It was fifteen years after the admission of Vermont into the Federal Union, and forty years after the settlement of the town, before Norwich had a post office. The first post office was established at Norwich Plain, July 1, 1805, and Jacob Burton was appointed postmaster. Postmaster Burton kept the office in his harness shop on the main street of the village, nearly opposite the present residence of Mrs. William E. Lewis. Probably the duties of the office were not so great as to interfere much with the prosecution of his trade. It is doubtful if Mr. Burton had more than two mails per week to distribute, and these were much smaller in bulk than either of the three daily mails now received at the village office. It is certain that less mail matter was then handled here in the course of a year than now in a week, although the territory accommodated at the office and the population of the town itself were each considerably greater than at present. It is safe to say, moreover, that the people now living in Norwich receive more letters and miscellaneous mail matter every year than did all the 150,000 inhabitants of Vermont in the year 1805. The post office is essentially a modern institution, whose importance and value increases year by year with cheaper postage and the general diffusion of cheap printed matter among the people.
At the time of the admission of Vermont into the Union, in 1791, there were only five post offices in the State (at Brattleboro, Windsor, and Newbury on the Connecticut River, and at Bennington and Rutland, on the west side of the mountains), to accommodate a population of 85,000. In these towns, then the chief centers of population and business, post offices had been established several years, before by State authority, and the number of offices in the State was not materially increased for some time after the postal service was turned over to the Federal government. Meager as such mail facilities were, they were probably more liberal than were generally enjoyed by the people of the United States at that day. Indeed, the number of post-offices in the whole country was but seventy-five in 1790, and the five appropriated to Vermont, ludicrously inadequate as it seems today, with almost 500 post offices within our borders, was more than three times what the State would have been entitled to, if distributed to the country strictly on the basis of population. From an early period it is probable that Norwich people had received more or less of their mail at Hanover, where a post office had been opened as early as 1793.
Previous to 1792, the mails in Vermont, as well as through the country, had been carried chiefly by post riders on horseback. During that year a new weekly mail stage was put on from Springfield, Mass., to Hanover, N. H., via Brattleboro, Charlestown, and Windsor. About 1807 a tri-weekly mail stage was run up the Connecticut river from Boston to Hanover, affording a mail every other day from the older parts of the country; and a few years later this line (now via Concord, N. H.) was extended from Hanover to Montpelier on the new turn-pike through Norwich, Strafford, and Chelsea. This was the permanent mail route for many years. The mail stage left Hanover for Montpelier before light in the morning, stopping at all offices on the line for a change of mails. Col. William E. Lewis, who acted as assistant in the post office at Norwich for a short time about 1830, thought that the mail pouches carried over this important mail route at that time were about equal in size to those which now bring the Norwich mail twice each day from the railroad station.
A post office was opened at Union Village January 1, 1830. This office, while within the limits of the town of Thetford, most conveniently supplies their mail to the inhabitants of the north part of Norwich. Morrill J. Walker was the first postmaster, an office which he held continuously for twenty-six years. Shortly after the building of the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad through Norwich, in 1848, another post office was established near the mouth of the Pompanoosuc, receiving its name from the river Pompanoosuc or Ompompanoosuc, an Indian word meaning “the place of very white stones,” Here Benj. Preston was the first postmaster.
The following are the names of the postmasters at the several post-offices in town, and the term of office of each:
- Joseph Burton appointed July 1, 1805;
- George Riley appointed Nov. 9, 1814;
- Cyrus Partridge appointed Jan. 1, 1818;
- Jason Allen appointed Apr. 17, 1820;
- Cyrus Partridge appointed Nov. 22, 1821
- Roswell Shurtleff served 1834-1836;
- John Wright served 1837-1839
- Baxter B. Newton served 1839-1841;
- Ira Davis served 1841-1849
- Harvey Burton served 1849-1853;
- John Wright served 1853-1855
- Lewis S. Partridge served 1855-1857;
- Edward M. Lewis served 1857-1861;
- Franklin L. Olds served 1861-1885;
- Lewis S. Partridge served 1885-1886;
- J. T. Morrison served 1886-1889;
- Edward W. Olds served 1889-1894;
- L. K. Merrill served 1894-1897;
- F. W. Hawley served 1897« 1902;
- Edward W. Olds served 1902— present time.
