the Waters building and built a cigar and tobacco store on the site. By the summer of 1908, De Smet had outgrown the post office in the Waters building, and a new post office was built where the cigar store had been. The new post office was of fireproof construction, 25×45 feet and fitted with the latest style of furnishings. The building was heated by steam and supplied with gas and water, and it was finished early in 1909. In May 1919, the town had again outgrown the post office, and the building was enlarged 20 feet to the east.
In 1929, Alfred Waters purchased the building and lot just north of his corner lot and erected a brick building that allowed for his offices to expand to the north, and another that wrapped around the existing post office and with store frontage on Second Street. By October, a new post office was under construction at the east end of Lot 8, also extending across Lot 9 to the north, replacing a similarly-sized store and warehouse that had been built ten years earlier. According to the De Smet News, the new post office had steel fixtures throughout and an attractive lobby.
In 1960, the post office moved into a modern building on Calumet Avenue and is still in service today. The abandoned post office was for many years the dental office of Dr. Dan Slaight. It was razed in 2019, but the Waters Land & Loan building which housed the post office from 1888 until 1910 still stands on the corner of Calumet Avenue and Second Street. Little House fans will recognize it as Heritage House Bed & Breakfast.
Photo clues. There are a lot of old photographs of De Smet, and it’s fun to pick out buildings mentioned in the Little House books in them. The roof of the courthouse was a popular spot to take panoramic photos, and the composite above contains snippets from two of them. The winter photo at left was undated, but by using deeds, newspaper articles, and photo clues, the photo was dated to around 1905. Do you see the schoolhouse in the 1905 photo? Look at the changes in the Fuller / Burkhart building. Notice the exterior staircase at the rear of the Waters building, removed prior to construction of the 1908 post office. The building still bears the scars of the former staircase today.
Burr Oak, Iowa. A post office isn’t mentioned in the Burr Oak section of Wilder’s Pioneer Girl manuscript. As Wilder noted, Burr Oak was indeed “an old town,” with its first postmaster, Samuel Belding, appointed in 1853. There had been many postmasters and post office locations over the years. George Kimball was appointed postmaster on March 9, 1876, and the post office must have moved into his grocery store at the time. The Ingallses lived in rooms over the store after leaving the Masters Hotel.
Pepin, Wisconsin. Although a post office isn’t mentioned inLittle House in the Big Woods, note that when the first post office was established at Lund in 1881, the postmaster’s map showed the mail delivery route between Lund and the post office in Pepin, which was the road that cuts across Charles Ingalls’ land and along the west side of Henry Quiner’s land. This is County Road CC today.
post office / post-office (LHP 6; BPC 20-21, 27-28, 30; TLW 16, 18; LTP 19; THGY 16, 20, 24), see also post office (the parlor game)
Beadle’s store and post office (BPC 20, 21)