Honey, I mailed the kids!
NEW ULM — Sunday the Harkin Store hosted their penultimate program for the year on the history of the West Newton Post Office.
This is only the second time the Harkin Store has ever hosted a Post Office program despite the fact the building served as a post office for over 30 years.
“I am not sure why no one thought of it before,” Site Manager Ruth Grewe said. The Post Office aspect of the Harkin Store kept it in business long after the riverboats stopped traveling the Minnesota River.
From 1870 to 1901 the Harkin Store served as a post office in the West Newton area. Parts of the store’s postal heritage are visible for those who know where to look. A post office sign still hangs over the front entrance. In the gift shop items are stored in little cubby holes that were built to hold letters. These holders still bear pieces of tape with writing identifying them as “answered letter,” “letters heading east” or “letters heading west.”
Robin Grewe said people would forward the mail to the store before heading west, but sometimes would never pick it up. Once the Harkin Post Office officially closed, the store still had dozens of orphaned letters that have since been archived by the local historical department.
The Harkin Store had a display on site of antique post office equipment, including stamp making tools and old envelopes with old stamps that would drive any philatelist wild. The cost of these old stamps ranged from one to three cents. This means since 1870 the price of stamps has only gone up 46 cents.
One of the interesting parts of the old envelopes is many are specifically addressed to a location in America or the United States of America. Ruth said the reason for this is, most of the letters received by the Harkin Post Office were from Europe. Many of the people settling around West Newton in the 1870s were immigrants and had family in the old country. Sending letters was the only form of communication.
The exhibit also included a series of fun facts about the U.S. Postal Service. One of the weirdest facts found by Ruth and Robin was that until 1914, mailing children was legal.
In 1913 a family in Ohio mailed their 10-pound infant to grandma’s home a mile away for a cost of 15 cents in postage. On another occasion, a six-year-old was mailed from Pensacola, Florida, to Christianburg, Virginia.
The most famous case was in 1914 when five-year-old May Pierstoriff was mailed from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho. The correct postage was found attached to her coat. Postage was based on the weight of the child. In each incident a postal worker physically carried the child directly to the address.
After the Pierstoriff incident, the Post Master General instituted a rule against mailing humans.
The Harkin Store will be open for one more weekend in 2017. Sunday, Oct. 22, will be the last day the store is open. The last program of the year will be Lonesome Ron. He will bid farewell for the season as he entertains visitors with his folk, country and bluegrass music.