POST OFFICE ESTABLISHED AT STEILACOOM IN 1852
William P. Bonney, "Post Office established at Steilacoom in 1852," History of Pierce County. Volume I, p. 81-82.
The first post office to be established in Pierce County was that at Steilacoom. In fact, it was one of the first to be named in territory now embraced within the State of Washington. It came into existence by official action taken July 6, 1852, while this was a part of Lewis County, Oregon; and the first postmaster appointed was James Hall.
But little is known regarding Hall, for his name is not encountered in any way in Steilacoom or county affairs after the organization of Washington Territory. Among the old letters and files of Judge Thomas M. Chambers, recently given to the author by his son, R. L. Chambers, now living at Custer, has been found the original letter of the Second Assistant Postmaster General at Washington to the Steilacoom postmaster appointing J. B. Chapman as the contractor to carry the weekly mail from Olympia to Steilacoom at a weekly compensation not exceeding $2.70. The letter follows:
POST OFFICE DEPARTMENT
Contract Office 18 Jan'y, 1853.
"Your office is to be supplied with the mail once a week from Olympia, distant 28 miles.
"The expense of so supplying it is to be defrayed wholly out of the net proceeds of postage collected at your office, including postage on letters and papers sent prepaid by stamps, and is not to exceed the sum of 140 dollars a year or $35 a quarter, the surplus, if any, to be retained, subject to the order of the Postmaster General. J. B. Chapman is accepted as Contractor, to perform this service, which is to commence on the earliest date practicable.
"If he has failed to commence, engage some one else at the lowest limit practicable, (limited, however, to your net yield).
"You will report the date of actual commencement of service, and by whom; also the days and hours at which you have arranged the departures and arrivals of the mails in each direction, at each office."
On November 12, 1853, a similar notice was received by the postmaster at Steilacoom, except that the name of W. M. Smith appeared as the carrier. This second appointment is also contained among the files of the late Judge Chambers.
William P. Bonney, "Post office established at Steilacoom in 1852," History of Pierce County. Volume I. p. 81-82.
Guy Reed Ramsey, "Steilacoom City," Postmarked Washington: Pierce County. Tacoma: Washington State Historical Society, 1981.
STEILACOOM (STEILACOOM CITY).
Established July 6, 1852, James Hall;
Thomas M. Chambers, May 19, 1853.
name lengthened to STEILACOOM CITY January 21, 1854, John M. Chapman;
Morris H. Frost, June 14, 1854;
Reuben A. Finnell, April 3, 1856;
John M. Chapman, July 5, 1856;
Erastus A. Light, May 18, 1858;
Francis H. Freeman, July 5, 1861;
E. R. Rogers, October 12, 1861;
Josiah H. Munson, August 1, 1862;
Erastus A. Light, April 7, 1865;
Henry D. Montgomery, January 31, 1870;
Frederick Eissenbier, August 3, 1870;
Frank Lindsay. November 11, 1872;
Julius Dickens, May 18, 1874;
William H. Mastin. December 22, 1875;
George W. Rigney. April 11, 1879;
Miss L. Rosetta Rigney, April 28, 1884;
Walter C. Averill. May 27, 1890;
Warren L. Bair, July 8, 1893;
name shortened to STEILACOOM September 5, 1895;
Frederick Doyne, December 7, 1897;
Glen H. Elder, January 19, 1904;
Jacob M. Smith, January 19, 1905;
Warren L. Bair, March 9, 1915;
William. Leech. February 10, 1922;
Mrs. Eudocia B. Leech (nee Bair, Mrs. William 1. Leech), March 18, 1934;
Richard W. Karman, June 27, 1959;
Mrs. Lillian R. LaRue, (date not supplied);
Lloyd R. Styrlund. May 1, 1971;
discontinued August 31, 1971, mail to Tacoma.
Located on Puget Sound 15 miles southwest of downtown Tacoma, 5 miles north of DuPont on Union Pacific and Northern Pacific Railroads (SE Section 31, T19N, R2E).
When Thomas M. Chambers settled on his donation land claim in 1849 the area was Oregon Territory. He had neighbors in the person of Britishers employed by Puget Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of Hudsons Bay Company who resented his presence. Their chief factor, Dr. William F Tolmie, attempted to force Mr. Chambers to leave but Chambers was adamant. He went so far as to urge more of his American friends to take up land until the little American settlement was strong enough to entirely block out British claimants.
