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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Older Post Office

I discovered another early frontier settlement and post office while going through some old maps called 'Blakesly'.  I found it on a 1884 map which represents a period when Bennington was only someone's dream.

It was located just south and a little west of the present site of
Bennington on old Military Highway.  Old Military was the first government road in Nebraska which was surveyed in 1857.  Prior to that it was a wagon trail commonly known as the "Mormon Trail." Military Road was named after its purposed user; the Military since it connected Fort Omaha with Fort Kearney in the West. 

Military Road started in Omaha, ran through Benson, Irvington and then to Elk City before dropping to the Elkhorn-Platte Valley and proceeding to Fremont.  Blakesly was referred to as a 'hamlet' in one reference which suggests it had several buildings.  It was located about half way between two larger settlements; Elk City and Irvington.

No additional information could be found at this time concerning the extent of the settlement but it is likely it had a general store, a blacksmith shop along with the Post Office.   Immediately to the
East was one of the earliest farms in the area, the Summerhill Farm and the rural school, District 26.  Quite possibly, this was all one scattered community.

Blakelsly and Hayes were literally early 'rest stops' where travelers could stop, get repairs, provisions and take care of their horses.  

Douglas County (1884)

Another mysteries, secretes and 'ghost towns' are in our neighborhood?  Know of any?  If so, let us know. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pig Pen and Breakfast

You might think the association here is bacon but its not; its fuel.  One of our projects is to interview long-time residents on their childhood.  What was life like growing up in this area 70 to 80 years ago?  It is amazing how different it was; especially the things we take for granted today.

For instance, this morning I got up in a warm house and went out to the kitchen in my t-shirt, boxers and bare feet.   I flipped on the lights (still dark out) and turned on the coffee maker.  I slipped some instant oatmeal in the microwave and I had breakfast in a couple of minutes.  The outside temperature was a cool 17 degrees. 

The morning routine was quire different for some of our older residents when they grew up.  In those days, they woke up in a cold house, more often than not it was actually freezing inside.  Their rooms were normally upstairs where there wasn't any heat at all and downstairs the fire in the coal stove would have died long before dawn.

The first heat in the house was often from the cook stove in the kitchen.  A fire had to be built in the stove for it to get hot enough to cook on and the water in the water tank to thaw the ice and to get warm for washing.   No electric stove, no furnace, no gas water heater, seldom did they have electric lights.  Most often the fire was built with paper and wood and then fed with corn cobs which was the primary fuel in the country. 

Two of the ladies I've interviewed told me that one of their many chores while growing up on the farm was to collect corn cobs from the pig pen.  They both screwed up their noses then telling me this was their least favorite chore on the farm. 

You see, not much was wasted in those days.  Wood wasn't as plentiful as it is today and coal was expensive.  Slightly more than a century ago this was simply prairie, and endless see of grass; there were no trees here.  That generation planted those trees. 

Farmers picked corn by hand and the job of shelling it was laborious.  Farm animals were fed eared corn instead of going to the trouble or expense of shelling it.  They ate the kernels and left the cob.  It didn't end up very clean but it was valuable fuel. 

These girls had to pick up and sack these cobs along with others that were used for the kitchen stove.   Cobs were normally kept in a cob bin on the porch.  One lady said her mother told her not to pick up a large handful, because of the possibility of carrying mice into the house. 

I know some people that would consider what these girls had to do child cruelty but honestly, they turned out to be quite lovely and charming ladys.   That is another story! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hayes Post Office (1878-1888)

