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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       

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