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April 3, 2014

Traces of Laurel: More on Star Mail Routes

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — It is my intention to write three columns about the Star Mail Route era in Laurel County’s history – one based on the writings of Logan Ewell, another on general information found in Russell Dyche’s “Laurel County History” and a third profiling the one woman involved in contracting for mail routes. 

I found that the Laurel County Historical Society has more information on this subject than I at first thought.  For instance, a copy of the contract and sub-contract each contractor and carrier was asked to sign.  The length of these documents preclude their use here, but make interesting reading. These may be seen at the historical society’s library. For purposes of this column, however, I will stick with my original plan.

In connection with the 1938 Laurel County Homecoming, Russell Dyche published a pamphlet titled “Star Route News” in which he gave the history of the Star Route business and announced that some of those who had carried the mail back then and were still living would be honored at the Homecoming.

Dyche wrote:  “London had already become an important center in the business of contracting and sub-letting Star Mail routes in many parts of the United States, when it was still very much in the ‘sticks’ and when Livingston, 17 miles away, was the nearest railroad point.  By the time a new regulation by the post office department late in the 1890s, requiring all bidders on contracts to live in or contiguous to the places served by the particular route, made general mail contracting impossible, London had become probably the most important center of mail contracting. In many years . . . London (bidders) got more than half of all the contracts let.”

One source reported by Dyche said that one year Laurel County secured three-fourths of the contracts in the nation. Mail contracting became the biggest business in London for more than a quarter of a century. As a young man in his father’s printing office, Russell Dyche had “literally fed tens of thousands of sheets of white paper into the old Non-pareil job press to come out mail contract blanks, bonds and all.” Dyche would further help by stamping the notary seal on each of these contracts.  This was done by hand, one at a time, and would “wear out the hands” of the person doing it, according to Dyche.

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