The Patterson Post Office


Many people today give little thought to the service that provides a six day per week mail delivery and a local office from which to mail letters and parcels or to buy postage stamps and money orders. But throughout Patterson's early years, the mail delivery service provided a vital link to the rest of the world, and the daily mail delivery at the Patterson Post Office brought many residents to the village and gave neighbors an opportunity to say "hello" to each other.

The second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia on July 26, 1775, established a Post Office Department by authorizing the position of Postmaster General. The Postmaster was to be based in Philadelphia and would earn a salary of $1,000. Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General. Through the American War of Independence, the postal system was primarily concerned with carrying communications between the Congress and the Continental Army.

In the 19th century, America's postal needs grew, and the U.S. Post Office responded by using steamships, railroads, and horses to move the mail. The numerous "Post" roads in the Hudson Valley were so named because they were designated as mail delivery routes. By 1860, mail delivery was epitomized by the pony express, which used fast horses and rugged riders to carry mail over long distances. In the 20th century, mail began to be moved by airplane as well.

In the early 19th century, letters were simply folded, and the recipients name and address were written on the front. Envelopes came into use decades later. Postage stamps were introduced in 1847, but senders still had the option of sending their letters without a stamp, with the postage to be paid by the recipient. In 1855 prepayment of postage became a requirement.

The Patterson Post Office

In the days before mail was delivered to homes and businesses, mail had to be claimed at the local post office, and it was critical that each population center have a post office. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, each of Patterson's main population centers had its own post office, and each post office had a postmaster who was responsible for receiving and distributing mail, and providing other postal services. In most cases, the postmaster was a local store owner who would conduct postal business from his store. In West Patterson, Charles H. Judd, owner of a feed and coal business, served as postmaster at the turn of the 20th century. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Walter S. Crosby served as postmaster for Towners. Crosby was the owner of the Towners General Store. In the Patterson village, Charles W. Penny served as postmaster during the same time period.

The daily New York Central mail trains on the Harlem Line were so important that their schedules were regularly published in the local newspapers. This schedule appeared in the Putnam County Courier on January 7, 1898.

William J. Blake's The History of Putnam County, published in 1849, notes that the Patterson Post Office was moved from the village of Patterson to Haviland's Corner, which is described as being located "a little more than a mile east of" the village. The move was instigated by the Hon. F. Stone when he was appointed postmaster a few years before the book's year of publication. The post office eventually returned to the village, but the year of its move back to the village is unknown. At the time of the publication of the Beer's Atlas in 1867, the Patterson Post Office was located in the Irish & Wing Store, located on Railroad Street (Front Street) on the southwest corner of Center Street. The store was destroyed in a devastating fire that also claimed several surrounding buildings.

The growing community of Patterson necessitated changes in the Patterson Post Office at the turn of the century. In February, 1899, a new post office cabinet was installed in the post office to replace an older one that had become too small. The cabinet was installed by Deputy Postmaster Couse, and was manufactured by J. McLane of Milford, New Hampshire. The new cabinet had room for 216 call boxes, 49 general delivery boxes, and 40 lock boxes and a bronze letter drop. It measured over 9 feet in length and over 4 feet high. The February 17, 1899 edition of The Putnam County Courier reported: "It is a sure sign that a town is growing when a new post office cabinet takes the place of an old one."

The 1867 Beers Map of Patterson indicates that the Town had three operating post offices. The 1867 business map of Patterson indicates that the village post office as located at the corner of Main Street (NYS Route 311) and Railroad Street (Front Street) inside the Irish & Wing Store.

On September 1, 1896, the Post Office was moved to the general store of E. Crouse & Son, who were in charge of it. The Crouses bought the store from Tucker & Kent about two years earlier, and sold dry goods. Henry Tucker was the postmaster. In the fall of 1900, the Patterson Post Office moved into a store in the Jennings block on Railroad Street (Front Street). George Jennings' store was in the building once owned by T. W. Akin, and it was located on the corner of Railroad Street and Center Street. The new post office had both a money order and stamp window, and had a gilded grating at one end. In August, 1901, the space was improved. A partition was removed to create more room in the rear, which provided room for a heating stove to be used in winter. An air shaft was also built to provide better ventilation.

