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Columns

March 27, 2014

Traces of Laurel: Star Mail Routes

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — In writing about the Star Mail Route period in the history of Laurel County I will rely in part on the writings of Logan Ewell who wrote a popular column for the Sentinel-Echo in the 1950s and 60s.  Ewell was a native of the county, born in London in 1884 and who, as a boy in the time of the mail route business, could write about it from his own memory.  His father and two uncles were themselves Star Route operators so he had first-hand knowledge of this phenomena. 

At that time mail delivery nationwide was bid on, much as construction jobs are awarded today.  Anyone could bid, so hundreds – maybe thousands – took advantage of this in hopes of realizing some of the profits.  It was pure speculation.

Some bidders were in partnerships with one or two other people, but Ewell stresses that there were no corporations involved back then.  Basically, each bidder was in it for himself.

“It was a complicated venture,” says Ewell.  “Their field of endeavor was the entire United States.  In this period of time it was the law and the practice of the Post Office Department to offer to anyone in the United States the opportunity to bid competitively on any or all mail routes in the country.” According to Ewell, the procedure went something like this:

“The Laurel County men (and one woman who will get a column of her own later) were called contractors and dealt directly with the federal Post Office Department.  They could, and did, employ men whose duties were to sublet the routes to someone in the region covered by the bid who was in charge of actual delivery. Let us say that mail for Manchester, Ky., was delivered to London; that the carrying of this mail to Manchester was another route; that this route had paid its former carrier $100 monthly or $1,200 yearly, and its year had expired.”

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