The Times West Virginian

Local News

June 17, 2013

Free rural mail delivery had official start in W.Va.

FAIRMONT — Getting the mail is part of most people’s daily routine.

But in the 19th century, receiving a letter from someone was a way of communicating other than face to face.

According to information from the Jefferson County Historical Society, West Virginia played a big role in delivering mail by having the first rural free delivery (RFD) system.

In the early part of the 19th century, only free city delivery was available.

The idea of creating a system for people who lived in the country and away from cities first was discussed during the presidencies of Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland.

But it didn’t become reality until the nation’s postmaster general, William Wilson, who was a native of Charles Town, picked Jefferson County to be the first in the U.S. to experiment with the system.

Despite the hostility toward RFD — critics said it was impractical and too expensive for carriers to travel over rugged terrain — the delivery system was launched.

On Oct. 1, 1896, carriers started their mail delivery routes to rural areas for the first time in the nation. Five carriers — Harry Gibson, Frank Young, John Lucas, Keyes Strider and Melvin Strider — rode on horseback to take people their mail. Three of the carrier routes operated out of Charles Town, one from Halltown and one from Uvilla.

 

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