Sylacauga Post Office
Sylacauga Post office to me suggests remembrances of people and place and a time that is long gone, but still very special. I am certainly not the first person to try to look back at those earlier days, way before any of us lived, and try to write a somewhat accurate history of the post office here. Many of the earlier accounts of the establishment of mail service in Sylacauga include ones written by, Mrs. M.W. Peace, Mrs. Carolyn Goff, Mrs. Carolyn Luttrell, Mrs. Leona Kelly, Mr. J.W. Langley, Mr. M.A. Thurman, and a document entitled “A Brief History of the United States Postal Service.” Most of these are in agreement because except for the latter, these were local writers who tried to write for the people of their time as I do now. One of the most interesting items that I encountered was a copy of a letter written in response to an inquiry by Mrs. Peace. The letter was from K. P. Aldrich, First Assistant Postmaster General of the United States and is dated February 22, 1945: “The records of this Bureau show that under the date of July 2, 1836, Congress authorized post road service from Columbiana, Shelby County, via Mineral Springs, to Syllacogy, in Talladega County.” Mrs. Peace wanted to know if there had been a Buzzards Roost post office; to which Mr. Aldrich answered, “…the files do not disclose any connection between Sylacauga and a post office by the name of Buzzards Roost.”
The post office in Sylacauga existed off and on from March 8, 1837, until March 19, 1875; and there were some nineteen post masters during this period. The national records in Washington, D.C., list George Washington Stone as first post master, and Allison Ramsey in 1841 as the first recognizable woman’s name in the list.
John T. Oden and James Lanning, early businessmen, assumed the role of postmasters in the decade, 1857-1867. According to Mrs. Leona Kelly’s history, mail was brought in from points south through Wetumpka by a horse rider about twice a week to Lanning’s Store on Main Street. It was not until 1875 that the post master became a position appointed by the President. President Grant appointed the first post master, Hugh G. Darby, on March 19, 1875. The Civil War was over, and things were more stable and that included postal service. According to Leona Kelly, Mr. Darby used a one room wood office on the corner of what is now Main and Fort Williams in the old Lanning Store that was located there. Mr. Darby was followed by Mr. J.B. Nix, Mr. Inge Nix, and then by President Grover Cleveland’s, appointee, Mr. John J. Hightower. This name may be familiar to some because he was the father of John and Milton Hightower who still own the property in the vicinity of the old post office that he established on Main Street.
Mr. Hightower was postmaster until he was succeeded by Mr. Louis T. Williams on December 3, 1889. As Sylacauga began to expand, Mr.Williams moved the office across the tracks of the Central of Georgia RR Station near the Motes’ Filling Station. The first lock boxes were established at that office. In the library’s records there is a list of other post masters and the Presidents who were serving when they were appointed. Of interest to me were Dr. Felix H. Craddock and Richard T. Hebson, whose wife Sarah completed his term after his death. Grover Cleveland was President then. He served two terms with Benjamin Harrison serving as President between them. The post office was then in the rear of the building later occupied by the Mathew Tire Company, but it was moved to several store buildings on Broadway between Second and Third Streets.
On that list from the Post Office in Washington, D.C. Mr. Walker T. Stewart appears first in 1906 as post master appointed by Theodore Roosevelt, and his name disappears and reappears up until 1930 when Hoover was President. Mrs. Luttrell’s history gives him credit for the one man who really developed the postal service in Sylacauga. It was a one man job when he took over and helped organize both the rural and city delivery. Mr. Stewart was instrumental in the building of the modern red brick post office on Third Street which was dedicated in July, 1932. That beautiful building constructed at a cost of $60,000 served a community that had grown so much that stamp sales were now $27,000 a year.
This is the post office of my childhood, and it served this community well until 1963 when the present facility was built. Becky Conway Blair also remembers that building well. “I remember it being big and beautiful to a small child. I remember the marble columns and the beautiful wood and marble in the lobby and the stairways to the lower and upper level.” Becky’s Dad was a postman so she has insights that I do not have, but my memories of that post office are vivid. The building was beautifully constructed; and it almost inspired awe and respect. The marble floors and appointments made the building seem cooler than the outside, and there was always a fresh clean smell that made that building special. Old Glory flying above those beautiful steps instilled in me a pride that would probably be somewhat “corny” to children today.
There was plenty of parking unlike today, and backing from a parking space was not a dangerous maneuver. As high school students walking from Sylacauga High to Mac and Ted’s Drugstore for the usual afternoon gathering of kids, my friend and I often walked that extra block down Third Street to mail letters for our sixth period algebra teacher. We soon tired of this chore, but the teacher was clueless. We were different from kids today in that we really liked her and wanted to please her (we were a little afraid of her, too). This became somewhat of a weekly habit until she overheard us complaining leaving school one day. She never asked us again and we still made A’s in algebra.
It is fun to think back on the carefree days in Sylacauga when things were simple. Next week we will look at Becky Blair’s memories of the dedication of the present post office in 1963 and some good memories of her daddy and other letter carriers of days gone by, when postmen came by your house, deposited mail in a box on your porch, and became friends, almost like family, to the people who lived there.