The founder of the settlement, Lafayette Balch, was never a Steilacoom postmaster but had a hand in territorial politics while a village merchant and trading post operator.
Steilacoom was first listed in Lewis County, Oregon Territory, then in Thurston County before getting the Pierce County designation. It was the only Pierce County post office old enough to go through this metamorphosis
Apparently the first mail to Steilacoom was carried by canoes from Olympia; the carrier was a man named Moxlie who received 25cts per letter. Anthony P Carr, son of Job Carr, postmaster of Tacoma, carried mail between Steilacoom and Tacoma before Tacoma was a post office. W. P Bonney in his "History of Pierce County" (I, 927) quotes a letter written appointing J. H. Chapman as contractor to carry mail from Olympia to Steilacoom at yearly compensation not to exceed $140.
On November 12, 1853 a similar notice is cited in which W. W. Smith was appointed carrier. All mail for Puget Sound points first came to Olympia to be redistributed to other offices by water routes. In the case of Steilacoom the postmaster was responsible for getting the mail from Olympia, so he engaged whomever he could, and canoes, rowboats or sailboats were the conveyances.
In 1854 the department was requesting bids on steamboat mail service from Olympia to Port Townsend with stops along the way, one of which was Steilacoom. The steamer left Olympia each Monday morning at 4:00 and over a distance of 230 miles transported mail to Seattle, Port Madison, Tekalet, Port Townsend, Coveland, New Dungenes, Port Angeles and Victoria, arriving at that destination by 3 P.M. on Thursdays. It started the return trip at 10 A.M. on Wednesdays.
On January 1, 1861 Henry Windsor of Steilacoom acquired the contract to take mail overland between Olympia and Steilacoom twice a week.
His stages would leave Olympia at 8 A.M. on Monday and Thursday and return at the same hour on Tuesday and Friday. On these trips he brought mail for the Franklin and Seattle post offices and on another contract he took mail overland once a week to those points, leaving Steilacoom on Friday and returning on Saturday. For the first service he received $158 a year and for the Seattle-Franklin route $744. In 1870 bids were solicited for carrying mail three times a week between Olympia and Steilacoom City, as it was known by then. This route required departure at 8 A.M. on Monday. Wednesday and Friday with the carrier arriving by 2 P.M. and returning the next day on the same schedule.
Franklin and Arkata post offices were served from Steilacoom by individual routes. To Franklin the carrier made the 16 1/2 miles once a week on Thursday leaving at 8 A.M- and returning by 6 P.M. in 1873 this route was extended to Elhi.
The department was trying to establish mail routes to eastern Washington early in 1872. Bids were asked for carrying mail once a week from Steilacoom City by Naches Pass to Wallula and Walla- a distance of 235 miles, leaving at 6 A.M. on Sunday and arriving in Walla Walla by 6 P.M- the following Saturday. The return trip was to be made on the same schedule starting on Sunday also.
Bids were also sought for carrying mail from Steilacoom City by way of Yakima Valley to Walla, 260 miles, leaving an hour earlier but otherwise holding to the same schedule as the route through Naches Pass, but it has not been explained in what way this would otherwise differ from the route by way of Naches.
In January 1875 a route was founded to take mail to "Fortville." Evidently this was Fort Steilacoom, which at that time had no post office, for there was no post office named Fortville.
In 1880 railroads were taking mail but the nearest rail point from Steilacoom City was Lakeview, a distance of five miles, so a route was established to the "Railroad Station." A year later bids were being sought for a daily route from Steilacoom City to Lakeview. The carrier had to leave in time to meet the train. There appeared in the Tacoma Ledger of July 15, 1881 the following:
"For several years this place has had a daily mail route connecting in the afternoon with cars at Lakeview some four miles out, which gave a direct and proper communication with the outside world. Through some cause or influence unknown to our people the schedule has been changed from an evening to a morning mail which keeps all our mail matter back a matter of 16 hours.
Our Saturday mail is not received until Monday morning, 40 hours behind, so that Portland dailies and Olympia weeklies are almost useless and worthless to us. C. C. McCoy sublet this contract last month and also one from Steilacoom to Artondale across the Sound. This last was to be carried by a steamboat but is now carried by a boat at $4 a trip of 20 odd miles. E. A. Light."
