The Pony Express was established for mail delivery until 1861. This was a process of horse and rider relays. A rider would switch horses every 10-15 miles, so the mount would be fresh and able to travel rapidly. Delivery time for a letter from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast would take about 10 days. The transcontinental telegraph replaced the Pony Express. Then the railroads replaced the telegraph. Then came the Star routes with trucks and the air taxi with planes.
Sheldon’s first post office was founded on May 24, 1872, according to the Post Office Department. Notice it was actually started before the town was founded on July 4, 1872. Andrew J. Brock was appointed as the first postmaster. He served until Jan. 9, 1873, when D.A.W. Perkins became the next postmaster.
Some of the other early postmasters were David R. Barmore, Edward C, Brown, Frank T. Piper, Robert E. Kearny, Willard W. Reynolds, James C. Stewart, Joe Morton, A.W. Sleeper, Warren A. Edington, Frank A. Hurd, George J. Bloxham, W.J. Hollander, Mrs. Alice B. Dougherty and Donald Morse.
In 1898, the Sheldon Post Office rented the eastern portion of Hollander’s 5-10-25 Cent Store — The Dental Office today — on the corner of Ninth Street and Third Avenue. The post office became a meeting place for the residents of Sheldon. When they came to pick up their mail, they discussed the news of the nation and the local gossip of Sheldon’s residents. The post office became the “social and gossip center.” Mail was delivered by the railroads to Sheldon twice a day. Horse-drawn wagons met the trains and delivered the mail to the post office.
Jack Donohue, with his horse, Keno, and a wagon, started rural mail delivery in 1914 and continued doing this for 10 years, traveling 150,000 miles in all. Fritz Baudler was another early mail carrier. Rural Free Delivery of mail came several years before town delivery, an interesting fact.
The need for more official postal service and improved working conditions became the issue in Sheldon. The planning stage for a new post office developed. A group of people selected the location on the east side of Fourth Avenue and the corner of Eighth Street, but two houses were located in that area. The Congregational Church was located on the south side of the area planned for the new post office. On April 25,1934, the houses had to be demolished before construction could be started. The new post office was completed and dedicated in 1935.
On July 1, 1940, Sheldon’s second-class post office became a first-class post office. During the previous year, total receipts amounted to $48,364, which was $5,211 more than the year before that, which was a 12 percent increase.
In 1944, local postage rates increased from 2 cents to 3 cents per ounce and airmail rates from 6 cents to 8 cents per ounce. Fourth-class rates, including those on books, catalogs, printed advertising matter and publications, increased 3 percent with a minimum of 1 cent. Throughout the years, postage rates increased.
Parcel post deliveries by automobile became costly. Due to the cost of the automobile, the maintenance of it and the reduction of the government appropriation, the post office was suffering from the expense of delivering parcel post. Gerrit Vollink used a pushcart to deliver packages in the business district to cut the costs of some of the parcel post deliveries. However, this was only an experiment. On June 18, 1947, all parcel post deliveries, as well as Saturday delivery of mail, was discontinued. Recipients of packages were notified of the arrival of their packages with a notification in their mailbox that they must call for their packages at the post office. Sheldon postmaster Alice B. Dougherty declared that when the situation was cleared up, the regular service would be resumed. Six-day mail deliveries resumed on March 31, 1948.
When the Northwestern trains discontinued service to Sheldon in 1959, a highway post office was started. Trucks began to operate on a new Star Route between Sheldon and Worthington, MN, which connected with a highway post office from Worthington and the Twin Cities. Another highway post office service was developed between Sheldon and Omaha, NE.
Residential postal delivery service was reduced from two deliveries a day to one delivery due the train schedules on April 30, 1950. The business district would remain at two deliveries. The westbound Milwaukee train was scheduled to arrive in Sheldon at 10:10 a.m. instead of 8:56 a.m. That mail would not be delivered until the next day. The post office stamp and money order windows would be open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, but the money order window would be closed at noon on Saturday.
During the Christmas season in 1953, sales of 2-cent stamps totaled 71,500 and 3-cent stamps totaled 68,050 stamps. Normally, they sold 5,000 of 2-cent stamps and 34,000 of 3-cent stamps in a month. Dec. 1-24 111,000 envelopes were canceled and sent to the addresses on the envelopes.