In April, 1902, Patterson's Post Office added a new service when it became an international money order office. In April, 1902, the Patterson postmaster decided to dabble in a side business when he added shoemaker A. Swanson to his growing list of post office services.

Large American cities had a more formalized postal system than small rural areas like Patterson. In 1858, many large cities began to collect mail by using collection boxes located on street corners, saving postal customers a trip to a post office. In 1863, free mail delivery began in 49 of the country's largest cities, also eliminating the need to travel to a post office. By 1890, 454 post offices were delivering mail in America's cities. But it was not until 1896 that the Postal Service experimented with a rural free delivery (RFD) service. The test area was in West Virginia. Rural delivery was considered by many to be a waste of taxpayer money that would be a drain on Post Office resources. In 1897, Postal Officials admitted that the cost of rural free delivery was high, but also insisted that the service had substantially increased postal revenues, essentially paying for the service. Some medical professionals believed that the service brought civilization to the lonely and isolated lives of people living in rural areas like Patterson, and it was predicted that the number of cases of insanity would greatly decrease as a result.

An early Patterson Post Office, probably either in the Jennings Building or in the Judd Building. It is difficult to determine the location of this Post Office based on the surroundings. The photo is undated but appears to be turn of the 20th century. (The Patterson Historical Society) An interior view of one of the Patterson post offices, possibly the one located in the Judd Building. The photo is undated. (The Patterson Historical Society) The Patterson post office was located at the corner of Front Street and Center Street, in the white building to the right of the Esso Station, when this photo was taken in 1960. The Post Office occupied this site for several years before moving to the larger building just to the left. Both buildings were owned by Philip Buxbaum, who operated a combination Esso gas station, car dealership, toy store and appliance store in that larger building. Both buildings still stand.

In June, 1902, Patterson postmaster Penny met with a rural free delivery agent for the Post Office. Mail distribution in the village would continue to be through the Patterson Post Office, but a proposal had been made to establish an RFD route through the Haviland Hollow area. The goal was to begin the service in August, 1902. Service actually commenced on August 1. Herbert Winship was hired as carrier, with Ephraim Foster as substitute carrier.

In 1908, the U. S. Post Office announced that it would give hiring preference to married men, especially those men with large families. The same preference was made for promotions. The October 1, 1908 edition of the Patterson Weekly News made this amusing comment about Postmaster Penny's personal life: "We have often wondered why our postmaster was looking for an eligible widow with a large family, but this explains it."

In May, 1911, the Patterson Post Office was operating from refurbished space in the Judd Building on Railroad Street. The interior space was painted white and all windows were shaded by awnings. The walls were decorated with maps of the United States and New York State. The lobby area was well lighted and contained a writing table with materials for the Pawling Bank, which shared the space with the Post Office on Monday and Thursday mornings from 8:23 AM until 10:20 AM. Behind the counter was a rack for holding mailbags, and a sorting table to be used by the RFD carrier.

Postmaster Charles W. Penny retired in 1915 after a fifteen year term as the Patterson postmaster. Mrs. Penny, the former Grace Akin, was also the postal clerk for many years. The Pennys were married in 1921. Charles Penny was born near Towners and attended the Towners School. Penny left Patterson for Buffalo, where he worked in the office of the City Clerk for a few years. He then returned to Patterson, where he spent the last forty years of his life. In the late 19th century, Penny was tax collector for the town of Patterson. He was appointed postmaster of the Patterson Post Office by President McKinley, and was reappointed for two additional terms before being succeeded by Henry Ludington. On June 23, 1915, Penny was replaced by Henry Ludington, who was assisted by Mrs. George Odell. Penny was a member of the Croton Masonic Lodge and a member of the Patterson Presbyterian Church. He was an active member of the Republican Party, and served Patterson as tax collector. He died of pneumonia at his home in Patterson on March 28, 1932, at the age of 83. He was buried in the family plot in the Maple Avenue Cemetery.

Mrs. Penny was a member of the Patterson Presbyterian Church and was an active member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Blindness limited her activities for the last fifteen years of her life. She died in November, 1958 at the Lovely Hills Nursing Home in Pawling at the age of 82. She was buried in the Akin family plot in the Maple Avenue Cemetery.