The Hayes Post Office was one of the first established post offices in the immediate Bennington area with mail still being delivered by mail carriers on horseback.  It was described in the 1967 “History of Bennington Centennial Days Book.   The 1967 text reported:
“About 1874, a tiny community called Hayes was established approximately two miles north of what is now the present site of Bennington.  The community consisted of a post office, a general store and a blacksmith shop.  Mail was delivered to the Hayes post office by pony and people in the surrounding area went to Hayes to get their mail.  The community of Hayes was presumably named after President Hayes and eventually vanished after the establishment of Bennington.”
It was briefly mentioned in the 1992 Centennial Book.  Hans and Catherine Johannsen were reported to walk to the Hayes Post Office for their mail (Bennington Centennial Book, 1992).  Their address was Washington County, Nebraska.  
Melvin Tiedje recalled his Grandmother Tiedge showing him a picture of the Hayes Post Office and pointing out where it laid; on the north side of the present intersection of  156th Street and Dutch Hall Road.   The Tiedje farmstead was located just east of the site on the Douglas County side.  He remembers her showing him a small photograph of the post office which showed a sod hut with a man and flagpole in front. That photo disappeard and we have been upable to locate any other photos of the Post Office.
We’ve recently received copies of Post Office documents describing the location and tenure of Hayes’s Post Office.   The documents are internal forms sent to the Post Office Department’s Topographer’s Office describing the physical location and surrounding landmarks of local post offices and providing hand drawn maps on the back.   The maps were crudely drawn, some not to scale and in varying degrees of accuracy.   They provided legal locations which confirmed earlier descriptions and accounts.

It’s believed Hayes was primarily a stage station that started around 1874 to service wagon traffic traveling just north of the present site of Bennington.  An Overland Wagon Road ran near the Douglas and Washington County line between the present site of Highway 133 and Elkhorn City which today is known as Elk City.   Other wagon roads ran north to Kennard, Blair, Bell Creek which was renamed “Arlington” when the railroad came.  This was before Bennington and Washington existed and the nearest services prior to creating of Hayes were found in Florence, Benson, Irvington, Blair, Elkhorn City, and Elkhorn.  This could be nearly a full day’s ride roundtrip.  Hayes was a logical location for a new stage and freight stop. 
One of the Post Office documents is a request from Postmaster Randolf Peters to James N. Lyner, First Assistant Postmaster General for the creation of a new post office at Hayes.  The request was dated February 20, 1878.   The post office’s location was;
 to be situated on the S.W quarter of Section 34, Township 17, Range 11, in the county of Washington, State of Nebraska.  It will be on or near route No. 34043, being the route from Omaha, Neb to Elkhorn City, on which the mail is now carried 3 times per week.”
That places Hayes near or at the present intersection of 156th Street and Old Dutch Hall Road.  One map suggests that buildings were situated on both sides of the wagon trail, but the post office was definitely located on the north side; in Washington County.  Documents show that Randolf Peters remained the Haye’s Postmaster at least until 1885. 
Hayes Post Office, Washington County, Nebrasks

The area witnessed remarkable growth during that decade.  Lands were surveyed and roads straightened and improved and farms fenced.  The Fremont and Missouri Valley Railroad was building a railroad line from Omaha to Fremont which resulted in the establishment of Bennington, Washington and renaming of Arlington which was originally called “Bell Creek.”   Bennington and Arlington had Post Offices by 1888.  Tracks were being rapidly laid and train service reached the area in 1889 resulting in the mail being delivered by train, rather than by stage or horseback.
Anticipating the arrival of train service, the Hayes Postmaster (signature not legible) formally requested the creation of a new post office named “Washington” in the newly created village bearing that name on January 20, 1888.  That request was granted and postal services were moved from Hayes to the newly constructed depot on the south side of town.  The Post Office better served a village of 50 rather than one of possibly 5 people.  The move was slightly more than 2 miles.   Later, a separate Post Office building was constructed in Washington.
The Hayes Post Office operated from 1878 to 1888 a period of ten year.  It played an important role in the early development of our community.  It was the only link for early settlers to write and receive letters from loved ones back in Europe and in other parts of the country.  The railroad radically changed this country; it increased communication, made travel easier and sped the development of this part of eastern Nebraska.  The need for Hayes disappeared as the railroad towns of Bennington, Washington and Arlington further grew and became important local commerce sites.   Modern technology in the form of the railroad caused the demise of both the Hayes Post Office and its successor, the Washington Post Office.  The memories and sod shanties have long past dissolved into the prairie soil.   
Today, postal services are once again being forced to transform to emerging technology.  This time it’s the INTERNET and smart phones.  There is no need to write letters, you simply call friend and family and with a touch of a button, you can pay your bills and mail electronically.   What will come next?   
Gordon Mueller