By 1961, the Sheldon Post Office had outgrown its building. With trucks doing all the transporting of mail, Sheldon was one of three sectional distributing centers in the area. The other two distributing centers were Council Bluffs and Fort Dodge. Mail came to Sheldon and then was sent to the cities of Emmetsburg, Spirit Lake and Cherokee. Sheldon had no room for storage and not enough platform carts to hold the mail. Expansion was necessary. Postmaster general John A. Gronowski announced that Sheldon would be acquiring a new post office due to the overcrowding conditions.
ZIP codes were assigned in 1962, and Sheldon was assigned 51201 as its ZIP code.
The new building would have to be twice the size of the present one since Sheldon served as a sectional center for many other post offices: Alvord, Ashton, Beloit, Boyden, Doon, Gaza, George, Hospers, Hull, Inwood, Larchwood, Little Rock, Matlock, Primghar, Rock Rapids, Rock Valley, Sanborn, Sibley and Sioux Center.
Finding a location was the problem. The block-long site for the new building was chosen on south side of 11th Street, between Third and Fourth avenues, starting with the property where the Northern Biochemical Co. was located and ending with the three residential properties to the west. They first had to remove the three houses and to clear the NBC lot before they could begin the construction of the new post office.
The lobby of the new building needed to be open 24 hours of the day, have 7,200 square feet of working area which was almost double the space in the old building and have a loading dock that measured 113 by 25 feet, which would accommodate 10 vehicles at once. On Saturday, March 5, 1966, they moved into the new building and on the following Monday, they opened for business. The split lobby had a financial section which maintained open hours 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily and on Saturday until noon. The mailbox section was open 24 hours a day all week long.
The office for the postmaster was located on the northwest corner of the building with a view of St. Patrick’s Catholic School.
The Sheldon Post Office added an access ramp for patrons on the west end of the building, plus a handicapped parking spot in their parking lot.
The new post office was dedicated Saturday, May 9, 1966.
The Sheldon Garden Club raised funds to landscape the grounds and plant flowers.
The old post office building was turned over to the Sheldon School District and became the office education department for the area vocational school.
On Oct. 21, 1968, the first bag of mail was put on the initial flight of the air taxi system for mail service. Present for this first flight at the Sheldon Municipal Airport were postmaster Donald Morse, pilot Don Nelms, Chamber of Commerce secretary Rod Robertson, Mayor W.R. Adkins, assistant postmaster Dale Chapin and employees Orville Wiersma, Kenneth Boerhave, Al Smit, Rod Heemstra and Arnold Stegeman.
Ruth Stegeman became Sheldon’s first female mail carrier in 1978. She began sorting mail and then began delivering mail.
Bob Hamilton spent 34 years and 8 months sorting, substituting for others, working in the office, and 18 years of his 34-plus years as a mail carrier in Sheldon before he retired. Paul Dyke retired after more than 30 years as a mail carrier. Clara Smith, worked at a postal window for 33 years when she retired. Paul Hurd retired after 42 years with the postal service in many different positions. Chris Smith retired as a mail carrier after 30 years. Mike McPartland retired after a 35-year career in the Postal Service being a mail sorter, an office clerk, supervisor, assistant postmaster and postmaster.
Extra help was always needed during Christmas rush periods. In 1973 during the peak Christmas rush, the Sheldon postmaster hired extra help. There were three women hired: Margaret Mouw of Boyden, Hilda Mouw of Hull and Eloise Kuiper of Ashton; and two men hired: Orval Akeson of Archer and Gary Van Kalsbeek of Hospers.
Throughout the years, mail has been brought to Sheldon by Pony Express, trains, trucks and planes. No matter what weather, rain or shine, cold or hot, high winds or blizzard conditions, the Postal Service delivered mail and packages, even though they might be late sometimes.
And now we have e-mail on computers and texting on our Smartphones!
“You have mail.” “You have communication plus!”
Millie Vos is the secretary/treasurer of the Sheldon Historical Society and the museum director and a board member of the Sheldon Prairie Museum. This is part of a series of historical articles about Sheldon. Members of the Sheldon Historical Society receive a yearly newsletter with articles like this. To join the society, call her at 712-324-3235.