It is not known where George Riley kept the office. Jason Allen kept office either in the house now occupied by Miss Sarah Tracey or just across the street where the late Dr. S. H. Currier resided. At different times Allen lived in both these houses. Cyrus Partridge (both terms), Roswell Shurtleff, John Wright (1st term), and Baxter B. Newton had the office where Henry Lary resides.
At first, Ira Davis kept the office in the south room of the brick building destroyed by fire December 29, 1889, just south of ”Union Hotel” and part of the time in the small south annex to James Currier‘s house. During Harvey Burton‘s term the office was kept in a small building that stood between the present residences of William Bicknell and Edward W. Olds. The building was subsequently moved across the street and placed close to the north end of F. L. and E. W. Olds‘ store, where it yielded to the flames August 4, 1875. John Wright (2d term) kept the office in the north room of the brick building (owned by himself) where Ira Davis previously kept the office. Lewis Partridge (1st term) and Edward M. Lewis kept the office in a small building that stood on the west side of the street, just north of Charles E. Ensworth‘s premises, and quite close to the street. The building was placed there by E. W. Mattoon and used by him for a tailor’s shop. The building is now the home of Abel Hebard, just north of the village. While Franklin L. Olds was postmaster, the office was kept in F. L. and E. W. Olds‘ store (where Hawley‘s store is). Lewis S. Partridge (2d term) had the office in a building just north of Olds‘ store. During the terms of Morrison and Hawley, the office was kept in what is now Hawley‘s store. Edward W. Olds (1st term) kept the office in the north end of the brick building already mentioned, and later in his dwelling house. At present the office is in his store next south of the hotel. While L. K. Merrill was postmaster he kept the office in his store (now Merrill & Smith‘s store).
At Union Village (Office Established January 1, 1830)
- Morrill J. Walker served 1830-1856;
- R. M. Gleason served 1856-1861;
- S. M. Gleason served 1861-1864;
- R. M. Gleason served 1864-1874;
- Anson West served 1874-1877;
- J. K. Blaisdell served 1877-1896;
- H. E. French served 1896-present time.
At Pompanoosuc (Office Established 1849)
- Benjamin Preston served 1849-1851;
- W. W. Reynolds served 1851-1854;
- Benjamin Preston served 1854-1857;
- B. G. Reynolds served 1857-1859;
- Isaac Pierce served 1859-1862;
- H. F. Reynolds served 1862-1868;
- J. M. Flint served 1868-1876;
- Hersey E. Kendall served 1876-1902;
- Cora L. Kendall served 1902-present time.
The office at West Norwich (”Beaver Meadow,” of old) was established April 18, 1890, Chauncey Smith, the present incumbent, as postmaster.
At Lewiston the office was established December 26, 1898, with George F. Kibling, postmaster, which position he has held continuously to date (1905).
The salary of the postmaster at the Norwich office, in 1823, was $125.55. Only ten offices in the State paid a higher salary at that time.
From the information at hand, it appears that the first post route through Norwich was established in 1796, by virtue of an act of the legislature (then in session at Windsor) authorizing the laying out of a post road from the Massachusetts line to Newbury. Hon. Paul Brigham of Norwich, Lewis R. Morris of Springfield, and Oliver Gallup of Hartland were a committee to lay the route through Windsor county.
In the Vermont register for 1797 appears a list of several post routes already established in the State, designated by numbers. ”No. 6″ extended from Windsor to St. Johnsbury. The names of the several towns along the route are given, with the distances between them and the names of the post riders. From Hartford to Norwich the distance given is two miles (probably from Hartford post office to Norwich south line), and Bunton as post rider; from Norwich to Thetford, eleven miles, and Childs, post rider.
We regret that we are not able to give a more complete account of the early post routes through the town and of the post riders, and also to tell something of the stage drivers and their coaches, the arrival and departure of which was such an event in our little community.