This week’s portion of “As the Story is Told” is about the post office. This book that I am sharing was compiled in the mid 1980s, so it is out of date now. But I have some vivid childhood memories of the post office referred to as “now” in this entry. We called the post office the “Mail Store” when I was young. I remember climbing the old brick building’s back steps. That building still stands, and is currently an antique shop. I remember the creaky old wooden floors, hand hewn. I remember the fancy mailboxes described here. There were items for sale in the store that I liked to look at. I remember looking at what must have been nougat, always hoping we could buy some. It was really a unique time capsule, even then, to be able to step back into time in that old post office. I also remember “Alda” – we used to visit her on Halloween when trick-r-treating.
The Post Office
The Morpeth post office, which was first called Howard, came into being in 1831, with Captain Joseph Wheatley as postmaster. Mail prior to this time had been brought from Port Stanley at irregular intervals on horseback. Other post offices existing in Kent at that time were Raleigh (Chatham), Camden West (Whitehall then Kent Bridge) and Orford (Clearville). The name of Morpeth, for the Howard post office, was adopted in 1850.
From a surveyor’s plan of part of Lot 91 TRS made by Albert P. Salter in 1856 we find the post office was then on the corner of Bagot Street and Talbot Road South, property now owned by Gladys Grey.
In early days the mail was carried by horseback and later by stagecoach. Letters were stampless and usually not enclosed in an envelope but sealed with wax. The postmark, made with a handstamp was dated and showed Upper Canada as the location. The amount of postage was either handstamped or written on by hand. Often needy settlers received a letter with postage due and a hat was passed to provide funds.
Canada’s first stamp, the pence issue was printed in 1851 but saw little use in the smaller offices. On July 1, 1859 currency was changed to dollars and cents. During the years 1850 to 1860 post office receipts in Morpeth rose from about $200 to $700 a year. The income here was second only to that of Chatham. Checking postmarks it is interesting to see how quickly mail was delivered in those early day. A letter postmarked Howard (Morpeth), Oct. 19, 1848, was delivered in Montreal on Oct. 26.
By 1864 mails arrived daily at 12:30 from the west and 1 pm from the east. They were dispatched at 1 pm to the east and at 2 pm to the west. The postmaster then was Andrew Heyward and Morpeth’s population was 600.
In 1890 Morpeth was listed as one of the few post offices that was not only authorized to grant and pay money orders but was also a Savings’ Bank Office.
During the lifetime of the post office here there have been many faithful postmasters and postmistresses. One for many years was a name, often mentioned in Morpeth’s history, that of J. C. Nation. After the decline of Morpeth, the post office was moved from Nation’s store to a part of what was formerly the New Dominion House. This was at one time, one of the leading hostelries along the Talbot Road. Here Mr. G. E. Passmore was the postmaster until his death, when his daughter Minnie took over the work. From1930 to 1946 George Barnwell operated the post office from his home on the corner of Highway 21 and John Street in Morpeth. The last move was to its present position in Bill Grift’s store.
Prior to Grifts, who came in 1981, James Smith had operated the post office since 1946. In March of 1976 Jim was honoured for some thirty-one years of service to the Morpeth Community. Area Supervisor, Charlie Foster was on hand to read a Certificate of Appreciation for his years of dedicated service. The job at this time was handed over to his wife Alda.
In use in the post office are boxes that are very old and quite unique. There are fifty-four of these lock mail boxes that are opened by turning a dial to one position and twisting the arm on the dial to another. They are really simple to operate and no chance of forgetting your key. The rent for the use of these boxes has increased with the times, in 1969 it was $2.00 and is now $6.36 a year.