Keene Post Office staff

The Keene Post Office staff, with Postmaster Ormond E. Colony seated at left, started home delivery of mail on Jan. 1, 1888.

We may not often think about the postal system and mail carrier who delivers mail to our homes each day. The United States Post Office Department did not always offer free mail delivery to homes, however. Keene’s first post office opened in the Richardson Tavern on West Street in 1791.

Postal patrons were required to pick up their mail at the post office. When dedicated post office buildings were introduced, residents rented a post office box or picked up their mail at the post office window.

In early December of 1887 the United States postmaster general ordered the establishment of postal carrier service in Keene. Home delivery was to begin in the city on Jan. 1st of 1888.

Ormond E. Colony was Keene’s postmaster at that time, and the post office was located in the Bank Block on Central Square. Postmaster Colony immediately began to prepare for home delivery.

All homes and businesses within a radius of three-quarters of a mile from the post office would have mail delivered to their doors. Three postal employees, Clinton Hyland, Patrick O’Connor and Frank Russell, were appointed letter carriers. They walked their routes in December to introduce themselves to the homeowners and determine the names of all people in each house who might receive mail there. The three carriers also placed letter boxes at homes throughout the city. The post office also installed 19 mailboxes throughout the city for residents to deposit outgoing mail.

There were strict regulations for the letter carriers to adhere to. They could not deliver mail on the streets, but had to deliver directly to a home or business. They were forbidden to throw mail through doors or windows, but had to ring the bell and wait a reasonable time for an answer. They were also forbidden to enter homes except to deliver mail and they could not stop for a meal while walking their route.

When the new year began, the three men began their rounds, each traveling 25 miles per day. They delivered mail to 2,700 Keene residents. The letter carriers covered their rounds twice each day, once at 7 a.m. and again at noon after the arrival of mail from Boston and New York by train. The residents and businesses on Central Square received a third delivery late in the afternoon.

Keene’s postal delivery system was an immediate success. More than 36,000 pieces of mail were delivered during the first month, and half of the rented post office boxes were discontinued as customers opted for delivery at home.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.