Macclenny Post Office, Walter Turner Post Master

POSTAL SERVICE


The birth and growth of a post office is synonymous with the birth and growth of that community which it serves. The post office of the city of Macclenny is no exception. To better understand the beginnings, It is best to lay a foundation of pre-post office history.

American settlers had begun to drift below the St. Mary's River, into this section, during the latter years of the 18th century. Such mail as came into this Spanish colony for the Americans was handled through the poor Spanish postal system at San Fernando on the north-east, Spanish Cow Ford on the east, or one of the small Franciscan missions scattered throughout North Florida. The most trustworthy-delivery came by settler wagons and chance riders from Trader's Hill or Fort St. George on the Georgia side of the river.

The English-inherited desire for communication and ties necessitated a more organized and regular mail service for the Americans. With United States acquisition of Florida, and a new influx of pioneer Floridians, private lines began pushing mail routes into the territory's interior.

The Pony Express rider was the first mail carrier through the north Alachua County area, later to be known as Baker County. From Jacksonville, he made his way across this sparsely-settled section toward Tallahassee.

S. Augustus Mitchell of Philadelphia caused a survey to be made of the Florida Territory in the late 1820's, and his published map of 1834 showed the east-west mail route to be far south of the present one. The north-south mail route came down from the King's Highway via Trail Ridge and present State 228. However, the center of settlement near the St.Mary's prompted a new east-west stage line Just north of present-day MacClenny. The Jacksonville Courier announced that this line, owned by James M. Harris of Jacksonville, began in January of 1835. The Harris Line was responsible for mail which was handled at Barber's Station for this section of eastern Columbia County.

The Florida Times reported in November of 1844 that the U. S. weekly mail arrived at Barber's every Monday at 7 o'clock P. M. This schedule remained in effect until the disruption of services during the Civil War. Throughout the conflict, mail service was sporadic in the new county of Baker.

From the Florida Times came the announcement, "Proposals will be rec'd at the contract office of this dep't until 3 P. M. Of October 31, 1865 for carrying the mail of the United States from January 1, 1866 to June 30, 1867 in the State of Florida on the routes and the schedules of departures and arrivals herein specified:" *From Jacksonville to Baldwin to Barber's and Ocean Pond to Lake City, 60 1/2 miles and back 6 times a week or daily if connecting routes so run.

The end of the war triggered a new flow of settlers, composed of Northerners and displaced Southerners, into the county. Among these was Capt. Carr B. MacClenny of Virginia. He found that the tiny site of Williamsburg, Just east of the St. Mary's River on the railroad, had lost its crude postal service to the new settlement of Darbyville.

Capt. MacClenny found that a turpentine still and a store, with mail facilities, were run by John Darby. And, there in the late 1870's, he found Mr. Darby's daughter Ada attractive, and the two were soon wed and in possession of the Darby holdings.

Although dubbed Darbyville ln the early 1870's, the 1880 railway itinerary of the Florida Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad used the name "Macclenny". The Post Master continued to use the name Darbyville until 1882.

Mr. Darby was post master in his "Big Store", a huge two-story frame structure facing the railroad Just a few feet to the rear of the present post office. General Merchandise was sold on the ground floor, and the second story was used for clothing. A large hitching shelter was on the rear, facing present-day Florida Avenue.

Capt. MacClenny's enterprises office, which stood at the site of today's Standard Oil yard, served as the post office under make-shift conditions, and Macclenny served as post master. His brief service was terminated by his death during the 1888 Yellow Fever epidemic.

Immediately after the fever epidemic, the first official post office was established, and remained at this site until about 1890, at which time it was moved into a small frame building on the south-west corner of 5th St. and Railroad Ave. An interesting, although unfortunate, incident occurred in this location; in April of 1898, Francis Pons shot and killed Sheriff Job W. E. Driggers, ending a long-standing personal feud.

During the period from 1890 to 1896, there were two post masters. The first was J. D. Merritt, who was a corpulent man using words sparingly and answering with a set face and a shake-of-the-head,"No". The second was Mrs. Mamie Snowden, wife of the Rev. Snowden, builder of the Episcopal Academy. A short, sandy-haired, pleasant woman, she always asked, "Something wanted?"

The next post master was a man who had come down from Virginia with Capt. MacClenny. A Republican, Walter Turner was appointed in 1896. Mr. Turner was known as the man "you could set your watch by". His schedule and his punctuality in opening and closing the post office became legendary.

