Sentinel-Echo.com

March 27, 2014

Traces of Laurel: Star Mail Routes

By Jan Sparkman
Columnist

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.”

“The postal department would cause bids or proposals to carry mail to be printed on proper forms, which forms were sent to all known perspective bidders and contractors to be used by them for the purpose of bidding on this particular route.  A similar form was used for each additional route in the whole country.  There were thousands of such routes coming vacant each day.”

The bidder had to consider the circumstances (distance, road conditions, etc.) for each route and submit his bid. He had to sign this bid in several places and he was required to fill a bond.  For this there was another form that had to be signed several times as well. Once the bid was awarded, the contractor had to hire someone to deliver the actual mail for a few hundred dollars less than he had bid the contract.  The difference in what the government paid the contractor and what the contractor paid the carrier was the contractor’s profit.  Some contractors had, at the same time, routes in counties adjoining Laurel and routes in states as far away as Maine and Washington.  They may have had several routes within those states, too. 

Many Laurel Countians made their fortune in this way in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ewell names the following as being among the more prominent: James M. Boreing, Vincent Boreing, Robert Boyd, Capt. Byron, Chris Catching, W.B. Catching, E. A. Chilton, Joseph A. Craft, R.L. Ewell, R.R. Ewell, Dora Faris, G. D. Jackson, James Johnson, Evan Jones, Edward Parker, J.H. Pearl, A.L. Pigg, W.H. Poynter, Charles A. Randall, F.B. Riley, James D. Smith, Tilford Sparks, C.G. Steele, S.G. Steele, W.H. Steele, Presley Stillings, H.C. Thompson, W.H. Thompson and Jeff Yaden.

More on this subject next week.

            • • •             

The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department).  The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon.    Call 606-864-0607 during those hours.  Visit the historical society’s website at www.laurelcountykyhistoricalsociety.org. 

Contact Jan Sparkman at sparkman935@gmail.com.

 

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.”

“The postal department would cause bids or proposals to carry mail to be printed on proper forms, which forms were sent to all known perspective bidders and contractors to be used by them for the purpose of bidding on this particular route.  A similar form was used for each additional route in the whole country.  There were thousands of such routes coming vacant each day.”

The bidder had to consider the circumstances (distance, road conditions, etc.) for each route and submit his bid. He had to sign this bid in several places and he was required to fill a bond.  For this there was another form that had to be signed several times as well. Once the bid was awarded, the contractor had to hire someone to deliver the actual mail for a few hundred dollars less than he had bid the contract.  The difference in what the government paid the contractor and what the contractor paid the carrier was the contractor’s profit.  Some contractors had, at the same time, routes in counties adjoining Laurel and routes in states as far away as Maine and Washington.  They may have had several routes within those states, too. 

Many Laurel Countians made their fortune in this way in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ewell names the following as being among the more prominent: James M. Boreing, Vincent Boreing, Robert Boyd, Capt. Byron, Chris Catching, W.B. Catching, E. A. Chilton, Joseph A. Craft, R.L. Ewell, R.R. Ewell, Dora Faris, G. D. Jackson, James Johnson, Evan Jones, Edward Parker, J.H. Pearl, A.L. Pigg, W.H. Poynter, Charles A. Randall, F.B. Riley, James D. Smith, Tilford Sparks, C.G. Steele, S.G. Steele, W.H. Steele, Presley Stillings, H.C. Thompson, W.H. Thompson and Jeff Yaden.

More on this subject next week.

            • • •             

The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department).  The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon.    Call 606-864-0607 during those hours.  Visit the historical society’s website at www.laurelcountykyhistoricalsociety.org. 

Contact Jan Sparkman at sparkman935@gmail.com.

 

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.”

“The postal department would cause bids or proposals to carry mail to be printed on proper forms, which forms were sent to all known perspective bidders and contractors to be used by them for the purpose of bidding on this particular route.  A similar form was used for each additional route in the whole country.  There were thousands of such routes coming vacant each day.”

The bidder had to consider the circumstances (distance, road conditions, etc.) for each route and submit his bid. He had to sign this bid in several places and he was required to fill a bond.  For this there was another form that had to be signed several times as well. Once the bid was awarded, the contractor had to hire someone to deliver the actual mail for a few hundred dollars less than he had bid the contract.  The difference in what the government paid the contractor and what the contractor paid the carrier was the contractor’s profit.  Some contractors had, at the same time, routes in counties adjoining Laurel and routes in states as far away as Maine and Washington.  They may have had several routes within those states, too. 

Many Laurel Countians made their fortune in this way in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ewell names the following as being among the more prominent: James M. Boreing, Vincent Boreing, Robert Boyd, Capt. Byron, Chris Catching, W.B. Catching, E. A. Chilton, Joseph A. Craft, R.L. Ewell, R.R. Ewell, Dora Faris, G. D. Jackson, James Johnson, Evan Jones, Edward Parker, J.H. Pearl, A.L. Pigg, W.H. Poynter, Charles A. Randall, F.B. Riley, James D. Smith, Tilford Sparks, C.G. Steele, S.G. Steele, W.H. Steele, Presley Stillings, H.C. Thompson, W.H. Thompson and Jeff Yaden.

More on this subject next week.

            • • •             

The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department).  The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon.    Call 606-864-0607 during those hours.  Visit the historical society’s website at www.laurelcountykyhistoricalsociety.org. 

Contact Jan Sparkman at sparkman935@gmail.com.