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It's hard to imagine how mail traveled in 1800s

By Henry Timman • Dec 1, 2019 at 8:00 PM

Last week I mentioned some of the perils of going back in time and since then I’ve thought of more risks in returning to the era of 1820 — such as unimproved roads with few bridges and the communication system in general. There were no telephones or telegraphs, nor were there radios or televisions to transmit news and other information such as storm warnings. But, our ancestors lived with these limitations and “made do” pretty well. 

We still enjoy a service that existed in 1820 and that is the United States Postal Service. It’s hard to imagine how the mail traveled from place to place and ever reached the correct post office, but it did via stagecoach, horseback and on foot at times. I’m sure the advent of steamboats made a big difference, except the early steamboats, had such high mortality rates due to overheating and exploding boilers. 

I’m not sure where the first post office on the Firelands was located, but I do know that a mail route passed through what is now the city of Huron in 1809. Whether or not there was an official post office, I’m sure that mail would be left for someone if it was directed to Huron. The county seat a few miles south of present Huron had a post office by 1818 with Ichabod Marshall as postmaster. At that time Erie County did not exist; all of the Firelands were Huron County. 

Now we all have pretty definite addresses. I have before me a copy of a letter written in 1818 by his sister to a young man who apparently was living at the Old County Seat. It is addressed this way: “Mr. John Marshall Woodard / Huron / State of Ohio and County of Huron / five Miles from Lake Erie up Huron River.” Can you imagine the mail carrier figuring out where to deliver it? 

I don’t know whether John Woodard ever saw this letter because in the next few months he was reported as deceased due to being ‘savagely’ attacked during a political discussion. His injuries prove fatal in those days before antibiotics and surgical procedures. 

I mentioned that Ichabod Marshall was an early (if not the first postmaster) at the Old County Seat. His account book shows just seven regular accounts he monitored as postmaster and perhaps these men (one being himself) were the only regular post office patrons. His regular customers were David Abbott; Lyman Farwell; Ebenezer Merry; D. W. Hinman and Co.; Dr. Lyman Fay; and William Gallup. 

Do you wonder who these men were? David Abbott owned a good deal of land along the Huron River either side of Mason Road and died there in 1822. He was one of the very first American settlers in that area. Lyman Farwell was the first county sheriff and it was he who hanged the two American Indians for murder at Norwalk in 1819. David W. Hinman followed him as sheriff but died in office in the fall of 1820. He had been in a partnership and his estate was a financial nightmare and was settled mainly by court rulings from lawsuits. Ebenezer Merry founded the village of Milan and built the first mill on the river there. Lyman Fay was a physician first at the Old County Seat and he then moved to Milan Village. He died in the Cholera epidemic of 1854. William Gallup settled in Norwalk, working as a carpenter and cabinet maker for several years. In the early times, he made and sold Windsor Chairs and other household furniture. 

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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