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March 23, 2013

Free mail delivery began in Oneonta 125 years ago

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The Daily Star

---- — Maybe I’m just not mingling with enough groups of people in the region, but I’m not hearing loud and persistent complaints about the end of Saturday home mail delivery, set for later this year. I’m not complaining, but I’d have a problem if home delivery in Oneonta were going away the other five days of the week.

Residents of Oneonta had no mail delivery at all until 125 years ago this April. In 1888, the post office was found within the Central Hotel block, in the area of today’s 189 Main St. Village residents picked up their mail at that office.

Oneonta was a growing village, and the post office was doing an increasing amount of business. Postmaster Harlow Bundy made an application on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 1888, to the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., for free delivery of mail. Oneonta had exceeded the necessary requirement of $10,000 in annual business at the post office. Receipts had exceeded the level during 1887, said to be a great advance over previous years.

Of Bundy, The Oneonta Herald of Jan. 5 said, “That his application may be granted will be the wish of citizens generally and business men particularly.”

It was then reported on Wednesday, Feb. 18, how Post Office Inspector George E. Bachelder from the New York office paid a visit to Oneonta about free delivery. Bundy gave Bachelder a tour of the town and submitted required information. Afterward, Bachelder promised “a favorable report” about initiating the service.

On March 1, U.S. Congressman David Wilber wrote from Washington that he found there could be no free delivery in Oneonta until all dwellings were numbered. Village trustees gave the requirement immediate attention.

“While they are at it,” the Herald commented, “the trustees will see that proper signs are placed at street corners — the lack of which has been a constant cause of well-grounded complaint on the part of strangers.”

The effort seemed good enough toWilber, as by March 8, Bundy received a telegram from Wilber stating that free delivery had been granted for Oneonta to begin April 1 with three carriers.

The Herald also reported on March 22 that since free mail delivery would start, the newspaper would be delivered by special carriers within the village limits, to “ensure a more prompt delivery of the papers than heretofore,” and save subscribers “much trouble and inconvenience.”

Stephen Brown, Charles Mahan and James Bristol were hired from nearly 40 applicants for the mail carrier jobs. “The carriers have been measured for the regulations uniforms at Yagel’s,” a clothing store on Main Street that as of March 22 was not using a street address in its newspaper advertisements.

By March 29, a total of 25 mailboxes had been placed around the village for receipt of mail, all listed in that week’s Herald.

Since April 1 fell on a Sunday, the first deliveries left the post office by 8 a.m. Monday and the routes were completed without a glitch.

“There had been lively times around the Oneonta post-office for the forty-eight hours previous, the change to the new system entailing a vast amount of work…to be done in addition to the regular business of the office.”

“The system’s introduction here,” the Herald reported, “marks an epoch in the history of the village, is another step looking to the enrollment of Oneonta among the young cities of the Empire state, and all, regardless of party, will unite in giving Postmaster Bundy his due for the effort he has put forth in behalf of the project.”

By April 12 it was reported that for the first nine days of free delivery, the letter carriers delivered 12,364 pieces of mail outside the post office, 7,559 of which were letters.

Right around this time, Bundy had also begun using an experimental time recording device for his three mail carriers. The time recorder was devised by his brother, Willard Bundy, then a jeweler in Auburn.

As many know, that time recorder eventually took Harlow Bundy away from Oneonta to join his brother Willard in a growing time recorder business in Binghamton, Bundy Manufacturing. It became a forerunner to today’s IBM Corp., a company many Oneontans invested in early and often.

On Monday: Visitors to Cooperstown have always loved the village’s history, and its current tourism information center played a small part in that history.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.