An interview with Paul Carnahan, the librarian of the Vermont Historical Society, about the contributions of the Postal Service to Vermont.
"The postal system was essential to the development of Vermont as we know it. In the early days, before the advent of telephones, mail service was the only means of communications by Vermonters with the outside world. By 1800 there were 22 post offices in Vermont. The number reached 100 by 1813. Post offices, often located at the back of a general store, became the center of village life. This is where people gathered and caught up on local news in addition to picking up their letters and newspapers to catch up on news from further away.
"The postmaster or postmistress was an important position in most villages. In larger towns and cities the position of postmaster was a political plum sought after by well-connected individuals. Rural Free Delivery (or RFD) brought mail directly to farms and other remote houses and reduced the number of small post offices in the state. The first RFD route in Vermont emanated from the post office in Grand Isle in 1896.
"With the development of additional RFD routes across the state, practically every person in Vermont could have mail delivery every day. This, combined with railroads to bring the mail into Vermont and automobiles to be used by mail carriers, created a revolution in communications for people in the hills and villages of Vermont."
Reforming the Postal Service for the Digital Age
There are some who think that in the 21st century, with the advent of e-mail and the Internet, that the Postal Service is no longer relevant to our present-day economy. They believe that thousands of rural post offices should be shut down and mail delivery slowed. Sen. Bernie Sanders disagrees.
"There is no question that we need a new business model for the U.S. Postal Service. The answer, however, is not to radically downsize the Postal Service," Bernie said, noting the postmaster general's initial plan called for closing 3,600 rural post offices - including 15 throughout Vermont. "The answer is not to eliminate over 200,000 jobs in the midst of a terrible recession and slow down mail delivery."
Bernie helped craft comprehensive postal reform legislation, which passed the Senate last week. The legislation would help preserve most rural post offices and mail processing plants, including the White River Junction, Vt., mail processing center. The legislation would also give the Postal Service the flexibility that it needs to raise additional revenue in the years to come by offering innovative new products and services in the digital age.
The Senate-passed measure now goes to the House.
Photos credits: The Postal History of Vermont by George Slawson (1969); Vermont Historical Society; Library of Congress.