Young people have their coming-of-age milestones—getting a car, going on their first date, heading off to college—and young communities have such milestones too. Among the most important milestones for a young town: getting its own post office. We speak of this because the Vernon Post Office was created exactly 200 years ago this month, in May 1807.
Historically there are few developments which better say that a place is important than getting a post office. Because it is a function bestowed by the Federal government, it's a kind of stamp of approval that says once and for all: this town is for real, this place is here to stay (well, maybe). But basically, it's a big deal.
By 1807, Vernon had grown enough to warrant its own post office. Previously, people had to schlep all the way to Hamburg or Warwick to get their mail, so having a post office in Vernon Village was good news. It was an economic boon, too: where you went to get your mail, you also did some shopping, had your horses shod, carriage fixed, etc. And so the village grew even more.
The first postmaster was William Winans, the tavern keeper whose tavern stood right near the traffic light of Routes 94 and 515, until it was replaced by Burger King a few years back. The post office was in his tavern, which was a kind of de-facto community center. Winans was appointed by the Postmaster General on May 12, 1807.
Today, we are used to post office employees who are career civil servants, and post offices that stay in the same building for decades. In the 1800s, quite the opposite was true. Starting in 1836, the job of local postmaster became an appointed position, nominated by the local U.S. Senator, voted on by the Senate, and approved by the President. In short, it was a patronage job, a plum political appointment that was often, if not always, based on political reward.
The effect was that postmasters often served only brief tenures, based on which way the winds of politics were blowing, and the post office changed locations accordingly. Today, a postmaster might well serve for twenty-five years in one post office. Yet in the twenty-five years between 1835 and 1860, Vernon had no less than nine postmasters. One of them, John DeKay, served for a mere two months in 1845.
Local postmasters were frequently village merchants. The advantages were obvious: when the post office is in your store, it makes for good business. In Vernon Village, postmasters over the years included innkeepers, shopkeepers, blacksmiths, a wheelwright or two, and others. In 1827, merchant Richard S. Denton bought William Winans' tavern, and with it evidently came the postmaster job, which Denton held for ten years.
Denton started a veritable postmastering legacy in Vernon: his son, Richard S. Denton Jr., was postmaster from 1851 to 1856, his grandson Solomon S. Denton held the post from 1882 to 1886 and again from 1890 to 1895, his great-grandson Richard D. Wallace was postmaster from 1898 to 1925 (almost twenty-seven years, probably a record for the Vernon Post Office), and Wallace's wife Ethel held the post from1928 to 1934.
All together, various members of the Denton/Wallace family held the job of Vernon Postmaster for nearly sixty years. During most of those years, the post office was in Denton's (later Wallace's) General Store, which stood on the site of the Lukoil Gas Station, and was moved to Church Street in the 1960s, where it presently serves as the Mixing Bowl Restaurant.
Other notable Vernon Postmasters of the 1800s include Sylvester Given (served 1860-71), blacksmith George I. Wood (1871-1882), and farmer and millwright Aaron S. Blanchard (1886-1890).
In 1987, Vernon Township police officer and postal history enthusiast/collector Steve O'Conor compiled a history of Vernon's post offices. In it he notes that in the late 1920s, the Vernon post office was moved to Harden's General Store, which stood on Vernon Crossing Road near the railroad tracks (now gone, the building stood near the concrete ruins opposite Place by the Tracks Deli). In 1934, the location of the Vernon post office was changed once again, this time to the home of the new postmaster Alvin E. Mott on the corner of Route 94 and Pond Eddy Road, now Brookside Florist. Mott was postmaster until 1952, and was followed by his niece, Allena M. Baldwin, mother of Bob and Warren Baldwin, noted town businessmen/farmers.
In the late 1950s, the post office was moved to Lozaw's Store, which stood in what is now the exit to the VFW Post. Throughout the years of all these moves, the office of postmaster remained a political appointment. This state of affairs did not end until 1969, when President Nixon eliminated all political appointments in the postal service. In 1972, the Vernon Post Office was moved to the small strip mall now occupied by Bo Ya Palace Chinese restaurant, where it remained for ten years. In 1982 it was moved to D & S Plaza on Route 515. None of these locations were viewed as being ideal, and discussions to relocate the Vernon Post Office went on for years, until fairly recently, when it moved across the street to the A & P shopping center, where it will presumably remain for some time.
The next-oldest surviving Post Offices in Vernon Township, at North Vernon (Glenwood) and McAfee Valley (McAfee) weren't established until more than sixty years after Vernon's, in the 1860s. The Highland Lakes Post office, established in 1951, is a youngster. At 200 years old, after some thirty postmasters in a bunch of different places, Vernon's Post Office deserves to stay in one place for a good long while. Congratulations!
(Ron Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)