The Artondale route mentioned in this article had been proposed in December 1880 as a weekly service starting on Saturday. A contract was let on Mach 31, 1882 to J. J. Hunt for weekly service to Artondale for the following four years at $400 a year. The distance was given as ten miles each way. That year the contract for daily service between Steilacoom and Lakeview went to Mason and Company at $312 per year.
In 1960 there were five incoming mails at Steilacoom daily, four by railroad and one by Star Route from Tacoma by truck. There were four dispatched, three of which were by rail and the fourth by the Star Route mentioned. Mrs. Mary Powell, serving as messenger, took the mail to and from the depot. At one time this office was headquarters for two boat routes distributing mail to eleven Upper Sound post offices- but in 1960 one route was operated to Anderson Island by Simon Westby whose truck left the dock daily and was ferried to the island. A mail messenger, Mrs. Powell, also exchanged mail twice daily at Fort Steilacoom.
We are unable to account for the method of quartering the Steilacoom post office during its earliest years. The earliest reference found was an item in the Walla Union of April 17, 1875, stating "Julius Dickens, Clerk of the Court, postmaster, editor, and Swedish Consul, is flying a 20-foot consular flag over the express office at Steilacoom."
From this we conclude that the post office was in the newspaper office. Erastus A. Light had it in his hotel. We then come to the first tenure of Warren L. Bair when the post office was in his drug store, the site of present day 1615 Lafayette Street. Frederick Doyne and Glen H. Elder had the post office in a small building to itself (1613 Lafayette Street) which opened into a hardware store.
Starting with Jacob M. Smith's appointment, the post office was in a large grocery store which later burned (1609 Lafayette Street). In 1918 it was returned to 1615 Lafayette Street to be associated with a hardware store until moved into a modern post office building at 1611 Lafayette Street on August 11, 1951. This building underwent extensive interior remodeling late in 1963.
In the years when Steilacoom was just a country town and overshadowed by Tacoma and Olympia, the post office served as a popular gathering place for the townsfolk. Marjorie Powell Mottishaw in "Quiet, Peaceful, Old Steilacoom" (Pacific Northwest Quarterly, January 1955) describes this function of the post office lobby: "(A) medium of public information was the bulletin board at the post office where the whole town came to collect the mail.
This bulletin board was a thorn in the side of the local paper which editorialized thus: 'If you have anything for sale advertize it. Don't paste it up on the bulletin board at the post office or nail it on a fence post!'
By 1959 the Steilacoom Post office was 107 years old and of that time one family was in control of its destiny for a total of 48 years, or over forty-five percent of its life. Starting with Warren L. Bair, who served 2 terms totaling 11 years, can be added 12 years of service by William L. Leech, his son-in-law, and 25 by his daughter, Mrs. Eudocia S. Leech.
It is a record which is difficult to match. When Mr. Bair came up for reappointment in 1922 the post office was Third Class, but he was too old to take the examination for presidential appointment as required for Third Class postmasters, so he urged Mrs. Leech to do so.
Mr. Leech, a native of Pennsylvania, enlisted in the Army in World War 1, being sent to Fort Lewis for duty after completing officers' training at Fort Niagara, New York. Here he met Miss Eudocia Bair, a native of Steilacoom, and they were wed in 1918. The couple resided at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, until Mr Leech was discharged from the army in 1919. Thereafter they were residents of Steilacoom.
Mr. Leech served as postmaster under three presidents: Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. When the political complexion changed and changes were being made in most post offices, the congressman, under pressure to make changes in his district, but being satisfied with the service being rendered by Mr. Leech and his wife, who was assisting him, merely switched the wife to the post mastership, with the husband becoming assistant.
This arrangement was a happy one throughout a quarter of a century. At the start the post office had to be conducted along with the family's hardware business, but, as has been described, the office was given individual quarters in 1951, The Steilacoom community owes this couple a debt of gratitude for the many years of devoted service. William 1. Leech died on January 19, 1975 at the age of eighty-five years.
The second name on the chronological list of post offices of Pierce County is Steilacoom City, a name which was in use for over 41 years. Postmaster Warren L. Bair tired of having to add "City" to the post office name and petitioned the department for permission to drop that part of the name. He regretted his action, he maintained, for the work of making out the papers made an added burden at the time, since the department required that the office be discontinued then reestablished under the Steilacoom name.
Guy R. Ramsey, "Steilacoom City," Postmarked Washington: Pierce County. Tacoma: Washington State Historical Society, 1981, p. 1-4.