By Dolores Hislop
The post office began in the United States by private companies that delivered the mail. Massachusetts, as a state, wanted an establishment of a government supported mail delivery agency, which was established in 1794. The mail was delivered at first by the railway system to the country and delivered to cities and towns for distribution. Air mail began around 1918 and established as a permanent system in 1924.
This article will focus on the post office in Paynesville which started in 1857 with Edwin E. Payne as postmaster. Mr. Payne served only a couple of months and was replaced, through appointment by President Buchanan, by James Boylan. A contract for carrying the mail was let to S. B. Lowry of St. Cloud who then sublet the route from St. Cloud to St. Peter, to Sam Wakefield of Cold Spring. Sam Wakefield in turn hired A. L. Elliot to carry the mail which he did by making his trips on foot. The first post office was located on Mill Street in what is now called Old Paynesville or Old Town as this was the area of the first Paynesville settlement.
According to the Stearns County History Book of 1915, the following entry states that "the village of Paynesville was regularly organized in 1887 and the village of New Paynesville was organized in 1890."
New Paynesville occurred because of the arrival of the Soo Line railroad and land donated by Jim Haines around the area of the railroad track, for the purpose of business development. New Paynes-ville began to grow about one mile east of Old Paynesville. To add to this, the Great Northern railroad also laid track about one mile north of Old Paynesville and the area of North Town developed with stores and residences.
A triangular area of post offices were within a few miles of each other and all served this area. Mr. A. L. Elliot was postmaster of Old Paynesville and George Stevens was postmaster of New Paynesville at this time, and a rivalry developed between Old and New Paynesville. The Old Paynesville post office was moved to around the middle of town near the present Grace United Methodist Church to be more centrally located.
A Paynesville Press newspaper article dated May 14, 1891, states the following. "New Post Office-Change our Address - New Paynesville, Minn. A post office having been established in the incorporated village of New Paynesville, all our correspondents are requested to note that our post office is now New Paynesville. Don't neglect or omit the word NEW."
In the fall of 1904, according to the Stearns County History Book, "Paynesville was attached to New Paynesville, making a village now having a population of probably 1200 people." An official establishment of the Paynesville post office was finally made on Jan. 27, 1905, with A. L. Elliot as the postmaster. "In March of 1905, the name of New Paynesville was changed by popular vote to Paynesville." This established one post office for our area. The post office was first in the building that is now Zap Leather and Cycle on James Street, and has moved several times. The Paynesville post office is presently located at 211 James Street West, Paynesville, Minn.
From that time to the post office of today, many changes have happened which makes mail delivery speedy. There are still mail carriers that deliver mail in our city, which started Oct. 28, 1961, and rural mail carriers still deliver mail to the countryside. However, now mail sorting is more centrally handled, zip codes have been added and computerized services are used. We are fortunate to have a sorting box at the museum and other mail related items for you to see. A stamp collection and pictures are also on display. No matter what was to be delivered, from baby chicks mail ordered to big packages, Paynesville has had dedicated mail carriers both past and present. We thank them for their good service to our community.
The Paynesville Museum is looking for old postcards with scenes from Paynesville and the surrounding towns. If you have any you would like to donate, please bring them to the museum or call Bertha Zniewski at 243-4433. Thank you.
Information for this article taken from The Modern Encyclopedia, The Stearns County History Book 1915, and the files of the Paynesville Historical Museum.