As the town of Patterson grew, more demands were made for expanded RFD service. In April, 1935, Patterson Supervisor George Jennings was successful in convincing the Carmel Post Office to extend RFD Route 1 from the James Simpson Farm northwest along the Carmel-Patterson Road (Fair Street) to Deacon Smith Hill, where the route would continue southwest to Lake Carmel in the neighboring town of Kent. On July 1, 1935, RFD service reached twelve families living on Bullet Hole Road. Patterson Supervisor George Jennings had again successfully lobbied the Carmel Post Office to extend RFD Route 1 from the Orville Fields Corners over Bullet Hole Road to Harry Johnson Corner, where the route would terminate.

In February, 1941, the U. S. Post Office placed local advertisements for rural route carriers. The position was open to both men and women, and paid a salary of $1,800 for a six day work week of thirty miles per day. An additional $20 per year would be paid for every mile over thirty.

The Patterson Post Office continued to operate in the Judd Building for several years. On August 1, 1948, the Judd family sold the building to the Brunow Brothers. In August, 1949, the Post Office relocated to a new building a few doors north on Front Street. The building was owned by Philip Buxbaum, who also operated Buxbaum's Esso gas and service station, which was located next door to the Judd/Brunow Building. In 1965, the Post Office moved again, this time into the former Esso station.

An 1881 postmark from the Patterson Post Office reads: "Patterson Putnam County New York. A 1910 postmark for mail received at the Patterson Post Office. The sign from one of the old Patterson Post Offices. It is unknown which Post Office displayed the sign, but it appears to be early 20th century. (The Patterson Historical Society) The final "e" appears to be missing, or is obstructed by the frame.

The last Towners Post Office was located in the New York Central Railroad Towners Station building. This arrangement sometimes had interesting consequences. In June, 1936, the post office was burglarized. The break-in was noticed when the post office opened for business in the morning, and the New York State Police were summoned. A hole was cut into the station door, large enough for a hand, from which the door was unlocked from the inside. Although a large supply of stamps and money were in the post office, nothing was taken. The State Police concluded that the burglary was the act of a hobo, and a teletype alert was sent up the Harlem line to the Pawling Station. Police in Pawling discovered a hobo walking north on the tracks, and arrested him in connection with the burglary in Towners. Upon questioning by Putnam County District Attorney John P. Donohoe in Carmel, the 61-year-old man confessed to the break-in, and to having spent much time in various jails in the northeast. He told Donohoe that he did not take anything because he could not find the cash or stamps in the post office. He was arraigned before Patterson Justice of the Peace J. W. Dykeman, Jr.

As the Towners hamlet declined as a commercial center, so did its need for a post office. In 1955, the Towners Post Office was a "third class" post office under the U. S. Post Office classification system. Class three post offices had sales in the range of $1,500 to $8,000, with a postmaster salary in the range of $2,883 to $4,298. The salary for a postmaster was determined according to the receipts of his post office, which included the sales of postage stamps, postcards, and other mail services. In 1954, receipts for the Towners Post Office decreased by $657, down to $1,949 compared to the previous year. The postmaster took a pay cut of $272, with a new salary of $3,128. The Towners Post Office was abruptly closed on May 31, 1957 with little notice. Box holders found a note in their boxes on the day of the closing. The notes gave no information on where their mail would be delivered in the future. Towners mail was later delivered through the Patterson and Carmel Post Offices, using RFD delivery.

Louis and Bertha Nelson were the postmasters for Towners for 30 years, up until the closing of the Towners Post Office. They arrived in Towners in 1912. Louis Nelson also served for 50 years as the station agent for the Towners Station of the New York Central Railroad until the station closed.

Improved mail service resulting from revised truck and rail routes took effect June 2, 1958. Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield announced that preferential mail moving within Putnam, Westchester, and Dutchess Counties in New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut, would be delivered in one day. The post offices within the four-county area had been integrated. Because of these improvements, local mail traveling within the four counties would no longer have to pass through congested New York City, but would remain within the four-county region. In December, 1960, all Putnam County mail was completely transported by truck rather than rail.