On the south-east corner of College and Railroad Avenues stood a two-story frame structure. This building stood directly on the street, with its corner cut off. A post supported the corner of the upper story, and double doors opened on either side of the post into the ground floor. A milliners shop was run by the Miller family on this ground floor, and Macclenny's first permanent arrangements for dentistry was soon to move into the second floor. Mr. Turner purchased this building in 1896, and moved the post office into these quarters.

In 1908, the first examination was given for rural carrier. Taking the examination were Lee Wester, Owen K. Garrett, Earnest V. Turner, and C. M. Barber. Mr. Garrett was appointed as first official rural carrier, and remained a "horse and buggy" carrier until 1912. A number of temporary carriers were used until the next appointment, including a man named Buggs.

Another feature of the carrier service was the delivery to Stokesville. George W. Garrett with his horse and buggy made the trip along the "Georgia Road" to the Thrift Settlement and right to Stokesville, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week. He made deliveries along the route from 1912 to 1916.

James F. Stephens, a minister, was appointed as rural carrier on the 15th of march 1913. Mr. Stephens was the first local carrier to make motorized delivery. Unaccustomed to the new machine, he drove a brass upholstery tack into the steering wheel as a rudder. He used this tack-rudder to keep a straight course until the 16th of October 1917.

In 1916, Mr. Turner died, and his son Earnest V. Turner was soon appointed as post master. This term was for two years duration.

1918 saw a new appointment to post master. He was J. Oliver Milton. During 1922, the Powers building, later destroyed by fire, was used for a post office. This structure was in the west mid-block of 5th St. between Macclenny and Railroad Avenues. Mr. Milton built a masonry building to the west of the Turner building, and into this fourth building on this site, he moved the post office.

On September the first, 1918, Earnest R. Rhoden was appointed rural carrier. He started his service with a Model "T" Ford automobile; a service to last almost 31 years.

A fire in the Milton building caused new post master Gus O. Rhoden to move the post office to his house which has the present address of 245 N 6th St. He built a small room onto his house for this purpose.

Another move back to the Turner building was in 1931. A number of temporary post masters served until 1933, when another fire, which destroyed the Turner building, forced a move into the west mid-block of College Ave. between Macclenny and Railroad Avenues. More temporary post masters saw this inconvenient situation through until the facilities were brought back to the Milton building about 1935.

Eva Jones was appointed post master on October 25th, 1935. She received her permanent appointment on June 25th, 1940. Mrs. Jones and her staff moved into the Stokes building on east Macclenny Avenue July 1st, 1942.

On May 2nd, 1949, Mr. Rhoden retired as rural carrier, and was immediately followed by Lonnie Jones. Both Mrs. Jones and Mr. Jones are incumbent. [1962]

Until 1961, Macclenny's growth had demanded a more satisfactory housing. In that year the contract was let for a structure of contemporary design. Designed by Alfred G. Remmerer of Jacksonville, and constructed by Rochester and Jackson of Macclenny, the post office moved into the new quarters December 30th, 1961. A grateful public attended a dedication ceremony at 10 o'clock A. M. on May 5th, 1962.

The program is as follows:

Solo, ''Old Folks at Home"--Mrs. Florence Fraser;
Welcome--Rep. John J. Crews (master of ceremonies);
Invocation--Earl Hilbert;
Introduction--Rep. John J. Crews;
Address by Congressman-Ron. D. R. (Billy) Matthews;
Dedication address--Mr. R. E. Bandefur, Postal Field Service Officer;
Historical comments--Gene Barber, & Wilma Morris;
Presentation of flag--Hon. D. R. (Billy) Matthews;
Flag raising--loca1 Boy Scout Troop;
National Anthem--Mrs. Patty Wells;
Pledge of Allegiance--audience;
Benediction--Howard Olive;
Musical arrangements by Mr. M. C. Thompson, band director Baker County High School band;
Refreshments.

With a sometime erratic, oft-time uncomfortable history of over 140 years, the post facilities of this locale have reached a culmination in this building, almost on the site of one of its predecessors. The Grass Roots' tie with the Federal Government has a permanent home.

Sincere appreciation is due the following:

C. M. Barber, Geo. W. Garrett, Ernest R. Rhoden, J. R. Rowe, and the local postal employees for invaluable recollections of the past;
The staff of the Univ. of Fla. P. K. Yonge Library;
Microfllm file clerk of the Jacksonville Times_Union;
The Florida Historical Society for access to records;
Mrs. Wilma Morris for freely and graciously sharing historical notes and findings.


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