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Through regulated bookkeeping at all its branches, the postal bureaucracy keeps track of finances and resources down to its smallest post offices. Designed for use by postmasters of fourth-class post offices, this hardbound book consists of blank forms for monthly and quarterly accounts. The instruction page states: “Section 241 of the Postal Laws and Regulations, Edition of 1887, provides that every postmaster of the third- and fourth-class shall keep in a book provided for this purpose a record and postal accounts." Blank forms in the book allowed the postmaster to take inventories of supplies, records of Special Delivery transactions, and accounts of stamps, debits, and credits in monthly and quarterly formats. This registry of stamps, keys, and more evidences the operations and oversight of a post office in a rural community in southeastern Ohio just before the turn of the twentieth century.
The postmasters who filled out this record book between 1890 and 1898 ran the Alden Station, a fourth-class post office located in Washington County, Ohio. Fourth-class post offices and postmasters comprised the lowest tier of a classification system based on annual receipts and mail volume. These postmasters did not receive salaries like their first, second and third class counterparts. Instead, they earned a commission calculated on the annual sums for box rentals and cancelled stamps as well as amounts received from waste paper, old newspapers, printed matter, and twine sold.* Accounting duties carried not only fiduciary obligations, but also interest in the postmaster’s own financial compensation. Auditors regularly checked the sworn quarterly reports; the Alden Post Office book bears signatures of such inspection.
Rufus G. Alden, postmaster of the Alden Station, filled out the majority of this record book between July 1890 and 1894. The remaining forms in the volume contain transactions from July 1897 to March 1898 as registered by Postmaster Charles Oesterle. In all, the total receipts on the quarterly reports averaged $12.86. This small postal station required little in the way of supplies and equipment to fulfill services and duties. Rufus Alden conducted annual inventories of items furnished by the Post Office Department, including: copies of the Postal Guide and the Postal Laws and Regulations, a letter scale, postmarking stamp, ink, pad, record books, and mail keys. Apart from its inventories and tallies, this book provides little information on the history behind the Alden Post Office.
Tracing the changes in Alden’s establishment, location, proprietors, and mail service, Jerry Devol’s article “The Postal History of Muskingum Township” provides a historical sketch drawn from newspapers and other sources. On September 1, 1881 teacher and new postmaster Osmer L. Anderson opened the first post office in the township. Taking its name from Devol’s Dam on the Muskingum River, the post office was situated in Anderson’s house, convenient to steamboats passing through the nearby lock.** The post office was relocated in the summer of 1888 to take advantage of the new Zanesville and Ohio Railroad route. By November, the post office was reestablished closer to the rail station, at the farm of Charles Oesterle (1858-1949). Taking over as postmaster on June 6, 1890, Rufus Alden (1834-1897) moved the postal station to his residence one mile above Devol’s Dam and gave the Alden name to the office. Rufus Alden, a farmer, general store owner, and township trustee, operated the post office with his daughter’s assistance until July 1894 when Charles Oesterle again became postmaster. Despite moving the office back to his residence, Oesterle retained the Alden until the station was discontinued in early 1898. Afterwards, mail services were available in the township at the Rainbow Post Office and later the Lowell Station.
* Fourth-class postmasters in the 1890s could receive annual compensation of no more than $1000 for their office’s transactions excluding postal money orders, which carried additional commissions. The Alden post office did not carry money orders, nor did it have any boxes for rental, a reliable source of revenue for many postmasters.
** Typically, fourth-class stations were located on private property, whereas first-class post offices usually operated in government-owned or -rented buildings. The classification system is still in effect today.
Devol, Jerry B. “Postal History of Muskingum Township.” The Tallow Light 3 (1968): 6-8.
Gallagher, John S. and Alan H. Patera. The Post Offices of Ohio. Burtonsville, MD: The Depot, 1979.
Post Office Department. The Postal Laws and Regulations of the United States of America. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893.
Washington County Historical Society, Inc. Washington County, Ohio, to 1980: A Collection of Topical and Family Sketches. Marietta, OH: The Society, 1980.