In the May, 1963, Patterson became the first Putnam County town to institute a house numbering program. The plan was instituted to facilitate mail delivery. All houses in Putnam Lake were also numbered, with odd numbers on one side of the street and even numbers on the other. All houses in the Town would be numbered starting at a road's intersection with a main road, with the numbers increasing progressively from that starting point. Each house received a notice from the Town Clerk listing the new numbered address for the house, and residents were given sixty days from the mailing to display the number on the house. The introduction of an enhanced 911 emergency telephone system in the 1990s required all of Putnam County to number houses and commercial buildings. Patterson renumbered its buildings to conform to the new 911 system. In the fall of 1966, the United States Post Office introduced the "zip" code system. With its introduction, Postal authorities required each piece of mail to display the zip code in both the destination and return addresses. The system replaced the old "zone" number system, and would speed the flow of mail. As the mail system became more formalized, rural communities like Patterson were losing the quaintness of receiving mail addressed with just a name, town, and state.

In August, 1964, Postmaster General John A. Gronouski announced that competitive bids were being sought for larger and improved quarters for the Patterson Post Office. The Post Office sought a month-to-month lease agreement. The Post Office indicated that it did not want to purchase a building but only lease it, so that its capital expenditure would only be for the equipment to be used in the new building. Bidding documents became available on August 25 at the regional Post Office Real Estate Office in Mineola, New York, and the bidding process would close on October 1.

In March, 1965, the Lloyd Lumber Company moved into a new, larger building that was constructed behind the original home of the company on NYS Route 311. The Patterson Post Office then moved into the smaller building. Both buildings were located on the east side of the New York Central tracks, opposite Front Street, and the new Lloyd building was located approximately on the site of the present Benfield Electric warehouse. The Post Office would only occupy this location for a short time as complaints about the new location were numerous. The business community sought a return of the Post Office to the commercial area of Front Street or Main Street (NYS Route 311). Residents complained that parking was inadequate at the Lloyds's site, and pedestrians complained about the dangers of walking along a busy road and across the railroad tracks. In August, 1965, Congressman Richard L. Ottinger announced that postal authorities had agreed to move the Patterson Post Office back to the business district. The bidding process for a new site began in October, 1965. Postal authorities advertised for a five year lease with four separate and consecutive one year renewal options. Bidding documents were available from the Post Office Regional Real Estate Office, located at the Main Post Office Building in New York City. Bids were due by November 12.

In December, 1965, Postmaster General Lawrence F. O'Brien announced that Josephine Buxbaum had submitted the winning bid, and the Patterson Post Office would move into the former car service station building owned by Buxbaum on Front Street next to the Judd Building. Under terms of the lease agreement, Buxbaum was required to make alterations to the building to suit the needs of the Post Office. The building contained 1,480 sq. ft. of interior space, and 2,494 sq. ft. of exterior space for parking and for postal trucks to access the building. At first the Post Office shared the building, but eventually took possession of the entire building. Buxbaum and her husband Phil operated an auto repair service and appliance business from the building, but had closed the businesses to concentrate on automobile sales at a showroom on NYS Route 22 in Pawling. The Patterson Post Office is still located in this building, but has outgrown it, and the Postal Service is again searching for a new location.

For most of the 1960s, the Patterson postmaster was George Buechel Sr.. In April, 1967, Buechel was elected president of the Putnam County Postmasters Association. Buechel's wife, Lorelei, was the postal clerk in Patterson for many years. She was the former Lorelei Enzian, and was born on October 4, 1921 in Brewster. She had been a Patterson resident for 47 years at the time of her death in January 20, 1975. She was a member of the Christ Episcopal Church in Patterson, the Patterson Grange, and the American Legion Auxiliary. She was buried in the Maple Avenue Cemetery. They were residents of NYS Route 311 in Patterson.

With RFD delivery standard throughout the town of Patterson, the post office became less of a gathering spot for local neighbors and business owners to meet and say "hello". The mail trains are long gone, and local mail now moves by truck. The post office still becomes something of a meeting spot around election time, when candidates for town offices gather to campaign. The post office has once again outgrown its space, and mail sorting takes place at the more spacious and newer Brewster Post Office on Doansburg Road in the town of Southeast. The U.S. Postal Service continues to seek a suitable location on which to build a new Patterson Post Office.